Budapest is the most international and famous Hungarian city, with its picturesque parliament, rich wine culture and thriving nightlife. It comes across as diverse, inclusive and liberal, immediately hushing any questions that one might have after doing some basic research on the country’s recent politics. In fact, Hungary does stand out being one of very few green-coloured countries of the region on the ILGA Europe map of LGBT Rights. While non-straight tourists can feel quite safe and woman-on-woman displays of affection encounter cheering and catcalls rather than violence, the struggle for equality still has not finished.
The Hungarian grassroots movement concerned with the issues of sexual minorities was one of the first of its type in central-eastern Europe, second only to Slovenian groups, established four years earlier. The history of LGBT-oriented activism in Hungary starts with the founding of the predominantly informal social group Lambda Homerosz in 1988, which gradually split into work-groups unapproved by the government. Following the abolishment of communism, they evolved into registered organisations and many, including the women-specific Labrisz, till this day partake in the co-organisation of Pride Marches (“Dignity” between 2008 and 2012).
A reflection of the shift of social atmosphere, both within and outside the community, can be found in these marches. The first one in 1997 gathered just a handful of courageous human rights activists, but the number of supporters has been growing ever since. With the rise of supporters, the opposition has also become more noticeable, with counter demonstrations, verbal abuse and physical attacks escalating. Since 2007 the LGBT+ celebrations were restricted with ‘safety measures’ which strengthened security and prevented marches’ routes from entering the most recognisable parts of the city. Furthermore, the country’s Prime Minister warned that if the homosexuals, who have been tolerated thus far, start being more provocative, the ‘current peaceful, calm equilibrium will be no more’. In spite of this, Budapest Pride of 2016 gathered over 10 000 participants.
Legally, the situation of LGBT+ persons in Hungary does not look bad and one could even risk saying that, comparatively to neighbouring countries, the gays of Hungary are in a pretty good place right now. Although high politicians haven’t ceased the promotion of homo- and transphobia publicly, and social exclusion has not lessened, in recent years some legal recognition was achieved by the same-sex couples. Moreover, the activists have managed to build a solid community: multiple organisations have been hosting cultural events, film nights, parties, workshops, political panels, as well as organising Pride. In short, doing what’s the most important in any kind of social cause: increasing visibility.
But there is also a forgotten part of this story, one where openly LGBT-friendly spaces don’t exist and where rainbow flags are only seen on the TV screen. Around 4 out of 5 Hungarians live outside of the Budapest metropolis. The country’s second biggest urban area is a town of merely 200 000. This is where the ‘closet’ is the most stifling, where same-sex dating profiles lack pictures, and where only tea dares to be ‘warm’ (the Hungarian term meleg translates both into ‘warm’ and ‘gay’).
The significance of these locations – and the lack of queer visibility in them – was recognised recently by the Hungarian LGBT Alliance who had launched ‘We are here!’ (Itt vagyunk!) – a nationwide campaign aimed at building an LGBTI+ inclusive society through sharing their experience and empowering locals. Despite being limited in number, people who volunteered started getting organised and building their own communities. Partially in secret, through word of mouth, they met in small numbers in cafés to discuss their ideas, renting rooms from a local youth clubs to screen movies. They have hosted workshops and events by Budapest-based organisations, created networks, tried to get involved with universities and colleges, educated themselves, stuck rainbow-coloured stickers all over their towns.
So far, a registered association has been established in Miskolc but informal groups have come to existence in eight other county capitals all over Hungary, led by tireless activists paving the way for a more equal society. And all over Eastern and Central Europe a similar trend can be observed: oppressed LGBT+ folk come together, with clearly visible division between city-queers and small-town-gays. Judging from the case of Hungary and the rise of determined, unyielding and cooperative communities, the division may soon be no more.
Image courtesy of Fűrjes Viktória
 Registered partnership functions since July 1st 2009 and it available exclusively to same-sex couples. It grants partners the same rights as married couples, except for adoption rights, procreation-support and symbolic taking of the spouse’s surname.
 Informal groups exist in: Debrecen, Eger, Győr, Kaposvár, Kecskemét, Pécs, Szeged and Zalaegerszeg.