Joumana El Zein Khoury, the executive director of World Press Photo says she is “shocked” at the Hungarian government’s decision to dismiss the director of the National Museum in Budapest over a show of images featuring LGBTQ+ people.
According to the BBC, the museum chief, Laszlo Simon, was sacked for letting visitors aged under 18 view work by the photographer Hannah Reyes Morales entitled Home for the Golden Gays. The project documents the inhabitants of a community-run care home for LGBTQ+ residents in Manila. World Press Photo, which is a non-profit Amsterdam-based foundation, oversees the show and also organises an annual photography competition.
“The Golden Gays are a community of older LGBTQ+ people from the Philippines who have lived together for decades, sharing a home, caring for each other as they age, and staging shows and pageants to make ends meet,” a statement on the World Press Photo website says.
El Zein Khoury tells The Art Newspaper: “I was shocked to hear about this decision. There is nothing explicit or offensive in these images. This series of photos is a thoughtful and honest record of the lives of a community of older LGBTQI+ people in the Philippines. I encourage anyone to visit our website to see the story and form their own conclusions.”
The controversy was sparked last month when the far right party Mi Hazank (Our Homeland) launched an inquiry into the exhibition, citing a 2021 law that bans the “display and promotion of homosexuality” in books and films accessible to under 18s. The museum subsequently placed a warning notice on its website and at the exhibition entrance.
But the Hungarian government, led by the right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban, fired Laszlo Simon on 6 November, saying that he had failed to comply with the aforementioned law. Indeed, Simon was a member of Orban’s Fidesz government from 2010 up until 2021. During this time he was appointed to positions including president of the committee of the Hungarian cultural fund and secretary of state for culture in the ministry of human resources. He was dismissed from the latter role after less than a year.
In a statement on the recent ousting, the Hungarian culture minister, János Csák, said that Simon had “failed to adhere to the legal obligations of the institution… and exhibited behaviour that rendered his continued employment unviable”.
Simon says that the museum had nonetheless acted on the ministry’s earlier instructions by advising under-18s that they were not permitted to view the photographs. In a statement posted on Facebook, Simon says: “I take note of the [censorship] decision, but I cannot accept it. As a father of four and a grandparent, I firmly reject the idea that our children should be protected from me or from the institution I run.”