ISTANBUL (AP) — The 25-year-old translator by day and trans-drag artist by night felt overwhelming panic and fear as several thousand protesters gathered in Turkey on Sunday to demand a ban on what they consider gay propaganda and to ban LGBTQ organizations.
The Big Family Gathering march in the conservative heart of Istanbul attracted parents with children, nationalists, hard-line Islamists and conspiracy theorists. The Turkish media watchdog gave the event the government’s blessing by including a promotional video calling LGBTQ people a “virus” in the list of public announcements for broadcasters.
“We all have to defend ourselves against these LGBT. We need to get rid of it,” said construction worker Mehmet Yalcin, 21, who attended the event wearing a black headband printed with the Islamic testimonial of faith. “We are fed up and feel really uncomfortable that our children are being encouraged and drawn to it.”
Seeing footage of the gathering terrified Willie Ray, the drag performer who identifies as non-binary, and Willie Ray’s mother, who was in tears after speaking to her child. The fear was not misplaced. The European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ranked Turkey second to last, ahead of Azerbaijan alone, in the most recent 49-country legal equality index, saying LGBTQ people have “countless hate crimes”. to endure.
“I feel like I could be publicly lynched,” said Willie Ray, who describes the everyday sense of fear that comes with life in Istanbul. The performer recalls leaving a nightclub still in makeup on New Year’s Eve and rushing to get to a taxi while strangers in the street shouted slander and “basically tried to hunt me.”
Sunday’s march was the largest anti-LGBTQ demonstration of its kind in Turkey, attacking civil rights for a community better known here as LGBTI+ — lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, intersex and other gender identities and sexual orientations. . in the years since an estimated 100,000 people celebrated Pride in Istanbul in 2014.
As a visible sign of the shift, the anti-LGBTQ march continued without any police intervention. Conversely, the freedom of LGBTQ groups has been severely curtailed since 2015, with officials citing both security and morality concerns.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the Pride march planned for that year. Government officials have since banned the event. Activists tried to rally anyway and more than 370 people were detained in Istanbul in June.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s views have also become more sharply anti-LGBTQ over time. Before the 2002 elections, which brought to power the Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he co-founded, a young Erdogan said at a televised campaign event that he considered mistreatment of homosexuals inhumane and required legal protection for them. Turkey a “must”.
“And now, 20 years later, you have a very different president who seems to be mobilizing based on these dehumanizing, criminal approaches to the LGBTQ movement itself,” said Mine Eder, a political science professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called LGBTQ people ‘perverted’. In 2020, Erdogan defended the head of religious affairs after claiming that homosexuality “causes disease and destroys the generation”. While advocating his long-held belief that women’s identity is rooted in motherhood and the family, the Turkish leader last year urged people to reject what “lesbian schmesbians” say.
Turkey also withdrew from a European treaty to protect women from violence, after lobbying conservative groups who claimed the treaty promoted homosexuality.
The country could become more unattractive to the LGBTQ community. The Unity in Ideas and Struggle Platform, the organizer of Sunday’s event, said it plans to push for a law that would ban the alleged LGBTQ “propaganda” that the group says is ubiquitous on Netflix and social media. , as well as in arts and sports .
The platform’s website states that it also supports a ban on LGBTQ organizations.
“We are a Muslim country and we say no to this. Our statesmen and the other parties should support all of this,” said Betul Colak, who attended Sunday’s meeting wearing a scarf with the Turkish flag.
Haunted by “the feeling of being attacked at any moment,” Willie Ray thinks it would be “total catastrophe” to ban the LGBTQ organizations that provide visibility, psychological support and safe spaces.
Eder, the professor, said it would be “simply illegal” to shut down LGBTQ civil society based on ideological, Islamic and conservative norms – even if Turkey’s norms have indeed shifted to “use of violent language, violent strategies and legalizing them.”
The Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, a non-governmental LGBTQ education and outreach organization in Istanbul, commonly known as SPoD, is one of the LGBTQ groups that stopped posting their addresses online after the receiving threatening phone calls.
“It’s easy for a maniac to try to hurt us after all the hate speech from government officials,” SPoD lobbyist Ogulcan Ydiveren, 27, tells us every time how much we have to work.”
Gay activist Umut Rojda Yildirim, who works as a lawyer for SPoD, thinks that the anti-LGBTQ sentiments on display on Sunday are not dominant in Turkish society, but that the minority who voices them “seem louder when they have public money, when they are supported by the government watchdog.”
“You can just close an office, but I’m not going to disappear. My other colleagues will not disappear. We’ll be there no matter what,’ Yildirim said.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the non-governmental organization is the Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, not the Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association.