BUDAPEST – An academic and LGBT activist in Hungary is among the word's 100 most influential people, according to Time magazine, for her work on a children's book that set in motion a debate over human rights in the Central European country.
“It’s an honor. Obviously, it feels really rewarding to be one of these amazing 100 people,” Dorottya Redai, a researcher at the CEU Democracy Institute in Budapest and activist with the Labrisz Lesbian Association, told The Associated Press.
The magazine included Redai on its annual TIME100 list last month to honor her efforts to advance LGBT rights in Hungary, where recent moves by the country's right-wing government have been blasted as an attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
At the center of Redai's recent work was her spearheading the publication of “Meseorszag Mindenkie” ("Fairyland is for Everyone"), a children's book that retells classic fairytales. The book features disabled children, Roma people, LGBT protagonists and members of other minority groups as characters.
According to Redai, who helped coordinate and recruit the 17 authors who contributed tales, the book was intended to “address social issues in ways that are digestible for younger children,” and to provide parents and teachers with a tool for discussing difficult topics like child neglect, the death of a parent, adoption and poverty.
But its publication sparked a backlash in Hungary. A week after “Fairyland is for Everyone" came out, a politician from a far-right party tore pages out of a copy and put them through a paper shredder, calling the book “homosexual propaganda.”
Prime Minister Viktor Orban said of the book in a radio interview that Hungary is a “tolerant and patient” country concerning LGBT people, but that there is a “red line: leave our children alone.”
“It was really like a tsunami of media and politicians saying really unimaginable things about how we corrupt children,” Redai said. “The book became immediately branded as an LGBT book, which it really isn’t.”
The uproar also made the book a bestseller in Hungary, Redai said, and led to international publishers seeking to release editions in numerous other languages.
Still, the travails in Hungary were not over. In January, a government office in Budapest ordered the book's publisher to place a disclaimer on titles that “display patterns of behavior that differ from traditional gender roles.”
Then in June, Hungary's parliament passed a law that prohibits the “depiction or promotion” of homosexuality and sex reassignment in materials accessible to minors under 18.
That law — along with newer regulations passed in August — means that “Fairyland is for Everyone” must appear on store shelves in opaque packaging and can't be sold within 200 meters (650 feet) of a school or church.
Last month, a mayor in a small town near Budapest ordered the book's removal from a local library, citing the controversial regulations.
Redai's efforts to publish and defend the collection of tales make her a “symbol of courage” in a “hostile societal environment,” Terry Reintke, a German member of the European Union parliament and a co-president of its LGBTI Intergroup, wrote in the TIME100 issue.
“This work shows so beautifully how colorful life is. It makes young people believe that - no matter who you are - there is a fairy tale waiting for you that is your life,” Reintke wrote.
Redai said she hopes her placement on the magazine's list "gives encouragement to LGBT people who are not necessarily activists, to say, ‘You are not alone, the whole world is watching you, so you should hold on.’”