In Ireland we ask if Pride is now too corporate. Where I live it’s about gay people’s right to exist

Shaun Lavelle, an Irishman who lives in Budapest, on marching for European values

Budapest Pride: Shaun (left) with Tomas, a Hungarian who moved home after spending years in Dublin

Budapest Pride: Shaun (left) with Tomas, a Hungarian who moved home after spending years in Dublin

 

Shaun Lavelle is an Irish editor and teacher based in Budapest. On Saturday he joined thousands of Hungarians for the annual Budapest Pride march to support LGBTQ+ people and protest against a law that limits schools teaching about homosexuality and transgender issues. The European Commission has launched legal action against Viktor Orbán’s government, saying the new law is discriminatory and contravenes European values of tolerance and individual freedom

When revellers and activists showed up for Budapest Pride six years ago, the air stank of manure. The city council, run at the time by the populist Fidesz party, had conveniently decided to fertilise trees along the parade’s route the night before. “It was awful,” Anna told me as we marched down Andrássy Avenue this weekend, for Budapest Pride 2021. “It absolutely stank.” 

LGBTQ+ people in Hungary are used to challenging circumstances, but the past year has been the government’s open season on gays

LGBTQ+ people in Hungary are used to challenging circumstances, but the past year has been “the government’s open season on gays”, says one activist. So on Saturday, at what was billed as the most important Pride in Europe, the air felt celebratory, deeply political and, thankfully, manure free.

Faced with a difficult election against a unified opposition next year, Orbán has scapegoated the gay community, introducing an “anti-paedophilia law”. The Bill claims to ban the “depiction or promotion” of homosexuality to under-18s, but it deliberately conflates paedophilia and homosexuality.

It is still unclear how the Bill will be enforced legally, but it has had a chilling effect. Orbán-friendly radio and TV stations constantly question gay and trans peoples’ rights. Two weeks ago a gay couple had their door kicked in because a rainbow flag was hanging from their balcony. Nearly every gay Hungarian I have spoken to is planning to leave the country or questioning their future in an increasingly hostile environment.

At Pride in Dublin, the debate I hear most often is whether the event has become too corporate. In Budapest, the conversation is simply around the right to exist.

Against this backdrop, a record 30,000 people marched. Previous prides were considered exclusively “gay” events. Those were different this time. As one marcher put it, straight people have realised that it is a shared responsibility to make a statement against a ruthless government.

The atmosphere before the parade was tense. The official Pride website asked participants in the Budapest parade not to engage with counterprotesters and to let staff know if any had infiltrated the crowd.

As our group made its way to the parade’s starting point in a taxi, a straight woman said that her family had no problem with her participating in a gay-rights march but that they were worried about her safety.

Dublin was definitely not all rainbows, either. I didn’t feel comfortable holding hands with a guy in the street. But in Ireland I felt hopeful. Here the news makes me depressed, because my basic rights are constantly questioned

Tomas is a Hungarian who lived in Dublin for four years before moving back home in 2016, just after the Irish marriage-equality referendum. He was quick to point out that “Dublin was definitely not all rainbows, either. I didn’t feel comfortable holding hands with a guy in the street. But the difference is that, reading the news in Ireland, I felt hopeful. Here the news makes me depressed, because my basic rights are constantly questioned.

“All of Hungary’s independent media organisations are covering this march … All two of them,” he said, only half-jokingly. There are only a handful of media outlets left that aren’t run by Orbán and his supporters.

In the end, the march, which was widely covered by international media, passed peacefully. At various points, groups of provocateurs shouted insults, made far-right salutes, and held signs saying “Stop LGBTQ paedophilia”, but they were firmly separated from the crowd by police.

The march ended at a park where there was a festival-like atmosphere as the mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, addressed the crowd. It was a big deal for those who gathered to hear him speak. A mayor hadn’t attended Pride for more than 10 years. His presence was a drop of optimism after a torrent of bad news.

As we left the park we packed away any Pride paraphernalia for our safety, hastily stuffing rainbow flags into our bags. Someone turned down their socks to hide the multicoloured stripes.

“Still,” one friend said as he hid a Pride facemask in his back pocket, “after a difficult year, this was definitely a great party.”

Some names have been changed to protect identities.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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