ISTANBUL (AP) — The 25-year-old translator by day and transgender executioner by night felt overwhelming panic and anxiety when several thousand protesters gathered and marched in Turkey on Sunday to demand a ban on what they see as gay propaganda and an outlawing of LGBTQ organizations.
The Big Family Gathering march in the conservative heart of Istanbul attracted parents with children, nationalists, hardline Islamists and conspiracy theorists. Turkey’s media watchdog gave the event the government’s blessing, including a promotional video calling LGBTQ people a “virus” on its public service announcement list for broadcasters.
“We must fully defend this LGBT. We have to get rid of it,” said construction worker Mehmet Yalcin, 21, who attended the event wearing a black ribbon with the Islamic faith printed on it. .”
Seeing images from the rally horrified Willie Ray, the drag performer who identifies as nonbinary, and Willie Ray’s mother, who broke down in tears after speaking with her child. The fear was not misplaced. The European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Union ranked Turkey penultimate, ahead of Azerbaijan, in its latest legal equality index of 49 countries, saying LGBTQ people suffered “countless hate crimes”.
“I feel like I might be lynched in public,” said Willie Ray, describing the daily sense of dread that comes with living in Istanbul. The performer recalls leaving a make-up nightclub on New Year’s Eve and rushing to get into a taxi as strangers on the street yelled profanities and “tried to chase me, basically.”
Sunday’s march was the largest anti-LGBTQ demonstration of its kind in Turkey, where civil rights for a community commonly referred to here as LGBTI+ — lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, intersex and other gender identities and sexual orientations — have received attack in the years since an estimated 100,000 people celebrated Pride in Istanbul in 2014.
As a visible sign of change, the anti-LGBTQ march took place without any police intervention. Instead, LGBTQ groups have been severely restricted since 2015, with officials citing safety and ethics concerns.
Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the Pride march planned for that year. Government officials have since banned the event. Activists tried to gather anyway, and more than 370 people were arrested in Istanbul in June.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s views have also grown more strongly anti-LGBTQ over time. Before the 2002 election that brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) he co-founded to power, a younger Erdogan said in a televised campaign that he considered the mistreatment of homosexuals inhumane and legal protection for them in Turkey a “must” .
“And now, 20 years later, you have a completely different president who seems to be motivated by these dehumanizing, criminal approaches to the LGBTQ movement itself,” said Min Ender, a political science professor at Bogazici University in Istanbul.
Interior Minister Suleiman Soylu called LGBTQ people “perverted”. In 2020, Erdogan defended the head of religious affairs after he claimed that homosexuality “brings diseases and causes the decay of the generation”. While defending his long-held belief that women’s identity is rooted in motherhood and 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, following pressure from conservative groups who claimed the treaty promotes homosexuality.
The country could become more inhospitable to the LGBTQ community. Unity in Ideas and Struggle Platform, the organizer of Sunday’s event, said it plans to push for a law to ban alleged LGBTQ “propaganda” that the group says is rampant on Netflix and social media, as well as arts and sports. .
The platform’s website states that it also favors banning LGBTQ organizations.
“We are a Muslim country and we say no to this. Our politicians and other parties should all support it,” said Betul Kolak, who attended Sunday’s rally wearing a Turkish flag scarf.
Haunted by “the feeling that you could be attacked at any moment”, Willie Ray believes it would be a “total disaster” to ban LGBTQ organizations that provide visibility, psychological support and safe spaces.
Ender, 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 “using violent language, violent strategies and their legalization”.
The Union for Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies, an Istanbul-based LGBTQ advocacy and outreach non-governmental organization, commonly known as SPoD, is among the LGBTQ groups that stopped publishing their addresses online after receiving threatening calls.
“It’s easy for a maniac to try to harm us after all the hate speech from state officials,” SPoD lobbyist Ogulcan Yediveren, 27, said. us every time how much we have to work”.
Gay activist Umut Rojda Yildirim, who works as a lawyer for the SPoD, believes that anti-LGBTQ sentiments on Sunday do not dominate Turkish society, but that the minority who express them seem “stronger when they have state funds, when they are supported by the government guardian”.
“You can just close an office, but I’m not going to disappear. My other colleagues are not going to disappear. We will be here no matter what,” Yildirim said.
This story has been corrected to show that the NGO’s name is the Association for Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies, not the Association for Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies.