For the second year in a row, Covid has managed to do what many had deemed impossible: tone down Pride celebrations. From Berlin to Brighton, Toronto to San Francisco, parades were canceled or put in line, floats forgotten, and parties swapped for quieter, often more thoughtful events.
But in Budapest, where LGBTQ + activists are involved in an almost existential struggle against the right-wing government of Viktor Orbán, the stakes were high for Pride to take a backseat.
Even before the Hungarian parliament passed legislation this week compared by critics to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, the community had started planning a massive parade in the center of the capital next month that would serve as much as a warning for Orbán as a strong show of solidarity.
“We thought it was very important to show LGBT people that they are not alone; that they are not abandoned; that there are many people who defend them. And now it is even more important to demonstrate that, ”said Viktória Radványi from Budapest Pride.
“We are planning to show all the people who are afraid and anxious and think that they cannot be happy because this government is crushing human rights and freedom of speech and freedom of the media that there is hope and that there are many people who they are increasingly organized. “
Measures passed by the Hungarian parliament this week make it illegal for information that the government considers to promote homosexuality or gender change to be shared with people under 18 years of age. It means, for example, that gay people will not appear in school educational materials, television programs for those under 18 years of age, or advertisements if they are deemed to be directed at that age group.
The government says the measures are intended to help children avoid anything “that may … confuse their developing moral values or their image of themselves or the world.” Human rights groups have responded by arguing that the law, in fact, runs the risk of a mental health crisis in the young people it is intended to protect.
Radványi said that the Budapest Pride organization had already started to see that impact. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “Teens send text messages [us] saying that they are waking up crying because they cannot cope with this law … They can no longer imagine how they can live a full and relatively happy life in Hungary ”.
Compared to other former eastern bloc countries, Hungary was relatively progressive on LGBTQ + rights until Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party came to power in 2010. Since then, and in particular over the past year, things have steadily gotten worse. .
In May 2020, parliament passed a bill that ended the legal recognition of trans people, removing previous provisions whereby people could alter their gender and name in official documents. Then, in November, the government signaled its intention to change the constitution in defense of so-called “Christian values,” effectively ensuring that only married heterosexual couples can adopt children.
And then came the latest law, which activists fear could lead to an increase in hostility towards LGBTQ + people similar to that. already seen in russia, which passed its own notorious “propaganda law” in 2013.
There is a growing fear that LGBTQ + people have replaced refugees and migrants as the government’s favorite scapegoat as next year’s elections approach. “They need to give something to their voter base,” Radványi said.
Like many, he also suspects that the legislation is aimed in part to distract attention from the Covid disaster in Hungary. Until recently, the country had the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita, around 300 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins data.
“One of the reasons they started this anti-LGBTQ legislation in the middle of the first wave, the second wave, and now, is to divert the attention of voters from the fact that people are dying unnecessarily because we don’t have enough doctors. and nurses, ”he said.
Despite this bleak outlook, Hungary has managed to fully vaccinate more than 40% of the population, so the organizers of the Budapest Pride feel able to go ahead with a march through the center of the capital. July 24. It is billed as the culmination of a month-long series of events starting June 25.
Radványi said that, as bleak as the future seemed, there was still reason for hope. She pointed to a recent Ipsos survey It found that more than 60% of Hungarians believed that parents of the same sex were “as likely as other parents” to raise a child well.
“A majority, we never expected that result after two years of hate campaigns,” he said. “Our personal experience was the same and now this survey … has confirmed it: that Hungarians are not as obnoxious and much less homophobic than the government.”