Budapest, unlike Barcelona or Cologne, is not regarded as an especially gay-friendly city. This image is particularly highlighted by the political right wing, which has strengthened in the past few years. Still, many liberal-minded and even gay foreigners decide to live in this fascinating, culturally rich country. One is 36-year-old Chris Clarke from Brighton.
Clarke’s boyfriend Igor and their dogs Mae, Lola and Frida are sitting peacefully on the couch and looking out the window, while the lord of the house serves us tea. It’s real black tea from London. “The generalisation is true, the British do drink a lot of tea,” Clarke laughs. “And even if a Hungarian black tea is supposed to taste the same, we must have the original from England.”
Clarke comes from Brighton, southern England, which has the reputation of an especially open city. “They call Brighton the gay capital of England,” the Budapest citizen-by-choice explains. “Of course you can feel the difference when you grew up in a very tolerant city and then you move to a more closed city like Budapest.” However, the Englishman feels good here.
Since 2004 Clarke has been coming to Budapest regularly due to his job, and in 2011 he moved to the Hungarian capital full-time. “I have fallen in love with Budapest because it’s small, you can reach everything in the city centre on foot and the cultural life is very lively here. Other than that, I have also built a circle of friends here during the years.”
He owns a human relations company and mainly deals with recruitment. He has 36 agents across Europe who meet the candidates personally. He can work from any place; all he needs is internet and phone connection. He and Igor, who comes from Russia, share a tastefully designed flat near District V’s Ferenciek tere.
Clarke is interested in arts and culture and likes to meet friends for a glass of wine. He does not feel the need often to party all night long. “I think I am not at that age any more. However, I organise here an expat event every Friday called the ‘Friday Crowd’, where people from all possible nationalities are represented – from British to Norwegians, Africans, Germans and even Hungarians.”
The meeting usually happens at Caledonia, a Scottish pub, or in Jack Doyle’s, an Irish pub only a few metres from his flat. In addition, he regularly visits Internations events.
“We don’t go to the gay bars and clubs in Budapest too often. I think they are quite segregated and I hate segregation. In England it was so nice that you did not have to go to gay bars specifically in order to meet queer people, because they also went out to hetero places.
“At least since everything works much more open there, the LGBT-scene [lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals] does not have to ‘hide’ in gay bars any more. It’s quite different here, although the situation is improving. When I came to Budapest ten years ago for the first time the homo scene was playing underground; the gay bars were very small and closed. I find Budapest much more open today.”
Clarke recommends the Garçons parties for those who want to try the gay nightlife scene in Budapest, which are organised by friends of Igor.
How is life for a homosexual in Budapest in general? He does not feel threatened at all because he is mostly surrounded by tolerant people, the Englishman answers. The young generations who are growing up now will have less and less prejudice. “Of course I don’t dance on the streets to the music of ABBA [he laughs] but I am quite open, and the people know about me, how I am.”
The couple do not walk in the city holding hands though. “I think this would cause anger and provoke some people. I have already seen homosexuals who have been walking in Budapest hand-in-hand but most of them were foreigners. You have to be careful.”
In England, especially Brighton, it would be no problem to show publicly that you are living in a homosexual relationship. In Hungary though, two men walking hand-in-hand would automatically make a political statement. However, Clarke does not feel restricted. He says that if he could not get used to the conditions here, he should not stay. And the situation has already improved a lot already, especially in Budapest.
Clarke wishes for the future that people prejudiced against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals will have less fear and focus on taking the chances that the homosexual society offers. “There are many predominantly gay industries, like the fashion and design industry. The homosexual society has so much to offer. I have heard some people saying that when homosexual people are given more rights, then these are taken away from the hetero people, but that is not true. No one should be afraid of change and of things that they do not know.”