For the second year in a row, Covid has succeeded in doing what many had once thought impossible: toning down Pride celebrations. From Berlin to Brighton, Toronto to San Francisco, parades have been cancelled or put online, floats forgotten and parties swapped for quieter, often more reflective events.
But in Budapest, where LGBTQ+ activists are engaged in a near-existential fight against the rightwing government of Viktor Orbán, the stakes were too high for Pride to take a back seat.
Even before the Hungarian parliament passed legislation this week likened by critics to Russia’s “gay propaganda” law, the community had started planning a mass parade in the centre of the capital next month that would serve as both a warning to Orbán and a strong show of solidarity.
“We thought it was really important to show LGBT people that they are not alone; that they are not abandoned; that there are a lot of people who stand up for them. And now it is even more important to show that,” said Viktória Radványi of Budapest Pride.
“We are planning to show all the people who are afraid and anxious and think 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 a lot of people who are more and more organised.”
The measures passed by the Hungarian parliament this week make it illegal for information that the government considers to be promoting homosexuality or gender change to be shared with under-18s. It means, for instance, that gay people will not feature in school educational materials, TV shows for under-18s, or adverts if they are deemed to target that age group.
The government says the moves are aimed at helping children avoid anything “which could … confuse their developing moral values or their image of themselves or the world”. Human rights groups have hit back, arguing that the law in fact risks a mental health crisis in the young people it purports to protect.
Radványi said that the Budapest Pride organisation had already started to see that impact. “It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “Teenagers are texting [us] saying they are waking up crying as they cannot deal with this law … They cannot imagine how they can live a full and relatively happy life in Hungary any more.”
Compared with other former eastern bloc countries Hungary was relatively progressive on LGBTQ+ rights until Orbán and his rightwing Fidesz party came to power in 2010. Since then, and in particular in the past year, things have steadily worsened.
In May 2020, the parliament voted through a bill that ended legal recognition for trans people, scrapping previous provisions whereby people could alter their gender and name on official documents. Then, in November, the government signalled its intention to change the constitution in defence of so-called “Christian values”, effectively ensuring that only heterosexual married couples can adopt children.
And then came the latest law, which activists fear could lead to a rise in hostility towards LGBTQ+ people similar to that already seen in Russia, which passed its own notorious “propaganda law” in 2013.
There are growing fears that LGBTQ+ people have replaced refugees and migrants as the favoured scapegoat of the government as it approaches elections next year. “They need to give their voter base something,” said Radványi.
Like many, she also suspects that the legislation is partly aimed at distracting attention from Hungary’s Covid disaster. Until recently the country had the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita, at about 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, second wave, and now, is to steer away voters’ attention from the fact that people are dying unnecessarily because we don’t have enough doctors and nurses,” she said.
Despite that dismal picture Hungary has now managed to fully vaccinate more than 40% of the population, so the organisers of Budapest Pride feel able to go ahead with a march through the centre of the capital on 24 July. It is billed as the culmination of a month-long series of events starting on 25 June.
Radványi said that as bleak as the future looked there were still reasons to hope. She pointed to a recent Ipsos poll which found that more than 60% of Hungarian people believed that same sex parents were “just as likely as other parents” to raise a child well.
“A majority – we never expected that result after two years of hate campaigning,” she said. “Our personal experience was the same and now this poll … has confirmed it: that Hungarian people are not as hateful and much less homophobic than the government.”