By Philip Oltermann
Visitors view the work of photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales at the Hungarian National Museum's World Press Photo exhibition. Photograph: János Kummer/Getty Images
The director of Budapest’s National Museum has been fired from his role over a contentious anti-LGBTQ+ law that he himself voted for when he was a member of parliament.
Hungary’s government on Monday dismissed director László Simon after his museum allowed under-18s to visit a World Press Photo exhibition featuring images of LGBTQ+ people, despite laws banning the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors.
Simon, a former secretary of state for culture and member of parliament for Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, had taken up the role as the National Museum’s director in August 2021, shortly after his party passed the controversial law restricting LGBTQ+ content.
Tensions over the exhibition surfaced last month when the far-right Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) party launched a government inquiry over the issue. The photos at the heart of the inquiry, Home for the Golden Gays by the photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales, follow the inhabitants of a community-run elderly care home for LGBTQ+ people in Manila, the Philippines.
Mi Hazánk cited a 2021 law that bans the “display and promotion of homosexuality” in books and films accessible to under-18s.
The law, which Orbán’s government says aims to protect children, has come under fire from the EU and human rights groups.
After the government inquiry, the museum said it had no right to ask visitors for ID to determine their age but it included a message on its website calling on under-18s not to visit the exhibition.
The minister for culture and innovation said on Monday that Simon, the museum’s director, had been dismissed for failing to comply “with the legal obligations of the institution”.
In a Facebook post, Simon acknowledged his sacking but said he could not accept its reasoning. “The museum did not deliberately violate any legislation by presenting the pictures of the World Press Photo exhibition”, he said, adding that the institute had immediately flagged the age restriction on its website “without delay”.
In an earlier Facebook post Simon had sarcastically thanked Mi Hazánk’s vice-president, Dóra Dúró, for giving the exhibition at the museum publicity. “The National Museum is alive and well,” read the post, next to pictures of long queues outside the museum. “Thank you, dear representative Dúró.”
Dúró, a former politician for nationalist party Jobbik, last month held a press conference in which she described the World Press Photo exhibition as “harmful”, and objected to its highlighting of a case in Kenya, where a 25-year-old non-binary lesbian was raped and murdered.
This year some Hungarian booksellers were fined for selling books depicting homosexuality, which were not wrapped in plastic as required by the legislation.
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