By Krisztina Than and Krisztina Fenyo
BUDAPEST, Oct 19 (Reuters) - Boldizsar Nagy hoped that the tales in the children's book "Wonderland Is For Everyone" would help youngsters to learn to accept minorities and fight social ostracism.
Instead, it has caused a stir in Hungarian politics, with the far-right and the ruling nationalist government labelling it "homosexual propaganda" that should be banned from schools.
More than 1,200 psychologists have since signed a petition in defence of the book, which was edited by Nagy. The tales include stories about Tivadar, a bunny born with three ears, an adopted boy, and Batbajan, a Roma boy, who is hated by his step-mother for his skin colour but finds love when he meets Zeke, a fair-haired boy.
Only a few of the 17 stories that teach acceptance towards people who are in some way "different", are about LGBT+ heroes.
Nagy, 37, who is gay and has Roma roots, says the backlash signals a rise in official intolerance of LGBT+ people and fits into the government's political agenda.
"It is unbecoming that a children's book is used for inciting hatred...or political gains," he said. "Looking at what happened in Poland or Russia, it does not bode well for the future. We are concerned."
Russia in 2013 passed a law banning the distribution of "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships" to minors.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which faces elections in early 2022 and promotes a strongly Christian-conservative agenda, has so far refrained from strong attacks on the LGBT+ community, unlike Poland, where homophobia has been part of the ruling PiS party's ideology.
This appears to be changing now.
Orban, who faces the biggest challenge of his decade-long rule due to the coronavirus pandemic and a deep recession, told state radio that Hungary was a tolerant country when it comes to homosexuality, but "there is a red line that should not be crossed ... leave our children alone."
In a speech over the weekend, he returned to the issue.
"There is a growing debate around us, a struggle almost at daggers drawn, about the future of our children. What influences should they be under?...How should they relate to their families, to Hungarian identity, and even to the sex they have been born into?"
A government spokesman declined to say if the government was planning any legal changes. In a reply to Reuters questions he said: "We have said all we wanted with relation to this issue."
LIVING WITH STIGMA
The book sold out fast after a lawmaker from the far-right Our Homeland party tore a copy apart and shredded it at a news conference. On Friday, a new edition came out in print.
Several actors have volunteered to take part in a podcast, and the support they received was encouraging, Nagy said. But a widening divide in society around the issue could make lives of LGBT+ people harder, he said.
"It takes years for everyone to accept their indentity which is a stigma in Hungary...especially if you grow up in the countryside or in a religious family," he said.
"This book was a little bit also self-therapy for me."
Nagy came out when he was 30 and he was able to openly talk about being gay at work. Living in a stable relationship for six years, he and his partner want to adopt a child.
This is only possible in Hungary for gay couples if one of them applies as a single person as Hungary does not allow gay marriage.
Having been on the waiting list for two years, they had high hopes. These were dampened on Oct. 5 when the government tweaked legislation, saying that for each child, a married couple should first be searched nationwide. The civil law already says married couples should enjoy priority in adoption.
"We thought we would have a child by Christmas...theoretically single people and gay people can still adopt a child, but this will be a much longer process," Nagy said.
(Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Angus MacSwan)