Homérosz Association - Háttér Society Archives
Budapest Csanády utca 4b, Hungary 1132
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Name of collection
- Homeros - Lambda Association of Hungarian Homosexuals
Provenance and cultural activities
The archiving activities of gay subcultures in Hungary is firmly linked to the modalities of institutionalization of homosexuality and the accompanying cultural and political debates. The Archive of the Háttér Society has two major sources. First, it contains the 1980s records of its legal predecessor, the Homeros-Lambda Association, the first officially registered gay organisation in Hungary. The second source held in the archive is the private collection of two founding members of the association, László Láner and Gábor Bencze Takács, the editors of Mások (The Others), a Hungarian gay-rights magazine.
The first successful initiative in homosexual self-organisation in Hungary occurred with the latent assistance of the state authorities. In 1985, initiated by Lajos Romsauer (who later served as president) and sociologist Péter Ambrus (who later served as general secretary), a network of friends began to consider founding an “LMBTQI" (at the time time, an acronym which essentially meant “homosexual”) association or organisation in the country. The foundation of the association, however, proceeded very slowly. Only in 1987 did the Ministry of Health give the green light to an organisation known by the acronym Homérosz (“Magyar Homoszexuálisok ‘Homeros-Lambda’ Egyesülete,” or ‘Homer-Lambda’ Association of Hungarian Homosexuals). Formally, the society was dedicated to AIDS prevention and the social integration of the homosexual minority. Dr Lajos Romsauer, who had already worked to represent homosexuality and the homosexual community in public, served as president. Homérosz also received financial aid from the Ministry of Health, though most of the members had no information about this aid.
Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1962 in Hungary (for the sake of comparison, in France homosexuality was not a crime according to the 1791 revolutionary penal code, while for instance in England and Wales, it was only decriminalized in 1967), but the records of the police and the Ministry of Interior suggest that the authorities made considerable efforts to keep the gay community under surveillance. In the political and social context of late socialism in Hungary, members of the gay community had little chance to represent themselves either symbolically or institutionally in broader society.
Beginning in the 1970s, the public (typically scientific) discourse on queer minorities focused intensively on sexuality, primarily from a psychological perspective. Homosexuality itself was analysed in contradictory terms, mostly as a dysfunction in psychosexual development. As the well-known psychiatrist Béla Buda claimed in his writings, “it is not a disease, and it must be socially accepted as a psychosexual phenomenon.” Accordingly, homosexual relationships were interpreted as an unproductive sexual habit which was an obstacle to genuine happiness. Buda knew that any forced “conversion” to a heterosexual way of life would not be effective. Any such change of sexual preference, he claimed, had to be based on mutual consent. At the same time, Buda also paradoxically maintained that raising the level of social acceptance of homosexuality might help homosexuals “turn back” to heterosexuality and become heterosexuals again.
During the Kádár era, homosexuality could primarily be discussed in public if framed as part of scientific discourse. It is no accident that the first public representative of the homosexual community was a well-known psychiatrist, Dr Lajos Romsauer. In October 1987, another AIDS association (Hungarian Association of AIDS) was founded, which published the first brochure on the issue of AIDS in 1988 under the title Fear Eats the Pleasure. At the time, launching an AIDS prevention program was not an easy task. Without official AIDS screening in the late 1980s in Hungary, someone helped smuggle blood samples collected by Homérosz to Vienna, where an AIDS screening centre provided analyses of the samples.
After the foundation of Homérosz, the next milestone in the life of the LMBTQI community in Hungary was the opening of the very first dedicated Gay and Lesbian Pub, called “Lokál,” which opened during the political turmoil of 1989. The establishment was harassed by local residents in the area after the “political” transition, a fact which indicates the persistence of intolerance of the LMBTQI community.
The archive of the Háttér Society, thus, preserves primarily the traces of sub-cultural self-organisation. The history of the second major source of the archives, the collection of László Láner and Gábor Takács Bencze, illustrates this well. Láner and Takács Bencze were a well-known couple in the Budapest gay community in the 1980s. They founded the gay magazine Mások (The Others) in the early 1990s. The main goal of the periodical, according to them, was to inform the homosexual communities in Hungary, publish news relevant to them, and thus help organise community life. This intention of producing a sub-cultural public space was their guide in collecting and preserving material in the 1980s. In many ways, they turned the documents of this alternative public sphere over to the Háttér Society in 2005. Counter-cultural collecting and archiving became the means of shaping identity for homosexual sub-cultures of the socialist era.The survival of documents related to gay sub-cultures of the socialist period, therefore, is firmly linked to the changing institutional background of homosexuality after 1989. In post-communist Hungary, civil life was burgeoning in more and less organised forms. Also, several groups were established to represent the individual or collective rights of gay people at the time, for instance, the Habeas Corpus Team, which only partially dealt with the rights of homosexuals, or the Szivárvány (Rainbow) Association. In the mid-1990s, they began to institutionalize. Many of them could eventually obtain official registration (e. g. Habeas Corpus in 1996). The Háttér Society was formally established in 1995.
