Budapest Pride march is a protest against anti-gay laws, say organisers

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Budapest’s last Pride march, in 2019, attracted 20,000 people. Organisers say this year’s event will be much bigger. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
Saturday’s Pride march in Budapest will be “a celebration, but also a protest”, organisers have said, as Hungary’s LGBT community prepares to rally in defiance of an escalating anti-gay campaign by the country’s government.
Johanna Majercsik, one of the organisers of Pride month in Budapest, which culminates with the march, said she expected to see many more in attendance than the roughly 20,000 marchers who attended the last Pride march in the city, two years ago.
“There is huge outrage in society about what has been happening.” she said.
A law came into force earlier this month that bans the portrayal of LGBT themes to children, with huge implications for education, art and entertainment in the country.
Campaigners say that with a parliamentary election next spring that is likely to be closely fought, the far-right government of Viktor Orbán is looking to shore up its conservative base with an anti-LGBT campaign.
Unlike in Poland, anti-LGBT rhetoric has not previously been a major part of the platform of Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party, with its campaigning over the past five years mostly focused on opposing migration.
“They need a new group to be hated, and I think there is no other government in Europe, not even in Poland, which as openly incites hatred against people as this government,” said Máté Dániel Szabó, of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
On Wednesday, Orbán doubled down on the legislation, announcing a referendum that would pose five leading questions about whether Hungarians want their children “protected” from LGBT content.
“LGBTQ activists visit kindergartens and schools and conduct sexual education classes. They want to do this here in Hungary as well,” said Orbán, in a video address announcing the referendum. He said the government had decided to put the bill to a public vote after it was attacked by politicians across Europe.
One of the questions on the referendum paper will be: “Do you support minors being shown, without any restriction, media content of a sexual nature that is capable of influencing their development?”
Despite the government’s repeated claims that the law will protect children from sexual content, it actually bans all portrayals and discussion of LGBT people and themes to young people.
There is an enforcement procedure to ensure that content featuring any portrayal of LGBT people can not be shown on television during daytime or early evening hours. Headteachers who allow sex education from groups not registered by the government can be fined, and the law also prevents schools from teaching books with LGBT characters or themes.
“In literature we talk about feelings, emotions, relationships and love,” said Andrea Sipos, a Hungarian literature teacher at a high school in the city of Miskolc. “I want to teach based on the needs of the children in my classes, not based on a very narrow curriculum.”
Last autumn, when a far-right MP publicly shredded a book of modern fairytales that covered LGBT themes, and Orbán’s cabinet chief called the book “homosexual propaganda” that should be banned, Sipos brought the book to class for her pupils to discuss.
Since the law was passed, however, a number of parents have retrospectively complained about the “inappropriate content” in her lessons, putting her at potential risk of losing her job even though, for now, she retains the support of the school’s headteacher.
“Of course, there are some teachers who agree with the law but there are lots of teachers who are angry. But most of them are silent, and this is where self-censorship comes in,” she said.
The law has raised concerns about the effect it will have on LGBT children as they grow up. Previously, there were NGOs that offered support and counselling in schools. Now, only government-approved groups will be allowed to do this, and LGBT children will be cut off from books or topics that deal with issues relevant to them.
“Kids are raised straight, but some of them are born LGBTI, like me,” said René van Hell, the Dutch ambassador in Budapest, who, like most ambassadors from EU nations, plans to attend Pride on Saturday.
“It’s important for LGBTI children that they see positive role models, for their development and to become proud Hungarians,” he said.
Máté Mali, an 18-year-old from southern Hungary, said even without the law it was hard to find books and information that was relevant to his own experiences while he was growing up.
“I like reading, but after some time I was fed up that I couldn’t find myself in any of the books I was reading. Then I started to read books with gay characters and I felt like I could see myself there finally,” he said.
Mali came out to his family and friends three years ago, after watching images of Budapest Pride on television and feeling empowered, but Saturday will be the first time he will attend the march in person.
Mali said the current climate in Hungary made him want to leave as soon as possible to study abroad, however. “It’s hard to imagine a future here … I don’t know where I will live my life when I finish studies, but I do know it won’t be Hungary,” he said.
It is a sentiment that more and more LGBT people in the country share.
“I’m lucky that I live in Budapest, I have a good salary and my colleagues are open-minded,” said Majercsik, who is 37 and works for an advertising company. However, she said the new legislation, along with a ban last year on legally changing gender and the feeling that homophobes are now more empowered, were all combining to make LGBT people wonder if they have a future in the country.
“If this government wins elections again next year, then I will have to think about it. At the end of the day you have only one life,” she said.

Author:Shaun Walker
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