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On June 28th, around 4 PM, my friends and I took the subway to Taksim Square. We were all very exicted to participate in our 23th LGBTI Pride March. I’ve attended the event for the last four years, watching the crowd get bigger and bigger every year. Last year, nearly 100,000 people cheerfully marched down İstiklal Avenue — one of the most popular places in Turkey.
When we reached the infamous Taksim Square — the site of numerous protests and movements throughout Turkish history — we saw many police SWAT teams around. We didn’t care too much about the police because you often see more police than civilians at the square. During many protests, they stand quietly aside and stare at the protestors as a silent threat. But this Sunday was different; nothing was silent about them.
When we tried to reach a good point on İstiklal Avenue, rumors on Twitter pointed out that the police would not allow our pride march. The Police said the march had no permission, even though in Turkish laws, citizens don’t permission to organize a protest or unarmed march.
During next two hours, we witnessed police attacking some protestors (armed only with rainbow flags) using water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
During the police intervention, one protestor got shot in his eye with a rubber bullet and now faces 90 percent total blindness. We later learned that the protestor happened to be a member of the AKP political party — the same political party as Turkey’s socially conservative president — an odd twist of fate! And yes, there are LGBT individuals who support the mega-conservative AKP party.
Police violence during the protests also injured several other people.
Later that stressful night, police also attacked the Pride march’s official after-party; we still don’t know the reason why…
To say it straightforwardly, we still don’t understand the real reason for the attack. The Governor’s Office later released a press statement saying that the police did it as a precaution(!) because of radical groups threatening to attack the LGBTI crowd. Other sources also mentioned that the government and police didn’t want LGBTI supporters to march through Taksim Sqaure because it’s the month of Ramadan.
I think they’re confused about this stupid so-called “intervention” — even they don’t know the real reason behind their attack. They just did their jobs to prevent the corrupt(!) LGBTI citizens from expressing themselves. But it has all turned out very badly because the organizing LGBTI non-profit group didn’t hesitate to follow-up on the incident by filing a lawsuit against the parties responsible for this mess: the governor and the home secretary!
I feel really sorry though. Over the last five to 10 years, my friends and I have made great progress gaining more visibility and acceptance for LGBTI rights. This silly police intervention made violence against LGBT individuals seem a bit more legitimate for homophobes.
But from a more optimistic view, witnessing the support of the LGBT and non-LGBT people after this troubling incident, it seems we’ve gotten even greater “visibility,” only in a much harder and tough way. I believe the rule of being accepted is to be “visible” first. So now, more of society sees us much more clearly. And clearly, they’ll also witness our enthusiasm, persistence and ambition to become fully equal individuals in Turkish society over the next decade.
LGBTI people may have stumbled and taken a hit in this instance, but at the end we will rise as we always do! So don’t worry for us world, we will rise triumphant!
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Murat Renay is an author, DJ and founder of Turkey’s first and only gay lifestyle magazine GZone.