Out in the World: Budapest Pride gets strong support from US and EU

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday July 19, 2023
Share this Post:
Gay United States Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman carried the American flag as he marched with thousands of Pridegoers in Budapest Pride on July 15. Photo: Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP
Gay United States Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman carried the American flag as he marched with thousands of Pridegoers in Budapest Pride on July 15. Photo: Tamas Kovacs/MTI via AP

Thousands of marchers recently took to the streets of Budapest, Hungary for the city's 28th annual Pride parade and festival. Among them was America's gay ambassador to the Eastern European country, David Pressman.

Pride marchers waved rainbow flags as they walked down Andrássy Avenue from City Park to Elizabeth Square in the capital city July 15.

Pressman, a married dad with two kids, carried the U.S. flag as he walked along with dignitaries from other countries in the parade. He closed out the weekend July 16 by hosting a family Pride picnic at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.

Ahead of Pride weekend, the U.S. was also among 36 countries and cultural institutions that signed onto a July 14 joint statement calling on Hungary's government to respect and protect LGBTQ people and strike down anti-LGBTQ laws.

"We are concerned with legislation and political rhetoric, including in Hungary, that is in tension with principles of non-discrimination, international human rights law and human dignity, and contributes to the stigmatization of the LGBTQI+ community," the July 14 statement read. "We stress the need for leaders and governments, here and elsewhere, to show respect for and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and communities, and to eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against them."

The message didn't deter several small groups of protesters, who waved banners with anti-LGBTQ slogans and lined the streets as Pride marchers walked by, reported the Associated Press.

Since 2020, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his conservative ruling Fidesz party have passed a series of anti-LGBTQ laws. The Bay Area Reporter previously reported on the bans on gender recognition. That same year, Hungary restricted marriage to between a man and a woman and banned same-sex adoption of children. The following year, Hungary's lawmakers passed a Russian-style so-called gay propaganda law that mandates books and other media mentioning LGBTQ experiences to be kept away from anyone under the age of 18.

In power since 2010, Orban won his fourth reelection bid last year. His government champions traditional family values and has increasingly leaned toward Russia and fought with European Union leaders. In May, Orban participated in the Conservative Political Action Conference where anti-LGBTQ Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili was a keynote speaker, reported JAM News.

The Guardian reported 15 E.U. states joined a legal case against Hungary's anti-LGBTQ+ child protection law. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was quoted calling the law a "disgrace."

In an unusual positive move earlier this year, Hungarian President Katalin Novak vetoed a bill that would have required people to report certain LGBTQ individuals to the government, reported Politico.

E.U. leaders lashed out against Hungary and filed a lawsuit against the country for violating human rights laws, as the B.A.R. previously reported.


The day before the Pride march Hungary's state-run consumer protection authority enforced the anti-gay propaganda law, fining Lira, Hungary's second-largest publisher and bookstore, 12 million forints ($27,400) for failing to plastic wrap "Heartstopper," the graphic gay teen love series written and illustrated by British author Alice Oseman. Streaming service Netflix, which acquired and adapted the series, plans to release the second season in August, reported the BBC.

Lira is owned by government-funded Mathias Corvinus Collegium, reported The Guardian. The fine can't be appealed, Krisztian Nyary, Lira's creative director and a well-known Hungarian author, told Reuters, but he plans to fight it.

"As this is a resolution about a fine it cannot be appealed, it can only be attacked - in what way, our lawyers will assess," he said. "We will use all legal means at our disposal."

Nyary plans to fight the law based on its vague language. It doesn't specify if all adult books need to be plastic wrapped and shelved in specific "adult" sections, or if only the books targeting minors that are about LGBTQ people should be wrapped and shelved in the adult section.

This is not the first time Hungarian authorities have enforced the 2021 law. The same year it was passed and enacted, Lira was fined 250,000 forints ($751) for displaying an American children's book whose main character had two fathers as parents. Earlier this year, Libri, another bookstore, was also fined 1 million forints (about $3,005) for the "improper display" of books, reported Euro News.

Peaceful protest

It wasn't just anti-LGBT protesters at Budapest Pride. People also came to the event to demonstrate against the Hungarian government's restrictions on LGBTQ stories and lives.

