Hungary National Museum director is fired over Filipino LGBTQIA+ content

The photos in question are by Filipina photographer Hannah Reyes Morales—specifically, her work showcasing Home for the Golden Gays.

On Nov. 6, Laszlo L. Simon, the director of the Hungarian National Museum, got fired by the central European country’s culture minister for breaking a law that bans the showcase of LGBTQIA+ content to minors, according to a report by the Associated Press

The photos in question are by Filipina photographer Hannah Reyes Morales—specifically, her work showcasing the Home for the Golden Gays, a facility that takes care of the elderly and homeless gays, or “lolas,” (grandmothers). The non-profit organization was founded in the 1970s by the late Justo Justo, a columnist, former Pasay City councilor, and LGBTQIA+ activist.   

Morales’ work, which was shot for the New York Times,  was part of the 2023 World Press Photo Contest exhibition hosted by the Hungarian National Museum. A competition that “recognizes and celebrates the best photojournalism and documentary photography produced over the last year,” the World Press Photo Contest deemed Morales’ work the best in Southeast Asia and Oceania. 

And yet amid these accolades, the photos were deemed “inappropriate” enough by the Hungarian government to consider them a violation of their child protection laws. Even with the resulting 18+ warning created for the exhibition in response to the government, Simon eventually got fired from his post. 

“I accept the decision, but I cannot accept it. The museum deliberately did not violate any legislation by presenting the pictures of the World Press Photo exhibition,” wrote Simon in a Facebook post. “As a father and grandparent of four children, I strongly refuse that our children should be protected from me or the institution I manage.”

Hungary National Museum director Laszlo L. Simon

There are long standing tensions surrounding LGBTQIA+ acceptance in Hungary. Proponents of the law that prohibits LGBTQIA+ content to be shown to minors posit that the rule will help combat pedophilia, but pro-LGBT groups in the country and Amnesty International Hungary, among other groups, have viewed the legislation as anti-LGBT. Even 15 countries within the European Union have enforced legal action against the law. 

Of course, it’s valid to feel enraged by the developments in Hungary, especially as someone who is part of the queer community. You can point to these photos and exclaim: “where exactly in these pictures do you see any threats to children?” It’s also easy to drop the bomb and say that the Hungarian government has it backwards, but to open that Pandora’s box requires a more extensive discussion—one that their countrymen have been conducting already, anyway. 

Hungarian politics aside, the fact that photos of our lolas from the Philippines prompted these developments is enough for us to pay attention. Recently, the Golden Gays resurfaced in Philippine pop culture because of Drag Race Philippines Season 2, where the top six queens gave the lolas a drag makeover and sashayed alongside them on the runway.

The episode also gave a new platform for the lolas to share their stories, from their experiences of discrimination from decades ago to how they’ve continued to perform and showcase their unapologetic selves amid adversity. By extension, the newfound exposure opened the doors for more people to understand the challenges of the lolas and how the community can help them manage day-to-day living. 

Carmen Dela Rue and ØV Cünt. Photo from Facebook/Drag Race Philippines

It’s easier to manage things in our own backyard, so let’s move forward from this ban with the following thoughts in mind:

First, major strides toward acceptance and visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community have been made in the Philippines (and globally), but resistance still finds its way to get back and hinder progress. Therefore, we must continue to fight and do the work. 

Second, that there is a link being formed between LGBTQIA+ matters and child protection (ergo, pedophilia) assumes the inherent “evils” of the queer community and how they are a negative influence for the youth. But I can only imagine how much more different the lives of the Golden Gays could have been if they were accepted for who they are at an early age. Kudos to them for surviving to tell the tale for our queer youth today, but I just couldn’t help wondering. 

Third, it’s convenient to link the evils of society to a community that the majority regards as “immoral”—just look at the multitudes of cultural performers imitating or using religious concepts as material, and who do the masses persecute among all of them? A drag queen in Pura Luka Vega.

While I am not as privy to the workings of Hungarian society and their queer community, I invite our community here in the Philippines to do work that could hopefully lead us away from situations akin to what’s happening over in Central Europe.

The new lifestyle.