In Celebration and In Protest—Queer People’s Power in Turkey


July 2, 2018

An activist waves a rainbow flag in Istanbul, Sunday, July 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

Despite Governor Vasip Sahin’s recent ban of the Istanbul Pride March, approximately 1000 people chose to participate in a rally on Sunday, both in celebration of their identities and in protest of the government ban. Police, dogs, and armored vehicles confronted the protestors, blocking off avenues and side streets, shooting rubber bullets, and attacking them with tear gas. However, protesters continued to march. Eleven people were detained and have yet to be released.

Prior to Sunday’s march, the organizers of Istanbul Pride rightfully identified the government’s ban of the event as discriminatory and illegitimate. In fact, the ban violated fundamental human rights and freedoms of expression and assembly. It also marks the fourth consecutive year of a ban of the Istanbul Pride March. This time, the government cited security reasons and public “sensitivities” as its justification.

Such violent government and police responses to the event may seem like a jarring regression from 2014, when the march had notable popularity, participation, and even some political support. However, starting in 2014, intolerance and oppression reemerged in the political foreground. Recently re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began repressing Pride marches in 2015 when he rose to national political power. In November of 2017, Ankara’s government banned all LGBTI-related activities, including the 2017 German gay film festival, “to ensure peace and security.” Furthermore, the 8th Trans Pride March was banned in 2017, although it did not deter activists from coming onto the streets.

Pride is a mechanism for visibility, and in Turkeya country with very few spaces for expression of queer identitiesthe march is an especially potent tool for empowerment and community-building. Therefore, despite the pain and violence which marred this rally, there certainly also was hope and survival. Indeed, as the event’s organizer articulated, “Like every year, we are here, on these streets. Our laughter, our exclamations, our slogans still echo in these streets.”