Remarks of Ambassador David Pressman U.S. Embassy Family Pride Picnic
July 16, 2023
When I stepped off the plane with my family almost a year ago as the new United States Ambassador to Hungary, one of the very first things I remember seeing was a large sign in the Budapest airport that read: Welcome to “Family Friendly Hungary.” It is precisely in that spirit that I – along with my partner Daniel and our two children – am so pleased to welcome you to this family picnic at the United States Ambassador’s residence in family friendly Hungary.
As U.S. Ambassador, I have the honor of hosting Hungarians from all political perspectives and backgrounds. Just two weeks ago, many Hungarians joined us right here on this lawn to celebrate the 247th anniversary of America’s independence. I had the chance then to speak about a family of sorts, the family that is the NATO alliance, a covenant that binds our two countries together. And I mentioned that families can be complicated, and they don’t always agree — but families always come first. And if that is true of our countries, it should certainly be true of the families we recognize and celebrate today.
But it has become abundantly clear that right now in Hungary – as leaders call for new laws to “protect children”; as books are wrapped in cellophane; as bookstores are fined for…displaying books; as rainbow benches defaced – now is also the right time for the United States to celebrate you and your families by hosting what I am told is one of the largest LGBT gatherings outside of Budapest Pride and the largest LGBT family gathering in Hungary’s history. Welcome.
We gather today in a land of freedom fighters –where heroes stood up to the Iron Curtain, when others would not; where poets used moral clarity to dismantle barriers of complacency; where activists tore down walls that separated west from east, freedom from oppression, dignity from fear.
Hungarians, like Americans, covet their freedom and revere their heroes.
Every story of freedom has its heroes; but heroes come in many forms. They do not always look like giants; they do not always look like Kossuth or read like Petofi. They can be unknown, ordinary. Hungarian authors and illustrators that teach us that “storyland is for everyone”. The bookstore owner that makes that story accessible…to everyone. The Hungarian parents and would-be parents who build a family and protect it in the face of political attacks. Hungarians – like many of those gathered here today – who undeterred continue to share their stories, share their families, and share their love to advance the human rights of all Hungarians. Everyday heroes working to advance the rights of every Hungarian; everyday heroes whose stories are too often hidden.
Books tell the stories of heroes. Like universities, books are not weapons. But they can be dangerous. Because they can tell stories that aren’t otherwise heard, expose people to ideas, document complexity, show diversity of thought, opinion, and families, show … you.
When political parties try to control books and universities, by assigning loyalists to control academic institutions, by buying bookstores, and by wrapping books in cellophane, let’s remember that books and ideas are not meant to be controlled by politicians. Not Hungarian hero Szechenyi’s book condemning the aristocracy, a book burned on the streets of Hungary in 1831, nor Dora Papp or Alice Oseman’s books about family, books targeted in Hungary’s bookstores in 2023. It sometimes takes heroes to ensure this is the case.
The cellophane on books in Budapest is not meant to hide them, but rather to highlight them – to signal that what is depicted inside is aberrant. That what is inside is not right. That what is inside you is not right. That your story should be segregated.
Too often we see stories here in political rhetoric and the politically controlled press that depend upon creating this kind of fear – of the unfamiliar, the unknown, of outsiders, even of [quote] “adversaries” – yet so often these fears are simply fairy tales.
In America, we say you can’t judge a book by its cover. And when we look inside fairy tale books that others have covered with cellophane, you will find what every clever child already knows: that there is really nothing to be afraid of … that like the imaginary villains portrayed in the stories, the thing they were told to fear was make-believe. Fiction. Not real, but imagined.
When you open the cover and look inside you see that often the idea you were told to fear was in reality a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a classmate, a teacher, a co-worker, a neighbor, a friend, or an Ally … family. And when you try to see the world through their eyes, which is what stories allow us to do, you will often find that the villain you thought you saw, was imagined. Perhaps even just a reflection in the foil.
The beauty of the Hungarian story – like the American story — is that it is still being written, by each of you.
You are not alone. It gave me real hope that this week 49 countries’ embassies and cultural institutes here in Hungary cosigned an unmistakably strong statement on LGBT rights in Hungary, explicitly calling for the elimination of legislation and political rhetoric that is harmful to the LGBT community in Hungary.
Now speaking of stories, I think my friends from the press want me to keep this short so they can go publish their own stories. I welcome the press corps today – all of you, including some from the government-controlled media – to what may be their first LGBT event. Welcome. I am glad to see you here. Each of you will tell a different story of this family picnic. If some of you came here in search of a villain for your story, I hope that instead, through the cellophane, you see something much more common and ordinary and beautiful … families. Hungarian families, American families, our human family. Families worthy of your respect, worthy of dignity. Families we can all be proud of. Families who deserve a joyous occasion just like this, right here, right now.
So please enjoy the games, the food, the company, as you spend some time with ordinary heroes working to advance the human dignity of all Hungarians and all Hungarian families.
From my family to yours, welcome.