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Hungary's crackdown on LGBT representation boosted Pride march, organisers say

People take part in the Budapest pride march on July 15, 2023, in Hungary.
People take part in the Budapest pride march on July 15, 2023, in Hungary. Copyright Lili Rutai
Copyright Lili Rutai
By Lili Rutai
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The Hungarian crackdown on LGBT rights provided a boost to Budapest Pride this weekend, with tens of thousands pouring into the streets despite the 35 degrees heat, organisers said.

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According to the calculation of organisers, 35,000 people braved the heatwave and gathered at Városliget Park, a picturesque and historic site, on July 15. Among them were diplomats from around the world, international companies and tourists.

The march came a week after news reports started emerging that bookstores across the country were being forced the cover children and youth books that include LGBTQ characters in plastic.

Pictures from Libri, a popular bookstore chain, show some books wrapped in tight and thick plastic. The wrapping of these books, including some Marvel comics and fiction novels, is supposed to protect children from what the government deems LGBTQ propaganda.

'We will not cover books in plastic'

This is in line with Hungary’s “child protection law”, passed in 2021, which drew fierce criticism in the European Union. The rule bans the distribution of content which “promotes or portrays a divergence from self-identity corresponding to sex at birth, sex change or homosexuality” to minors.

Just a day before Budapest Pride, another chain, Líra, was fined 12,000,000 Forints (€32,000) for displaying the award-winning young adult book, Heartstopper, at the children’s section without a plastic cover.

“We will not cover books in plastic,” Judit Pecák, the owner of Massolit Books, an independent Budapest-based shop and cafe selling English books, said. “There are books that come in plastic foil, for example art publications or albums. Otherwise, I think that wrapping them doesn’t make much sense.”

Lili Rutai
Some books at the Libri bookshop in Budapest, Hungary, have been covered in plastic to comply with the so-called child protection law.Lili Rutai

This is from a business perspective, she explained, mentioning that their customers often wish to look into a book before buying, and that they don’t have the resources to wrap the books. On top of that, they wish to express their support for the LGBTQ community.

“As a bookshop, we want people to know that we are a welcoming space.”

Other stores and shopkeepers told Euronews of confusion and ongoing discussion regarding the rule.

This development, which has been widely covered in the Hungarian and international media, drew more people to the march, the organisers of Budapest Pride told Euronews.

“It’s interesting that two years ago, (the Hungarian Assembly) voted on the child protection law just a few weeks before the march. That also raised our popularity,” Zita Hrubi, a press representative for Budapest Pride, said.

'US proud to stand' with Hungarians

International support has been high for the event. Thirty-eight embassies and 11 cultural institutions endorsed a statement just one day before the march, urging the Hungarian government to “show respect for and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals and communities, and to eliminate laws and policies that discriminate against them.”

It was signed by every EU country apart from Poland, all of Hungary’s neighbours aside from Serbia, and the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. The representatives of many of these countries decided to participate in the march.

Lili Rutai
Us ambassador to Hungary David Pressman take spart in the Budapest Pride march on July 15, 2023.Lili Rutai

“This isn’t about the United States, it’s about Hungary and the reality that there are a lot of Hungarians who are working really hard to advance their fundamental rights, who the United States is proud to stand with,” US Ambassador David Pressman told Euronews, while walking at the Pride march in a suit. 

Pressman, who is married to a same-sex spouse was a speaker at the opening ceremony of Budapest Pride, and is an avid supporter of the LGBTQ community of Hungary, despite criticism from the Hungarian government. 

“(These) are not issues the United States is going to shy away from anytime soon. President Biden has been really clear in the United States' commitment to advancing fundamental rights to all people, including LGBTQ people and we will continue to do it here and everywhere.”

Caroline Charette, the Ambassador of Canada participated with employees of the embassy, carrying the Canadian flag enhanced with the colours of the rainbow.

Lili Rutai
Canadian ambassador to Hungary Caroline Charette, second from left, takes part in the Budapest Pride march on July 15, 2023.Lili Rutai

“(Our participation) is an important message of inclusion, of diversity, of supporting LGBTQ communities here and everywhere around the world,” Charette told Euronews at the march.

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The event’s main sponsor, Paramount Network, participated with a truck playing upbeat music. “Aside from entertainment, the support of social issues is particularly important for us,” Katinka Veres, PR and Communications Manager of the CEE region said.

The advertisement for the march, a colourful short film, showed two female characters touching foreheads. It was deemed to be against the “children protection act” by the Hungarian Media Council. Only the three Paramount channels in Hungary played it.

Lili Rutai
Police officers seperate counterprotesters from the Pride march in Budapest, Hungary, on July 15, 2023.Lili Rutai

The potential of falling foul of the law, or the two dozen counterprotesters didn’t seem to scare away the participants, who marched around a few blocks before returning to the park. After listening to speeches of activists and Gergely Karácsony, the mayor of Budapest, the colourful mass dispersed, only to meet later for the official afterparty, dancing away the pain caused by these laws.

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