Istanbul marks Trans Pride March with police violence and detentions

Image by Cecilie Johnsen. Free to use under Unsplash License.

After a six-year pause, this year's Trans Pride march took place on June 18 in Istanbul and was met with heavy police presence, intervention, and violence. Shortly after the group read out their statement and began to disperse, police used force and started detaining people. According to reports, at least eight people were detained on June 18.

The scenes from the trans march were reminiscent of the International Women's Day march on March 8, when local police barricaded many of the side streets leading to meeting points the organizers had announced, shut down subway lines, and set up checkpoints.

Local authorities have banned all PRIDE-related events for the month, including film screenings and tea-drinking events. Throughout the month, municipalities run by the mayors representing the ruling AK Party have banned concerts by artists known for supporting the LGBTQ+ community. The annual PRIDE March has been banned since 2015.

The ruling government's problem with LGBTQ+ people

The scenes witnessed on June 18 are not surprising given the ruling Justice and Development's Party long-standing issue with the LGBTQ+ community. The pervasive narrative of hate and discrimination targeting the community members as well as those who support them was even one of the talking points of the most recent general elections held in Turkey in May 2023.

Scores of members from the ruling party as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have scolded, dismissed the existence of, and dehumanized members of the community for years. In April 2020, the Directorate of Religious Affairs accused community members of spreading diseases. In 2021, President Erdoğan said there was “no such thing as LGBT.” Earlier in May, President Erdoğan told his supporters on television, “LGBT is a poison injected into the institution of the family. It is not possible for us to accept that poison as a country whose people are 99 percent Muslim.” The now-former Minister of the Interior, Suleyman Soylu, has called queer people “perverts” and described them as “propaganda of a terrorist organization.” Ahead of general elections in May 2023, the former minister also made allegations that LGBTQ+ “also included marriage between animals and humans.” While Turkey’s Justice Minister, Bekir Bozdağ, claimed there were attempts to “legitimize and normalize LGBT and many perversions. It is the primary duty of states to protect every member of society against negativities, against deviant and perverted understandings.”

In 2022, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, a legally-binding human rights treaty of the Council of Europe pledging to prevent, prosecute, and eliminate domestic violence and promote gender equality on the grounds that the convention normalized homosexuality.

Last year, supporters and organizers of a state-sponsored rally dubbed the “Great Family March” asked for legal changes — such as pushing for a law that would ban what the group described as LGBTQ propaganda as well as the closure of all LGBTQ+ organizations. There is also the ruling party's proposal to amend the first line of the constitutional article no. 41 “on family and children rights protection” to “The protection of family, conjugal union and children’s rights,” asserting instead that a family as the foundation of a society, can only be possible “on the condition of conjugal union as it can only be founded with the marriage of a man and a woman.”

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.” According to reporting by Gazete Duvar, similar rallies took place across several provinces of Turkey.

In its most recent 49-country Rainbow Europe Map and Index, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) ranked Turkey 48th.

Members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community are set to march on June 25 in an event that will mark Istanbul's 21st PRIDE march. Last year, over 300 people were detained during the annual march. This year, over 100 journalists signed a statement criticizing the violence and the bans targeting LGBTQ+ people and allies.

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