ISTANBUL — Pride Week traces its roots back 47 years to a New York bar called the Stonewall Inn. On June 28, 1969 in response to a sudden police raid, gays who no longer wanted to cope in silence with the social pressure, violence and discrimination trapped the police officers that assaulted them in the bar and broke out in revolt.
They stuck to their colors for four days, announcing their way of life.
This year's global Pride Week is marked by the Orlando massacre, which left the whole world mourning and cast a shadow over the festivities. Meanwhile here in Istanbul the largest LGBT Pride march in the Muslim world has been banned by the city government, and violent threats have come in from ultranationalist groups such as Muslim Youth of Anatolia and Alperen Ocaklari.
The LGBT community is determined to take to the streets to commemorate their friends who lost their lives in Orlando and to say, once again, "Don't stay silent, shout it out loud, gays exist."
Cumhuriyet met with a small group of activists who are members of the Pride Week Committee near the Galata Tower in Istanbul. Our conversation was a mix of sorrow and laughter.
First to talk was Görkem Ulumeriç who graduated from Bogazici University this year with a degree in economics at the age of 24. "I remember my years as a student at high school, middle school, elementary school. I think the marginalization and harassment of your peers probably starts around the age of five. In Turkey, the family plays a central role, I mean, if you fall out with your family, you miss many important moments and opportunities. Let me tell you something good at this point; I came out to my family when I was 19. I didn't get any bad reactions. And we lived through the pain of the Orlando attack together, as a family. My family is from Istanbul, but they don't have university degrees. We buy Cumhuriyet everyday, so they will be reading this interview. I would like to thank them."
Emre Demir, a student at Mimar Sinan University's sociology department, has been in the Pride Week Committee since 2013. He first got involved in the LGBT movement in high school. He dismisses the government excuse that this year's celebrations should be called off out of respect for Ramadan, noting that the 2014 edition featured holy month events in Taksim Square. The Istanbul city government set up tables and served food to break the Ramadan fast. The Pride March also happened that day. Newspapers around the world applauded this as "a representation of mutual respect."
At the 2014 Pride Parade in Istanbul — Photo: Alexandra Zevallos-Ortiz
"In the election pamphlets that the AKP (party of now President Tayyip Recep Erdogan) distributed that year, they boasted about how Turkey is "the only country where Pride March is allowed during Ramadan." But the next year they attacked us. They want to create an atmosphere of chaos each year before we even start the march. They come earlier and wait for us. They shout one or two slogans and leave. Muslim Youth of Anatolia's threat is no different than this. It is important to consider these threats, but our only reference won't be the threats of three or five men who claim to be heterosexual. Pride Week is not just about the Pride March. There are events every day of the week. We have been working for this since January. Workshops, film showings, forums, picnics …
One woman who lights up the atmosphere with her jokes and joyous laughter is named Åževval KÄ±lÄ±ç. She says that the LGBT fight was built slowly with a lot of delicate labor and is at a crucial stage right now. Underlining the ruptures and radical changes in the LGBT lives and in Turkey's general politics, Åževval says, "War continues to show its ugly face. The government is inflicting the aggression that this war requires on the entire society. We are also at an important stage from the LGBT perspective. There is a fight that has been evolving for years with the careful labor of millions. Åževval recalls how the LGBT movement was first humiliated, insulted, ignored, ridiculed, but now continues: "Now, as long as we survive the attacks safe and sound, it is not possible to demolish the common understanding that we are equal citizens. In my opinion these are the last throes, the last attacks. For years, we have been assaulted because of traditional family structures. We believe that LGBT individuals are bound to have equal democratic rights. Right now conservatism is a dominant trend all over the world. The Orlando attack is a despicable attack. I wish knowledge, understanding, culture, and art from the mother earth for everyone."
An employee at the Besiktas Municipal Corporation, Ejder Narsap talks about his process of coming out to his family. "The first time I told my mom about my homosexuality, I gave her Dorit Zinn's book My Son Loves Men, but she still couldn't grasp the situation. Since she knew about Turkish trans celebrities like Bülent Ersoy and Zeki Müren, she kept asking me when I was getting a surgery. Afterwards I got a lot of support. The other day I went to work in my heels. It is time to tear some things down."