ISTANBUL — More than a month after Turkish authorities cracked down on pride-themed events in Istanbul, feelings for members of the country’s beleaguered LGBT community are still raw.
“There was a lot of violence. I was beaten up and so were most of the people I was arrested with,” Istanbul resident Alaj Yener told VOA. “They used zip ties to handcuff us, hands behind our backs, and refused to cut zip ties for long periods of time.”
Yener, who is non-binary, was detained when security forces attempted a pride parade in the central Istanbul borough of Taksim. Other LGBT-themed gatherings were also disrupted in the city in June, which was recognized as Pride Month for sexual minorities in many parts of the world.
“The violence, and the way the police dehumanized and humiliated us at every opportunity, we tried to control as much as we could, it was all very stressful,” Yener said.
Branded as ‘Deviation’
Even before the suppression of Pride events, Turkey’s LGBT community found itself in the spotlight of national politics and at the core of student activism.
In February, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of contempt for sexual minorities, claiming in a televised speech that LGBT people do not exist in an ethical nation like Turkey.
Meanwhile, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu labeled student activists on Twitter as “LGBT deviants”, prompting the platform to flag the post for hateful content.
Tensions with the authorities escalated when students vehemently opposed the political ally’s appointment of Erdogan as rector of Istanbul’s prestigious Bogazii University, which has a strong LGBT presence. Controversy escalated in Bogazisi after posters depicting the Islamic holy site Kaaba with LGBT flags on campus as part of the protest.
The appointed rector Melih Bulu has recently stepped down. But student protesters allege that university officials have unleashed a wave of retaliation against them, from scholarship cancellations to expulsion.
“Scholarship cancellations, detentions, how some students are currently barred from leaving the country and therefore unable to continue their education, it’s all very serious and disturbing,” Yener said. .
Recent events have left some LGBT Turks with conflicting feelings, including Ankara resident Nurefsan Bolat, who is also non-binary.
Bolat said, “I also feel disappointed and hopeful. It’s no surprise the police attack almost any protest in Turkey. Thus, it strikes me as less protesting.” “I hope the departure of Melih Bulu, beginning with the latest updates about the Bogazisi protests. I also feel hopeful when I meet new advocates and LGBTI+ rights defenders in Turkey, and even more. That Pride Month leaves more rainbows behind. Feel hopeful about the future.”
Beyond the headline confrontations, Turkey’s sexual minorities face more mundane challenges in everyday life.
“I can mostly say (that) I feel threatened by discrimination in many contexts for my sexual orientation and gender identity,” Bolat said. “For example, whenever I meet someone new or come into a new environment, coming out always comes with consequences. Also, since I have a very religious and conservative family, hiding from them is tedious and tedious. Very disappointing.”
Summarizing the experience, Bolat said, “Being a member of the LGBTI+ community in Turkey is a constant fear of stereotypes and the threat of discrimination.”
legal protection absent
Legal experts say Turkey’s laws are not against LGBT people.
“There is virtually no legal regulation that prohibits homosexuality or defines it as a crime,” an attorney who requested anonymity told the VOA. Repression and violence against sexual minorities continues unabated.
“The crimes of violence and murder against homosexuals, which are inadequately investigated and prosecuted, in conjunction with the state targeting homosexuals from the highest levels of government, … systematic prohibition of marches and events and restrictions on freedom of expression “Homosexuals in Turkey cannot live freely with an open identity,” the lawyer explained.
While many countries have enacted laws to protect sexual minorities and protect their rights, Turkey has not followed through.
“The provision of certain rights such as legal recognition, marriage, inheritance, adoption and social security payments for same-sex couples does not exist,” the lawyer said. “For this reason, we can say that although homosexuality is not technically illegal in Turkey, it is actually prohibited by state practices.”
Despite disruptions to this year’s Pride celebrations, many LGBT Turks express grit and determination as they look to the future.
“The LGBT rights movement in Turkey is several decades old and has survived and progressed in diverse social and political environments,” Yener said. “I believe that we will live and fight for justice and salvation, and it will get better.”