Prezi – Hungary’s gay bashing and the move to San Francisco

In 2008, Péter Árvai, Ádám Somlai-Fischer and Péter Halácsy founded Prezi, an innovative software company in Budapest. They wanted to create a new type of presentation software that people could use to share and tell their stories in a memorable and engaging way. They succeeded, and today Prezi is a competitor to Microsoft PowerPoint.

Seven years ago* the Budapest-based company quietly opened an office in San Francisco and Árvai moved to California. He started to hire people and today they have more than 100 staff members.

What attracted Árvai to San Francisco?

Árvai on the roof garden of Prezi's San Francisco office.

Árvai on the roof garden of Prezi’s San Francisco office.

In San Francisco, Árvai quickly found StartOut, an organization for gay high-tech entrepreneurs. “It was very inspiring as a gay entrepreneur to have the opportunity to go to events that are targeted for others like me,” he said.

“I grew up with no LGBT role models to show me how I could combine my professional interests with my queer identity.” Árvai feels that StartOut was powerful “because I could actually be in a room with people who had similar backgrounds and we could all joke about pop culture and still talk business!” Árvai claims that “we need to become better at showing this so that more people can have to the confidence to tackle their dreams, irrespective of their identity and background.” (Read Árvai’s interview here.)

Árvai feels at home in tolerant San Francisco; California is quite different than Hungary where government officials often berate gays.

President Obama with Péter Árvai.

President Obama with Péter Árvai.

Special advisor to Prime Minister Orbán, Imre Kerényi has called for “stopping the faggot lobby” and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós has talked about homosexuality as “unnatural and repulsive.” But the top prize goes to Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Zsolt Semjén who called homosexuality “a deviance” and “an aberration.” No government official has distanced themselves from these statements.

Hungary’s recently-minted Constitution includes a chapter about marriage, which it defines as strictly between a man and a woman. Even in the 1930s, during the conservative pro-Hitler Horthy regime, government officials avoided attacking gays in the media. They even celebrated the openly lesbian, and virulently anti-Semitic writer, Cécile Tormay.

For those of you who speak Hungarian here is the link to Deputy Prime Minister Semjén’s appalling tirade against gays on Hungarian television! It is hard to believe that Mr. Semjén holds a government position in a country which is the member of the European Union. (Watch Mr. Semjén’s interview.)

In my view, it didn’t help Prezi’s brand to be associated with a homophobic country, and it wouldn’t surprise me if other Budapest startups will also start to look for more tolerant pastures. For example in San Francisco!

György Lázár

*This article initially noted that Prezi moved to San Francisco two years ago, based on a report in the Silicon Valley Business Journal. A representative of Prezi responded to HFP, noting that the presence in San Francisco was set up seven years ago, and adding the company remains active in Hungary as well.

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