Press play to listen to this article.
BUDAPEST – Thousands of Hungarians marched in solidarity with the country’s LGBTQ + community on Saturday to protest government rhetoric and new legislation targeting sexual minorities that has drawn condemnation from Hungary’s European Union partners.
Members of the European Parliament joined the Pride parade through the streets of Budapest. Despite the tension, the mostly young participants maintained a festive mood, dancing to Abba songs and waving rainbow flags. However, there was also a feeling among the participants, who included many high school students, that this was an act of defiance.
“In the last two years, we have had a government attack on the LGBTQI community, a lot of hate speech and also the adoption of restrictive legislation in regards to transgender rights, adoption and, more recently, a law of Russian-style propaganda. ”Said Tamás Dombos, a board member of the Háttér Society, a Hungarian rights group.
“Many people came to show their support and to show that not everyone thinks like our government,” he said. “It feels great that so many people have turned up.”
Organizers estimated the turnout at around 30,000. In the summer heat, crowds packed the downtown avenues and the iconic Szabadság Bridge over the Danube. One participant said they did not recall a greater turnout in more than 20 years of attending Budapest Pride.
In June, the Hungarian parliament passed measures prohibiting the promotion and presentation of homosexuality or sex change topics to minors. The move, which affects educational programs and advertising, sparked alarm within Hungary’s LGBTQ community and prompted the European Commission to formally launch Legal procedures against Hungary.
Many teens told POLITICO that controversial legislation motivated them to attend a Pride march for the first time.
“We believe that everything that is owed to us in a heterosexual relationship should go to everyone, regardless of the type of relationship they have,” said Réka, 19, who attended the parade with friends for the first time.
“The meaning of Pride is that you can love whoever you want,” added 16-year-old Lia, who was also attending her first and said she came in part because she has gay friends.
Small groups of far-right activists, some in “Defend Europe” T-shirts, organized their own counter-protests. They waited for Pride participants near the banks of the Danube with large “Stop LGBT” signs and shouted insults.
Pride participants responded with cheers and slogans such as “love is a human right.” The police kept the two sides separate. There were no immediate reports of violence.
The issue of LGBTQ + rights is expected to remain high on Hungary’s political agenda ahead of key parliamentary elections next year.
ELECTORAL SURVEY OF THE NATIONAL PARLIAMENT OF HUNGARY
For more survey data from across Europe, visit POLITICAL Survey of polls.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán unexpectedly called for a referendum on five issues related to the rights of sexual minorities. Opponents criticized the move as an effort to divert public attention from other issues that have put its nationalist government under pressure, such as recent revelations that government critics had their phones pointed at the Pegasus spyware scandal.
in a video Orbán said the popular vote was necessary because “Brussels has clearly attacked Hungary in recent weeks” over restrictions on the representation of homosexuality. “When the pressure on our country is so strong, only the common will of the people can protect Hungary,” he said.
European politicians who attended Saturday’s march insisted that the EU’s commitment to fundamental human rights is at stake.
“The European Union is not just an economic union,” said German Green MEP Terry Reintke. “It is a union that is based on values. And this includes the fundamental rights of all citizens, not just white straight men. ”
Reintke, who joined the parade and addressed the crowd, told POLITICO that “after the recent escalation” with Hungary’s new measures, several MEPs decided to come to Budapest to show that there is “solidarity from all over Europe.”
This opinion was shared by the MEP of the Irish European People’s Party Maria Walsh, who was also present.
“I’m here as an activist ally and a member of the community, as a lesbian,” Walsh said. “I think it is incredibly important, now more than ever, that we show solidarity with members of the community.”
More international support for Hungary’s LGBTQ + community came from some 30 countries, including the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, and 19 EU members, whose embassies issued a joint declaration support. They expressed concern about “recent events that threaten the principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“We encourage steps in all countries to guarantee the equality and dignity of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and we emphasize the need for elected leaders and governments to show respect and protection of the rights of people. LGBTQI + ”, the embassies added.