"Since the adoption of this law, the number of people participating at the Pride march almost doubled," Budapest Pride spokesperson Mate Hidveghi told ABC Australia, referring to the 2021 propaganda law.

Hungarian authorities and Budapest Pride organizers could not provide an estimate for how many people marched and enjoyed the festival. ABC Australia quoted witnesses who estimated 10,000 people came out for the event, and the Washington Blade reported 35,000 attendees after speaking with Budapest Pride organizers.

A 30-second animated TV advertisement for Budapest Pride — in which two female characters meet and touch foreheads — was forced to run late only between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., reported the AP. Most Hungarian stations chose not to run the advertisement to be safe, reported ABC Australia.

Budapest Pride's website was down after 12 p.m. local time July 15, with visitors to it receiving a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS). It was unavailable throughout the day and even on July 18, when the B.A.R. attempted to visit the site.

Amnesty International Hungary Director David Vig told the AP that in contrast to other Pride events across Europe, Budapest Pride is "a human rights demonstration" rather than a celebration of LGBTQ culture and history.

"This is for social acceptance, and this is for equal rights, because in Hungary, these are not secured. We are second-class citizens in many spheres of public life," Vig said.

He pointed to the fact that throughout Budapest's Pride Week Amnesty International's rainbow bench was defaced several times by white supremacist groups. Anti-LGBTQ slogans were spray-painted in the vicinity.

"It is really a clear political message of stopping the LGBTQI community of the country from coming into public spaces, to showing who we are," Vig said.

Kristof Steiner, a Budapest Pride emcee, told the AP he saw signals from younger generations of Hungarians that spelled tolerance for the LGBTQ community despite the current wave of anti-LGBTQ laws making life challenging.

"There is a very positive change. I see that the new generation is completely different," he told the AP.

Israeli Nimrod Dagan, who was marching in the parade, wasn't as hopeful. From his perspective, LGBTQ rights were being "taken away" in Hungary and Israel, he told the AP, which is why he felt "a responsibility to stand up for his community by taking part in the march."

Israel declined to sign onto the joint statement calling for Hungary's government to respect LGBTQ rights ahead of Budapest Pride, reported the Times of Israel. The newspaper reported Orban's government has blocked several of the E.U.'s measures against Jerusalem, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained close relations with Orban since 2010.

Pride picnic

The day after Budapest Pride, Pressman welcomed an estimated 1,000 LGBTQ and allied families to a picnic at the U.S. Embassy.

Pressman billed the event as the largest LGBTQ family gathering in Hungary's history and the second largest gathering beyond Budapest Pride. He told the audience the first thing he saw when he and his family stepped off the plane was a large sign that read, "Welcome to Family Friendly Hungary."

However, his family did not receive a warm welcome. In 2022, before his arrival the following year, a boat carrying a skull and crossbones banner with the message, "Mr. Pressman, don't colonize Hungary with your cult of death," sailed past the U.S. Embassy on the Danube River, reported the Daily Beast.

Pressman isn't taking the assaults personally. A photo of the boat and its banner is displayed in his office.

At the picnic, he criticized Hungary's anti-LGBTQ laws and censorship of books by leveraging hefty fines on publishers and booksellers and wrapping books telling LGBTQ stories in plastic to "protect children."

Pressman called Hungarian and other anti-LGBTQ politicians banning books, and media depicting LGBTQ experiences and diversity for minors as disagreeable, as "simply fairy tales."

In the face of negativity aimed at the LGBTQ community, he said, "Now is also the right time for the United States to celebrate you and your families," he said. "Welcome."

"Hungarians, like Americans, covet their freedom and revere their heroes," he said, calling the queer Hungarian parents and future parents Hungary's "everyday heroes."

"Everyday heroes working to advance the rights of every Hungarian; everyday heroes whose stories are too often hidden," he said about the queer parents and future parents who continue to "share their stories, share their families, and share their love to advance the human rights of all Hungarians."

Pressman said he invited members of the Hungarian government to the picnic, but he didn't believe they would come to the LGBTQ event.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.