Hungary’s Anti-LGBT Crusade Apparently Includes Trolling the U.S. Ambassador

Marton Monus
Marton Monus

The U.S. Ambassador to Hungary hasn’t exactly been embraced by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government. But now, it seems, things are getting petty.

David Pressman, a gay human rights lawyer who acts as Washington, D.C.’s envoy in Budapest, had been hoping to attend an event in Hungary’s parliament building this week. “I was honored to have been invited to speak at an event organized by members of Hungary’s parliament featuring a diverse array of speakers inside of the house of Hungarian democracy where they were elected to work,” Pressman told The Daily Beast. But the gathering, which Pressman says was intended to address “the human rights of the LGBT community,” never took place.

The event had been arranged by a parliamentary group called For a Diverse Hungary. The organization, which is made up of 20 Hungarian lawmakers from five different opposition parties, aims to “give a voice to the community in the parliament and represent both the ideas and the interests of the LGBTQ community in Hungary,” Dávid Bedő, the group’s chairman and a member of the Hungarian parliament with the centrist Momentum party, tells The Daily Beast.

Bedő said he contacted the speaker of the parliament, László Kövér, a month ago trying to book a meeting room in the grand Hungarian parliament building for the get-together, which would also be attended by NGOs and other nation’s ambassadors. But Kövér—a founding member of Orbán’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party—initially ignored the request, according to Bedő.

“I sent him multiple emails,” Bedő said. “He didn’t respond to any of them. I even approached him after a parliamentary session and he pretty much shrugged his shoulders and told me he’ll respond.” Then on Thursday—a day before the event was supposed to take place—Bedő says Kövér emailed him saying the request was denied.

Kövér quoted a parliamentary bylaw saying that one of the speaker’s responsibilities is “protecting the dignity of the parliament,” according to Bedő. Bedő found that explanation for the refusal “disgusting” and said ordinarily, whenever an ambassador is invited to parliament, lawmakers are able to book a room “without any questions.”

“Our whole government is very anti-LGBTQ,” Bedő said. “Some of them are pragmatic and only use this for political purposes.” Kövér has previously made comments equating LGBTQ adoption to pedophilia.

Pressman, the U.S. ambassador, similarly expressed concern at the apparent crackdown. “From the outside looking in, the purpose here was to limit the ability of members of parliament to discuss issues involving LGBT rights, and that is obviously concerning to the United States.”

The Daily Beast has contacted the Hungarian government for comment.

The refusal comes in the context of what Pressman calls a “concerning situation” for the LGBT community. “We’re at a moment in Hungary where LGBT people are being treated as a group that needs to be stopped from speaking or being seen,” he says. “People that need to be kept away from children. Whose books need to be sealed in plastic. Photographs of whom need to be kept under guard and behind ropes, because if they are not they may corrupt Hungary’s youth. And that’s wrong.”

Last Thursday, the embassies of 35 countries—including the United States—released a joint statement expressing alarm at “the recent application of legislation and political rhetoric, including in Hungary, that is in tension with principles of non-discrimination, international human rights law and human dignity, and contributes to stigmatization of the LGBTQI+ community.”

Just one day after that statement was released, Orbán gave an interview in which he attacked progressive values, appearing to absurdly suggest that a departure from what he termed the “traditional family model” could lead to people marrying animals.

“We defend the traditional family model, and we support young people and families, and we want family life to be as convincing as possible, and we do not want to loosen this up with all kinds of bullshit,” he said in Hungarian. “Slowly I can marry a chair or an armchair I am sitting on. I do not know when animals come next. This madness does not end here, but we want to forget about it, we do not want to be involved in it, and we certainly do not want our children to be told by others what is right and wrong.”

On Sunday, Pressman and his family are holding a family picnic at his official residence in Budapest for almost 1,000 members and allies of Hungary’s LGBT community. He’s also invited the lawmakers who’d hoped to hear him speak at the event which was blocked in the parliament building. “I’ve also extended an invitation to Speaker Kövér to join us, given that parliament is not accessible to the members of parliament,” Pressman says.

The diplomat says he’s asked members of Orbán’s governing party and the leadership of the government itself to attend—but whether they’ll do so remains to be seen. “I hope that they choose to join us, because what they will find is they’ll find their fellow countrymen who are working hard to advance Hungary and human dignity,” Pressman says. “And that’s something to celebrate.”

Despite being allies, relations between the U.S. and Hungary have been strained, particularly over the war in Ukraine and Orbán’s growing affinity for Moscow and Beijing.

Earlier this year, Pressman slammed the Hungarian government’s “dangerously unhinged anti-American messaging” and criticized Orbán’s assertion “that the United States government is trying to overthrow the Hungarian government.” Pressman was also summoned by an enraged Hungarian government in March after President Joe Biden, in the wake of Orbán’s Mar-a-Lago meeting with Donald Trump, accused Orbán of “looking for dictatorship.”

Pressman acknowledges the relationship between Washington, D.C., and Budapest is “facing serious challenges.”

“Part of the clarity with which we are speaking about that relationship and the challenges in it should really be viewed as an outstretched hand, in that we want Hungary to be closer to us, not further away,” he told The Daily Beast. “And yet at the same time, as we see choices being made by this government to become more and more aligned and closer with Putin’s Russia and Xi’s China … real issues that are emerging. And those issues are ones that we should speak about clearly, and I hope to see change.”

The U.S. government’s messaging toward Orbán—a strongman who has expressed admiration for Trump—may yet soften if Trump reclaims the White House in November. But in the meantime, Pressman stresses that the relationship between the U.S. and Hungary is too important for its fate to depend on whoever leads either country.

“This is a relationship between two peoples and two countries, two allies, that deserves care,” he says. “It deserves respect and it needs to be protected. And it is a dangerous road to go down to partisanize the relationship in a way that undercuts it.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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