In a surprising move, activists organized the 21st annual Istanbul Pride parade in the Sisli district, deviating from the traditional location of central Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where a ban on the rally has long been in place. Despite the authorities’ efforts to secure Taksim Square with barricades and close down nearby metro stations, hundreds of activists gathered in the Nisantasi neighborhood, making their presence known by hoisting a vibrant rainbow LGBTQ flag on a multi-storey car park across from the gathering point.
Amidst an atmosphere of unity, the participants enthusiastically chanted slogans that celebrated LGBTQ rights and expressed solidarity with other marginalized groups. Slogans such as “Run Tayyip, run. Queers are coming!” directly addressed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while others proclaimed messages like “Liberation for queers will shake the world!” and “Queers exist, Kurdistan exists!” The demonstrators, fueled by a sense of defiance, aimed to highlight their refusal to back down in the face of restrictions imposed by the government and local authorities.
The Istanbul Pride Parade Committee released a statement emphasizing their determination to reclaim their spaces and challenge the government’s prohibitions. They declared, “We will not leave our spaces; you will get used to us. Today, despite all your prohibitions and against your wishes, we are still here.” The organizers firmly asserted that the state’s attacks on LGBTQ rights were not isolated incidents but rather part of a broader crackdown on various marginalized groups in the country. They specifically cited the government’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty focused on combating violence against women, as evidence of the administration’s regressive stance. The government claimed that the Convention’s provisions related to LGBTQ rights were unacceptable, prompting Turkey’s withdrawal in 2021.
The statement further highlighted the organizers’ solidarity with other affected communities, including Kurds, women, refugees, sex workers, and workers who have also faced government repression. They criticized the ruling alliance for criminalizing their lives and reiterated their commitment to resisting such measures. They boldly declared, “To those who withdrew from the Istanbul Convention and criminalized us overnight, we say: We will never submit! We will not give up our lives, our existence!”
Despite the decision to avoid Taksim Square, the committee reported that more than 60 individuals were detained by the police. Law enforcement officers erected roadblocks around Mıstık Park, the site where the rally commenced, and reportedly made arrests even after the demonstration had concluded, targeting individuals who were sitting in cafes. The show of force by the authorities further highlighted the tense environment and the challenges faced by the LGBTQ community in Turkey.
Sense of insecurity
The LGBTQ community in Turkey has long experienced a sense of unease and anxiety. Although Istanbul Pride marches were held annually since 2003, they have been officially banned since 2015 under the pretext of safety concerns. Ahead of the recent parliamentary and presidential elections, President Erdogan consistently vilified LGBTQ individuals as a threat to traditional family values. He repeatedly accused opposition parties of supporting LGBTQ rights, while his Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed an alliance with the New Welfare Party, an Islamist group advocating for the closure of LGBTQ organizations in Turkey.
President Erdogan’s recent parliamentary speech included harsh rhetoric, labeling the LGBTQ community in Turkey as “evil” and asserting that neither his party nor its allies would ever accept such “evil” within their ranks. While homosexuality has never been illegal in the Republic of Turkey, LGBTQ individuals fear increased pressure and discrimination as government officials continue to engage in hate speech and deny their existence in Turkish society.
Damla Umut Uzun, a campaigner with the Turkish LGBTQ+ rights organization Kaos GL, highlighted the government’s use of hate speech to polarize society and its targeting of LGBTQ individuals over the past decade. Uzun pointed out that such rhetoric, coupled with a lack of protective measures and the indifference of public officials, contributes to an environment that encourages potential perpetrators of violence. The ongoing hostility towards LGBTQ rights underscores the challenges faced by LGBTQ individuals and the urgent need for greater awareness, acceptance, and protective measures in Turkish society.