Turkish police violently clashed with almost 1,000 LGBTQ activists on Sunday in Istanbul, using rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd, according to international media reports. The city’s governor had banned the Istanbul Pride March from happening there for the fourth year in a row, citing security reasons and public “sensitivities” as grounds.
The Istanbul Pride March was once considered a shining example of tolerance for the LGBTQ community in the Muslim world. Prior to 2015, Turkish authorities had allowed pride marches to take place since the first in 2003. As many as 100,000 people attended Istanbul Pride in 2014.
Even though the Istanbul Pride March had been banned, activists decided to carry on with the activities that surround Pride Week there, and work towards mounting a peaceful demonstration to raise LGBTQ visibility.
“The governor cited the excuse of security in its decision to ban the march, and in one word, this is comical. Our marches went on peacefully without being banned for 13 years,” the organizers said in a press statement on Facebook hours before the march. “We LGBTI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) are here with our pride despite all vain attempts to prevent us and we do not recognize this ban.”
“We have no visibility in any space — in the workplace, many LGBTIQ people have to cover their gender or their sexual orientation,” says Meriç Aytekin, an activist from the Pride Committee. “Or in the education system, they have to cover themselves. And this [Pride] is the only one intensive place to come out, to show yourself, what you are, what you like, and what you love, you know? And the visibility helps us change the political system, to change the law.”
Although homosexuality and being transgender are not illegal in Turkey, LGBTQ people face discrimination and hate crimes.
Almost 1,000 LGBTQ activists gathered near Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Avenue and Taksim Square. Attendees chanted slogans such as, “Don’t be quiet, shout out, gays exist!” and “Love, love, freedom, State, stay away!” They carried a banner that read, “Get used to, we are here.”
But Turkish police stopped the demonstration from continuing, using violent means such as using tear gas, batons dogs and deploying rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. The Daily Beast reports that police stopped “anyone wearing bright colors, carrying a rainbow, or sporting an asymmetrical haircut.”
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“This is the fourth year we are getting banned and attacked from the police,” says Hakan, a 27-year-old employee of an aid organization. “Being LGBTI is getting harder. We are part of the society and we are here saying we want rights like all minorities. But today, they don’t even let us enter the street because of the way look and because we are carrying rainbow flags. We are saying we are here, we are part of the community, and we are queer.”