Hungary fines bookstore chain over LGBTQ+ graphic novel, says it violated law

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A government office in Hungary on Thursday levied a hefty fine against a national bookseller over a LGBTQ+ graphic novel, saying it violated a contentious law that prohibits the depiction of homosexuality to minors.

The bookseller, Lira Konyv, is Hungary’s second-largest bookstore chain. It was fined 12 million forints ($35,930) for placing the popular “Heartstopper” by British author Alice Oseman in its youth literature section, and for failing to place it in closed packaging as required by a 2021 law.

The Budapest Metropolitan Government Office, which issued the consumer protection fine, told state news agency MTI that it had conducted an investigation into the store’s selling of the title.

“The investigation found that the books in question depicted homosexuality, but they were nevertheless placed in the category of children’s books and youth literature, and were not distributed in closed packaging,” the office said.

The fine is based on Hungary’s 2021 “child protection” law, which forbids the display of homosexual content to minors in media, including television, films, advertisements and literature. It also prohibits LGBTQ+ content in school education programs, and forbids the public display of products that depict or promote gender deviating from sex at birth.

Hungary’s government insists that the law, part of a broader statute that also increases criminal penalties for pedophilia and creates a searchable database of sex offenders, is necessary to protect children. But it is seen by critics of the country’s right-wing government as an attempt to stigmatize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In April, 15 countries of the European Union backed legal action against the law in the European Court of Justice, and the bloc’s top executive, Ursula von der Leyen, has called it “a disgrace.”

The fine against Lira Konyv comes just two days before the Budapest Pride march, an annual event that draws thousands of LGBTQ+ people and their supporters in Hungary’s capital.

In a statement, the Budapest Metropolitan Government Office said it had ordered Lira Konyv to ensure the lawful distribution of the book, and that it “will always take strict action against companies that do not comply with the law.”

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