As MTV EMAs Go Ahead in Budapest Despite Anti-LGBTQ Laws, Hungarian Activist Award Winner Details ‘Fear and Censorship’ (EXCLUSIVE)

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Viktória Radványi, the Hungarian winner of the MTV EMAs Generation Change Award, has revealed an extraordinary picture of life under the anti-LGBTQ law passed in the country in June.

The bill bans content deemed to promote homosexuality and gender change on primetime television. “The Hungarian government actually didn’t outline how the bill will be enforced, if it would be enforced at all … nobody received a fine, nobody has received anything,” Radványi told Variety. “The most difficult part about it is the self-censorship it can create in society, and the fear is great in society.”

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Radványi, a board member of Budapest Pride, Hungary’s first feminist and anti-racist LGBTQ+ NGO, says that the bill has created a scenario of immediate self-censorship with schools, including the most progressive and elite institutions, removing LGBTQ books from their libraries.

“So even though nobody has received a fine because of this bill, the censorship is still in effect, and what they are afraid of the most, besides the financial side, is smear articles in government propaganda,” says Radványi. “And that’s what was happening right after the bill was passed. Several schools were smeared in big government propaganda media, because they heard that there was a discussion in that school about LGBTQ people. And that is how the government entices fear and censorship within society using these tools.”

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, was set as the venue for MTV’s annual European Music Awards (EMAs) two years ago, before the bill was passed. MTV decided to forge ahead with the event in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, with Chris McCarthy, president and CEO of MTV Entertainment Group Worldwide, confirming the company’s stance in a heartfelt memo sent internally to staff.

Radványi is one of five young changemakers recognized by the 2021 MTV EMA Generation Change Award for furthering equality and love while fighting against anti-LGBTQ+ policies. The award is conferred by MTV Entertainment and leading global LGBTQ+ advocacy group All Out.

The other honorees are Amir Ashour, the founder and chair of the board of IraQueer, Iraq’s first national LGBTQ+ organization; Matthew Blaise, activist and founder of The Oasis Project, an organization that promotes positive representation of LGBTQ+ people in Nigeria; Sage Dolan-Sandrino from the U.S., who creates art at the intersections of her identities as an Afro-Cuban queer and trans woman; and Erika Hilton, the first Black trans woman ever elected to the state legislature in São Paulo, Brazil, who also serves as the president of the Human Rights Commission there.

The recipients were honored by actor and talk show host Drew Barrymore via a taped piece during the EMAs on Sunday, which were hosted by rapper Saweetie.

“It’s been unbelievable how many difficulties and hostilities we have had to [experience] in the past two years, and now that we are not smeared in the media [or] harassed, but we are actually rewarded for what we do, it’s unbelievable,” says Radványi of the MTV award. “It gives you a lot of positive energy. And it also gives our community an opportunity to gain more visibility to talk about our issues and just show positive examples for all the young LGBTQ people in Hungary who really feel anxious and depressed about what’s going on in our country.”

Meanwhile, Matt Beard, executive director of New York and London-based advocacy org All Out, says that one of their goals is “to ensure that Hungary is held to account for the violations of LGBTQ rights.”

“Our objective is to really bring international attention to this huge assault on civil and political rights of LGBTQ+ Hungarians,” Beard told Variety. All Out has started a petition, which currently has 90,000 signatures from 100 countries, to pressure the European Union into changing Hungary’s position.

This is the fourth year of the Generation Change initiative, which recognizes young people tackling the world’s toughest problems through music, storytelling or digital media.

Brianna Cayo Cotter, senior VP of social impact at MTV Entertainment Group, says the decision to honor LGBTQ activists this year was a “no brainer.”

“We knew that when we made the choice to stay to keep the show in Hungary that we were going to need to give a platform to the young Hungarian LGBTQ activists here who are on the frontlines of pushing back against the censorship laws, but also connect that to the global young LGBTQ movement,” Cayo Cotter told Variety.

When asked about a possible Hungarian government backlash against MTV, Cayo Cotter points to the company’s long history of promoting representation, especially Cuban-American AIDS educator Pedro Pablo Zamora, whose story was told on MTV’s reality television series “The Real World: San Francisco” in 1994.

“I think when you have such a deep grounding in knowing how much that kind of representation matters, we couldn’t really do anything but do this when the laws here are saying that you shouldn’t be able to see positive representation of LGBTQ people,” says Cayo Cotter. “Like that is the antithesis of who we are as a company and the responsibility that we have as a media entertainment company to show and uplift authentic, real portrayals of all people but, in particular with our history, LGBTQ people.”

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