Turkey bans gay pride march over ‘safety concerns’

Marchers at Pride Week in Istanbul in 2015, when police used a water cannon. Picture: AP
Marchers at Pride Week in Istanbul in 2015, when police used a water cannon. Picture: AP
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Turkish authorities have banned a march for gay, lesbian and trans rights due to take place today.

The Istanbul governor’s office said yesterday that the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex) Pride would be banned for the safety of participants and tourists, and public order.

LGBTI activists had announced on social media that they would organise a march starting from Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

The governor’s office stated the area was not designated for demonstrations and an appropriate application had not been received. It also said various groups had raised “serious reactions” against the march.

The 2014 Pride March in Istanbul attracted up to 100,000 people – one of the largest gatherings celebrating LGBTI rights and diversity in the Muslim world. Authorities have not allowed a Pride march since.

Prior to the ban, Pride Week in Istanbul attracted tens of thousands of participants.

That changed suddenly two years ago when authorities, citing security concerns, banned gay and transgender pride events and chased away shocked participants assembling at central Taksim Square with tear gas and water cannons.

The reversal, activists say, coincides with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan shedding his reformist past, taking an increasingly authoritarian line and raising Islam’s profile in the officially secular country.

In his early years in office as prime minister, Erdogan worked to advance minority rights as part of efforts to join the European Union.

Unlike other Muslim countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. However, lesbian, gay and transgender activists say they lack legal protections and face widespread social stigma in a nation that is heavily influenced by conservative and religious values.

The Pride Week events and parade, held in Istanbul since 2003, allowed the LGBTI community to try to break the stigma and assert rights, including demands for explicit bans on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The fact that the existing political power is not making the necessary changes in the constitution, and the fact that they have discourse against us might encourage people who are already trans phobic,” said Seyhan Arman, a 37-year-old transgender woman and performer.

Deniz Sapka, a transgender woman originally from the south-eastern Turkish province of Hakkari, is concerned about the lack of legal protection for her community.

“The state is not developing new politics on this and there is no legislation on our fundamental rights and freedoms. Generally the working life is problematic,” said the 27-year-old.

Organisers believe that celebrations in 2015 and 2016 were banned because they coincided with Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.

Turkey’s LGBTI community is now braced for another confrontation with police today following the latest ban. The day coincides with the Muslim Eid holiday and also comes as Turkey is under a state of emergency following last year’s failed coup attempt, which allows authorities to ban public gatherings.

“The bans are a reflection of the increasingly conservative and majoritarian policies of the government,” said Murat Koylu, of the Ankara-based Koas GL, a group promoting LGBTI rights.

Last year an ultra-nationalist and conservative group, the Alperen Ocaklari, threatened to attack the celebrations if authorities did not ban them.

The group, linked to Turkey’s Great Unity Party, repeated the threat last week despite an ongoing court case against them brought by the LGBTI community.