Description of content
The archive of Homérosz (owned by the Háttér Society) includes different type of materials: the founding document and membership cards. From the perspective of the study of the alternative cultural identity represented by homosexuality, the founding document is the most interesting. It argued and declared that 5% of the Hungarian population was homosexual (“lesbianus”), and that this “secretive community” was the most affected social minority in terms of AIDS. Furthermore, as the document claimed, social and political intolerance of the homosexual community left this community very isolated and made AIDS a sort of “undercover” problem. As the document maintained, it was not possible to solve this problem without increasing the social acceptance of homosexuality by allowing the homosexual community proper opportunities for cultural and social self-expression and organisation. As the document explicitly declared, the main purpose of the organisation was to form a network based on certain activities (“recreation”) as a distinct group (space as well) focusing on AIDS prevention. Homérosz sought to represent both male and female homosexual communities, but this took place only in part.
The founding document illustrates the rather tricky ways of constructing collective public identity for homosexuals in late socialist Hungary. Given the discriminative politics of the late socialist state, the only way to establish a homosexual association was to connect the recent phenomenon of AIDS as a public health issue to homosexuality. Thus, the founding document ended up confirming existing stereotypes (homosexuals are more promiscuous than heterosexuals, ideas that activists were struggling against in the USA) and socially isolating the issue of AIDS as a “gay” issue, but at the same time, it created a chance to deal with the complex tasks of preventing and treating AIDS (by maintaining de facto a gay organisation). To compare, in the GDR in this period, Gay and Lesbian organisations could only exist under the auspices of the Youth organisation of the Evangelical Church. After the foundation of Homérosz, referring to the Hungarian news agency (MTI), the leading Western news agencies (Reuters, AFP, EFE, dpa) reported on the event and interpreted the occasion as part of the Hungarian political transition.In his correspondence with a Ukrainian gay activist, Péter Ambrus reported that during 1988 Homérosz organised one informal meeting, followed by two additional meetings (in 1989), with LMBT activists from socialist (Czechoslovak, Poland, GDR, Yugoslavia) and even Western countries (Austria - HOSI, ILGA, “International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association,” founded in the UK). The discussion covered various types of LMBT-related issues, such as monogamy/promiscuity and AIDS screening/prevention.
- grey literature (regular archival documents such as brochures, bulletins, leaflets, reports, intelligence files, records, working papers, meeting minutes): 100-499
- publications (books, newspapers, articles, press clippings): 100-499
Stakeholder(s) of the collection
Geographical scope of recent operation
Date of founding
Place of founding
Location of Collection of Háttér Society
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Important events in the history of the collection
- visits by appointments
- Hanzli, Péter, Milán Banach Nagy, and B. Gábor Halmai. Meleg férfiak, hideg diktatúrák: életinterjúk. Budapets: Civil Művek Közművelődési Egyesület, 2015.
Author(s) of this page
- Apor, Péter
- Bódi, Lóránt
Ambrus, Péter. Peter Ambrus to an unknown Ukrainien Gay Activist, 08 March 1988. Letter. Háttér Society.
Buda, Béla. "A homoszexualitás" [Homosexuality]. In A szexualitásról a fogamzástól a felnőtté válásig : Az Élet és tudomány cikksorozata alapján [On Sexuality from Conception to Adulthood], edited by Lászlo M. Ludas, 196-203. Budapest: Tankönyvkiadó, 1975.
Hanzli, Péter, Milán Banach Nagy, and B. Gábor Halmai. Meleg férfiak, hideg diktatúrák: életinterjúk [Gay Men, Bitter Dictatorships: Life Interviews]. Budapest: Civil Művek Közművelődési Egyesület, 2015.
Gay Scotland. "Homosexuality Comes out of Hungary." August 1988.
Ők sem mások – Interjú Takács Bencze Gáborral és Láner Lászlóval [Not They Are Different: Interview with Gábor Takács Bencze and László Láner]. http://humenonline.hu/ok-sem-masok-interju-takacs-bencze-gaborral-es-laner-laszloval/
Takács, Judit. "Homoszexuálisok listázása a 20. századi Magyarországon" [Registering Homosexual Individuals in 20th Century Hungary]. Korall, no. 66 (December 2016), 5-31.
Nagy, Sándor, interview by Bódi, Lóránt, December 13, 2016. COURAGE Registry Oral History Collection