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Editorial: Budapest streets now front line in battle for gay rights

The historic June 26 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage affirmed what a majority of Americans say they believe: that sexual orientation should not impinge on a person’s civil rights. The majority of Irish voters had already shown they feel the same way on May 22, when they chose to legalize same-sex marriage in a national referendum, held in a country where homosexuality was a crime until 1993.

In Hungary? Budapest Mayor István Tarlós went on TV on June 5 to declare that the Budapest Pride March, part of the city’s annual LGBTQ celebration, is “repulsive”, “demeaning” and “unnatural”. As America celebrates a major victory in the fight for gay rights, the struggle continues elsewhere in the world, and in many ways Budapest is on the front line.

That is why attending Budapest Pride events of July 3-12, especially the march on Saturday July 11, may be one of the most important ways of making yourself heard on this vital civil rights issue. It is also good fun.

The Budapest Pride March is particularly important because there are very few events like it in this part of the world. Due to shootings, riots and threats of violence from homophobes, Belgrade has only successfully managed three such marches in its history, and organizers in other Central and Eastern European countries give up on similar plans due to intimidation and lack of official cooperation. Budapest Pride is also important to Hungary, because the country has its own share of intolerance that must be confronted. Along with verbal attacks by vocally anti-gay mayor Tarlós, the march has also faced physical threats from homophobes.

The Budapest event started with a gay film festival and picnic in 1993, and since 1997 the weeklong celebration has culminated in a march. The festival steadily grew in popularity, adding more films and events, and also drawing the attention of homophobes. In 2007, hateful hooligans lined the parade route, harassing participants and violently attacking people who joined the march or the party that followed.

Instead of giving in, organizers pushed on, and all kinds of people who believe in tolerance began to give their support. Since 2008, the march has been better protected by police and better attended by celebrants. In recent years, the business community has shown strong support. Firms like Prezi and Google, along with the ESPELL translators association, have enlisted hundreds of other firms in supporting Budapest Pride, as well as in developing fair hiring practices.

These days, the march draws a diverse group of participants who enjoy an uplifting day, as the happy crowd practically dances the entire parade route through the streets of the capital. Along with having a great time, marchers send a clear message that those who do not tolerate diversity will not deter the people of Budapest.

Unfortunately, the group of local intolerants includes Tarlós, who has – mostly unsuccessfully – sought to put up barriers to Budapest Pride since he became mayor in 2010. He has a track record on this subject as, before that, as mayor of Óbuda’s District III, he said he opposed the Sziget Festival because it hosted the Magic Mirror gay tent. In reaction to his opposition, including his June 5 comments, Budapest Pride organizers have invited the mayor to come along to the march and meet the people he considers “repulsive”.

While Tarlós probably won’t be there, anyone interested in joining a friendly group in a celebratory mood should participate in the march, and help advance the cause of LGBTQ rights here in CEE, the new front line in the battle.

The festival starts July 3, and includes a host of films, talks and parties. To join the parade on July 11, gather at the corner of Nagymező and Andrássy út before 3:30 PM, for a march across the river to Tabán. For security reasons, no one can join the parade after it sets off. For more information, see http://budapestpride.com/