A day in the daily life of a boy and a girl whose parents are of the same sex. This is what the children’s book says that has been in the eye of the hurricane in Hungary. The country has fined the Líra Könyv bookstore chain not to mention that the story describes “behaviors that deviate from traditional gender roles”, a way of marking LGTBI content, which joins the recently approved law that prohibits talking about homosexuality in schools. Titled Micsoda család! (That family!), the illustrated book is a Hungarian translation of two other titles whose original edition is Spanish, published in Spanish and Catalan in 2018 by the Egales publishing house, specialized in LGTBI issues.
Its author is Lawrence Schimel (New York, 1971) –with illustrations by Elīna Brasliņa– and has lived in Madrid for more than 20 years. Explain that with Soon in the morning Y It’s not time to play, the two books merged into the Hungarian edition, his intention was “to develop funny stories that just happened in homoparental families”. The first tells of the morning of a boy with two mothers and in the second the protagonist is a girl with two fathers who refuses to go to sleep. There are already 23 different editions in different countries of the world. “It has been exciting to see Hungarian families hanging photos with their children and the book in their hands,” he says.
The bookstore that exhibited his book without him disclaimer faces a fine. What was your reaction when you found out?
It was a surprise. We were all on alert because we see what is happening in Hungary, but we did not expect it. It has been something unusual, something like this has never happened to me with any of the 120 books that I have. An exciting thing has been to see that the bookstore, instead of putting the warning on the book, has placed a sign on the door of its stores that says “In this store we sell books with non-traditional content.” Although the Government is trying to attack the title and rights of LGTBI people in general, there are many people who are fighting against all this and trying to resist. The fine that shows is the need for more and more books like that.
The obligation to label these stories joins the homophobic laws passed by the country. How do you see this offensive against rights?
It sounds like when Jews were given a yellow triangle and homosexuals a pink triangle [estos fueron los símbolos con los que se identificaba a los prisioneros en los campos de concentración nazis] We have already seen in the past what happens when we start pointing this way. It is an authentic signaling and it is very dangerous, it is a direct attack, not only against LGTBI people, against the entire population.
With what idea did you write these books?
The intention was to create fun books in which the stories simply took place within homoparental families. There were books with LGTBI characters, but it was common for identity to be the main part of the plot and the engine of the plot. We wanted to do something different and not just for LGTBI families.
It is common in these sectors of the extreme right, not only in Hungary, the speech that tries to impose a moral panic with the excuse of protecting children from LGTBIQ content in the classroom.
Yes. It does not stand directly, and it is also the other way around. What they are trying to do is hide us and lie to children about us. LGTBI people exist and that is insulting the intelligence of children. The only thing that you are going to achieve with this is that the generations of the future are ignorant and that those who are LGTBI suffer. They are going to be much more afraid and more guilty for being what they are. They are equating what they feel with crimes such as pedophilia; it is very dangerous and harmful. Hiding reality from children can only harm them because what these rules do is show them that it is legitimate and that it is okay to hate and discriminate. They say that these books and these contents are going to turn minors into homosexuals, but all they do is help them not to become homophobes.
What reactions are you seeing as a result of the fine to the bookstore?
There is a lot of repercussion in the media and networks. On a personal level it has been very exciting to see what the bookstore has done, but also to see a lot of Hungarian families uploading photos on social networks with their children with the book in their hands. Although the Hungarian government is homophobic, society is moving in another direction. I have also seen how interest in the publication has increased, more people are finding out that it exists and there are publishers interested in publishing it in their countries.
Are you getting attacks?
There are attacks, yes. Less to me directly, but I do general hatred on social networks. It must be said that many are bots, but there are also people who are feeling free to unleash their hatred. That is why we need these contents that show the diverse society in which we live. The reality is that we are in a plural world, and little of that is reflected in the stories. I remember my first book published in Spain, in 1998, that one of the published reviews said “it is tiresome that all the characters are homosexuals.” We will never find a review that says that about heterosexuals, although it does not reflect what society is like. We tend to associate the masculine and heterosexual with the universal, and that has to change.
Is there a risk that these types of policies will spread?
Precisely the book is pending to be published in Russia, where the law requires them to place on the cover a notice that it is only for people over 18 years old and is created by foreign agents. So we are a bit expectant with what will happen with the edition in Russia. I trust that the disciplinary proceedings announced by the European Commission against Hungary and Poland for their homophobic laws are a step to stop more and more countries from feeling legitimated to do this. But it is true that if even in Spain, where we have laws that protect us, they are still feeling as free to attack us as they are doing, we have a long way to go.
Precisely in our country Vox has shown its support for the Hungarian president and the People’s Party last week abstained in a vote in the European Parliament on a resolution against Hungary …
It is very worrying and it is worrying in all countries. We have seen it with the Trump presidency also in the United States. I believe that we are on the right track in general, but there are setbacks in many countries and contexts, and even in those that are more open, but the reality is that our rights and freedoms are fragile.