There is a war being waged in the name of Pride, a war for equality, respect and basic human rights.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to participate in the 13th annual Budapest Pride. I remember thinking how exciting it would be to march in the “Paris of Eastern Europe” in a wonderful, colourful parade.
It didn’t turn out quite as I expected.
As soon as I got to Budapest I learned that the Pride celebrations had been compromised. Twice authorities tried to cancel the march, but backed down in the face of international pressure.
Apparently some neo-Nazi groups had mobilized forces from across Europe to descend on Budapest to cleanse the city of its queers. Government intelligence reports expected more than 3,000 violent protesters to attack the march. News crews began referring to the parade route as “the battleground” and “the bloodbath.”
I was totally freaked out.
On the eve of Budapest Pride, my veins coursing with adrenalin, my body tweaking, an internal war was already being waged in my head as to what I should do. I was terrified. The authorities informed us that if we did march (which they strongly advised against) we should wear full body armour, helmets at a minimum, and carry an umbrella or a shield for protection as we would likely face serious threats of harm from petrol bombs, acid-filled eggs, and other “surprises.”
Parade day, Jul 5, and I learned that fear is a powerful tool. Fear can cripple you, fear can empower you, fear can confuse you, and fear can give you clarity.
I decided I would not allow fear to compromise my integrity. I would not allow fear to intimidate me. It gave me strength and courage to take that first step forward.
Arriving at the parade marshaling area is very surreal. A giant corral has been set up and surrounded by an army of riot police with double security screenings. Once in, there will be no way out until the end.
I meet a volunteer safety coordinator armed with a fire extinguisher, lemon juice for the tear gas, bandages, and burn kits. My anxiety level surges into red lines.
But I’m not alone. There are 900 marchers gathered here today. Among the participants are several straight older couples marching with us. They are “marching for humanity.” They are Hungarian. They have lived this once before.
The march begins.
To the left is a convoy of army trucks, stretching half a kilometre, acting as a giant shield. To the right, thousands of riot police march on both side of the barricades to protect us from any hostiles.
We feel safe; the float ahead of us plays fantastic dance tunes. We feel good; we are excited and proud to be here and for a split second we forget where we are. Then we get assaulted by the first of many eggs. We’ve only walked 200 metres.
We are strong and steadfast and undeterred.
Then a series of petrol bombs are launched around us. There is confusion, we don’t know where to run or go — the police move in fast and secure the location. We march on.
We can hear the neo-Nazis chanting ahead of us. It is deafening and carries through our celebratory music.
We stop, our eyes start to water and everyone starts coughing. The air is thick. The police discharge tear gas ahead of us to break up the protestors so we can move forward. Another assault of eggs, fruit and vegetables; the stench of rotten food is overpowering. We march on.
We are held back for nearly 40 minutes. We dance in the street but our senses remain keenly attuned to react to anything that may come.
The parade needs to be re-routed for safety. Reports indicated that neo-Nazis had assembled in an area to shower us with cobblestones and bricks.
We can now see Hero’s Square (Hösök tere), the planned terminus of the parade route. But the assembly of anti-gay protesters is too much for the police and we are re-routed again.
A fleet of armoured cars fly past the parade to Hero’s Square. Helicopters beat overhead, struggling to contain the situation. We are led through a posh neighbourhood that is obviously not part of the original plan.
There is a sense of temporary calm as we weave around the backstreets, setting off car alarms as we troop by. Residents peer down from their balconies in disbelief as they see an army of riot police escorting us.
We are led into Városligeti Park. It’s barricaded by a simple four-foot fence just 600 metres from Hero’s Square. It’s a dead end, we are trapped, there is no escape route and now the neo-Nazis see us and are charging!
For the first time I truly fear for my life. I feel like we’ve been led into an ambush for slaughter!
Thousands of eggs, rocks and fruit are launched in our direction by the protesters as they charge towards us.
A series of explosions and a blue fog are released back towards the neo-Nazis. The tear gas and pepper spray demobilize them but the wind also caries the debilitating fog towards us.
Everyone runs into the forest like a heard of impalas, running and darting. Coughing, crying, confused.
Everyone is on edge and looking for an escape. But we are forced to stay put. We are at the full mercy of the police, we have to trust them. We are petrified.
The police are efficient and move quickly and start systematically clearing sections of the city. Within an hour we are able to disperse safely.
Nine hundred of us braved the march and stood our ground to fight for our right to be respected, equal and gay.
Budapest is only one example of many Prides around the world now under similar siege. Moscow’s Pride parade ended in violence two years in a row as police stood idly by, chatting with protesters. Last year, protesters hurled bottles, rocks and eggs at Pride marchers in Bucharest, Romania. Two years ago, homophobic mobs descended on Riga, Latvia, pelting Pride participants with bags of shit, eggs and rotten food, while police stood by and did little. The list goes on.
In more than 70 countries simply being homosexual is a crime. In May, the president of Gambia reportedly promised to “cut off the head” of any homosexual the government catches.
What is Pride? To me, Pride is a global fight for the freedom and equality of all human beings. It means being proud of what we’ve accomplished; it means never becoming complacent.
Pride starts with one person, one action and gets carried forward by many voices.
Happy Pride, Vancouver.