In Turkey, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is on the rise

Screenshot from TRT news video report from the march on September 18, 2022.

For supporters of queer rights in Turkey, the anti-LGBTQ+ rally that took place on Sunday, September 18, in Istanbul was not at all surprising. After all, many have gotten used to canceled PRIDE marches, which have been banned since 2015, and violent police interventions each year against those who take the streets anyway to mark PRIDE month.

But this Sunday's march was not just anti-LGBTQ+. The organizers asked for legal changes as well as the closure of all LGBTQ+ organizations. They dubbed the event the “Great Family March” and claimed their demands were made to protect their families and children.

Organizers were certain that LGBTQ+ identities were brought to Turkey through “global and imperialist lobbies” and that the goal was to “reduce the human generation and destroy the family institution.” Protestors carried banners with slogans such as “Protecting the family is a national security issue” and “Stop LGBTQI propaganda and imposition.” One of the organizers who spoke during the march said, “We are here to say no to global games, to the dirty and ugly plan that is based on global plots and destroying our family values.”

Ahead of the march, organizers released a video in which they describe the LGBTQ+ community as a virus that has taken over Turkey and the world. The video was embraced by RTÜK, the country’s main media watchdog, which has the power to promote beneficial content through public service announcements. The watchdog quickly rubber-stamped the video as a public announcement advertisement, bypassing its own decision-making mechanisms. According to RTÜK's internal process, any public announcement advertisement must be reviewed and approved by its supreme council, which was not the case this time around.

Every day we witness yet another attempt by this state to marginalize. RTUK should be ashamed of publishing this video as public announcement advertisement.

According to a member of RTÜK's board, Ilhan Taşcı, who was among those who criticized the video being promoted publically, the decision was arbitrary. The decision was taken by the RTÜK's President Ebubekir Şahin without consulting the board. Otherwise, “What is the public interest in introducing a call for an anti-LGBTI+ rally, which contains hate in its content, and which has a content that makes one part of the society hostile to another part of the society,” asked Taşcı in an interview with Medyascope.tv.

Since then, the said video has been removed from RTÜK's website.

Social media users responded quickly with #NefretYürüyüşüneHayır (No to hate march) trending on Twitter. Singers, artists, and journalists joined in condemning the march as an attempt to sow hate.

Singer and songwriter Aylin Aslım tweeted:

When children were raped you did not protest. When children were killed but covered it up as suicides, you did not protest. Every day, there are women dying, and yet you do not march. You have no values you believe in, and you know this as well as everybody else.

Another artist, Mabel Matiz, tweeted there was no place for such public announcements in a civilized country:

I call on everyone to support LGBTI+ after calls for anti-LGBTI+ march and the public announcement advertisement. In a civilized society, there is no place for something like this and discrimination is a crime.

Matiz himself was targeted after releasing a song this summer about a same-sex love story. The song and the video triggered a harsh response from Turkey's conservatives, who claimed the video had no place in their country. On social media, Matiz was targeted under the hashtag #HaddiniBilMabelMatiz [Know your place, Matiz].

One MP and member of the People's Democratic Party, Züleyha Gülüm,  tweeted that the March that was organized on Sunday was “part of the government's hostile policy towards LGBTI+s. The march that promotes hate crime targeting LGBTI+s is unacceptable.”

The organization behind the new anti-LGBTQ+ video and the march was Yesevi Alperenler Ocağı Education, Culture and Solidarity Association — a coalition of about 150 conservative nongovernmental organizations. Kürşat Mican, the head of the platform, dismissed any allegations that the platform was making public calls for hate. “We want to put an end to this trend that threatens the existence of humanity by raising awareness against LGBTI+ propaganda and imposition. We have no other intention than this, beyond that, it is a needless assumption,” Mican reportedly said in a statement.

On September 20, Mican retweeted a tweet that targeted an openly gay French-Algerian Imam and Paris-based scholar, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, who is scheduled to speak in Istanbul in November. The tweet accused Zahed of spreading propaganda. “This injustice should not be allowed,” read the tweet.

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