ISTANBUL (AP) – The 25-year-old translator by day and transvestite performer by night felt extreme panic and anxiety when thousands of producers gathered and marched on Sunday in Turkey to ban to demand gay propaganda, in their opinion, and to ban LGBTQ organizations. .
The Great Family Meetings march in the conservative heart of Istanbul attracted parents with children, nationalists, hardline Islamists and conspiracy theorists. Turkish media watchdogs gave the government’s blessing to the event through a promotional video that “viralized” LGBTQ people in its list of public service announcements for broadcasters.
“We have to do all our defense on this LGBT. We have to get rid of it,” said construction worker Mehmet Yalcin, 21, who attended the event wearing a black headband printed with Islamic religious symbols. .”
Willie Ray, the drag performer who identifies as non-binary, and Willie Ray’s mother, who was in tears after speaking with her child, were horrified when they saw images from the meeting. The fear was not misplaced. The European branch of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association has ranked Turkey second, ahead of only Azerbaijan, in its latest 49-country legal equality index, saying LGBTQ people have suffered “countless hate crimes”. .
“I feel like I can be in public,” said Willie Ray, describing the daily feeling of living in Istanbul. The performer remembers leaving a nightclub still in make-up on New Year’s Eve and rushing to get a taxi when strangers on the street yelled out slurs and “tried to hunt me down, basically.”
Sunday’s march was the largest anti-LGBTQ demonstration of its kind in Turkey, where the civil rights of communities more commonly referred to here as LGBTI+ – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other gender identities and sexual orientations – were attacked. in the years since approximately 100,000 people celebrated Pride in Istanbul in 2014.
As a visible sign of change, the anti-LGBTQ march went ahead without any police interference. Conversely, LGBTQ groups’ freedom of assembly has been severely curtailed since 2015, with officials citing both security and moral grounds.
The police used gas and water cannons to disperse the Pride march planned for that year. Government officials have since banned the event. Activists have tried to gather anyway, and more than 370 people were detained in Istanbul in June.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s anti-LGBTQ views have also grown harsher over time. Before the 2002 election that brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) he co-founded to power, the younger Erdogan said at a televised campaign event that he believed the abuse of gay people was inhumane and that legal protections for them in Turkey were “necessary.”
“And now, 20 years later, you have a completely different president who seems to be mobilizing based on these inhumane, criminal approaches to the LGBTQ movement itself,” said Mine Eder, a professor in political science at Bogazici University in Istanbul.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called LGBTQ people “perverts.” In 2020, Erdogan defended the head of religious affairs after he claimed that homosexuality “brings disease and deteriorates the generation.” Backing his long-held belief that women’s identity is rooted in motherhood and family, Turkey’s leader last year urged people to dismiss what he calls “lesbian schmesbians”.
Turkey also withdrew from a European treaty protecting women against violence, following lobbying from conservative groups who claimed the treaty promoted homosexuality.
The country could be more unwelcoming 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 group’s alleged pervasive LGBTQ “propaganda” on Netflix and social media , as well as the arts and sports. .
The platform’s website says it also favors a ban on LGBTQ organizations.
“We are a Muslim country and we do not design this. Our statesmen and the other parties should support this,” said Betul Colak, who attended Sunday’s meeting wearing a Turkish flag scarf.
Haunted by “the feeling that you can be attacked at any time,” Willie Ray thinks it would be a “complete disaster” to ban LGBTQ organizations that provide visibility, psychological support and safe spaces. .
Professor Eder said it would be “illegal” to close LGBTQ civil society based on ideological, Islamic and conservative norms – even if Turkish norms have indeed moved to “violent language, violent strategies use and legalize them.”
The Society for the Study of Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, an Istanbul-based LGBTQ advocacy and outreach NGO commonly known as SPoD, is among the LGBTQ groups that have stopped posting their addresses online after receiving threatening calls to get.
“It’s easy for a maniac to try to hurt us after the hate speech from state officials,” said SPoD lobbyist Ogulcan Yediveren, 27. “But these security concerns, this atmosphere of fear, do not stop us from work and instead reminds us. for us every time as much as we need to work.”
Gay activist Umut Rojda Yildirim, who works as a SPoD lawyer, thinks that the anti-LGBTQ sentiments seen on Sunday are not dominant throughout Turkish society, but that the minority who express them “seem louder when which have government funds, when supported by. government watchers.”
“You can close an office, but I’m not going to go away. My other colleagues are not going to disappear. We will be here no matter what,” said Yildirim.
This story has been corrected to show that the name of the NGO is the Society for the Study of Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, not the Society for the Study of Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.