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‘We are not afraid’: LGBTQ+ activists bravely defy Istanbul’s Pride ban

Turkish police arrested 373 activists during a peaceful Pride gathering in Istanbul

On Sunday (June 26), Turkish police blocked, assaulted and arrested hundreds of activists during a peaceful Pride gathering in Istanbul after politicians announced a ban of all Pride-related events earlier in the week. 

In harrowing images circulating on social media, police can be seen wearing full riot gear while metal fences blockaded the area surrounding Taksim Square. Metro stations were also closed at 11AM to dissuade people from attending the march.

Before the march’s planned start, it was reported that 52 had been detained. Kaos GL, one of the largest LGBTQ+ rights groups in Turkey, said on Monday (27 June) that 373 people were arrested and released after spending a night in custody. The government hasn’t provided any official numbers regarding the arrests. “We do not give up, we are not afraid,” said Kaos GL in a statement.

“We strongly condemn the police brutality by Turkish Police orchestrated by President Erdogan and the detention of 373 LGBTIQ+ people and human rights defenders and journalists on the day of the Pride March – an unprecedentedly high number for any public demonstration in Türkiye,” says Biljana Ginova, advocacy manager at ERA - LGBTI Equal Rights Association for the Western Balkans and Turkey.

“Türkiye is breaking several domestic and international laws and treaties, and for that must be held accountable,” they add. “The state-produced brutality and violence we witness in Türkiye is yet another reminder of how easy it is to lose already gained rights and freedoms. The struggle for our liberation is not over, and now more than ever, we need to stand up for each other, stand united and fight in solidarity!”

Istanbul has banned Pride marches since 2015, but this hasn’t stopped activists and allies from gathering every year to show their support of LGBTQ+ rights, despite the annual onslaught of police brutality, rubber bullets and pepper spray. Sexual acts between two people of the same sex are legal in Turkey, but same-sex marriage is illegal and there are currently no laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination.

Last year, the Turkish government made the shocking decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty designed to protect women and LGBTQ+ people against violence. This has only added to an already toxic atmosphere of hatred and repression, where government officials openly refer to LGBTQ+ people as “perverts” and “degenerates”. 

“The Turkish LGBTIQ+ movement needs increased regional and international solidarity and support to fight against oppression,” says Ginova. “This should include means and resources for the LGBTIQ+ rights defenders to continue legal battles, for LGBTIQ+ service providers to continue their work, and for building and maintaining safe spaces for providing grassroots work with the community members facing the oppressive actions and attacks by the government.”

“It is essential to raise global awareness about the state-produced violence to which LGBTIQ+ people in Türkiye are exposed, stand up in solidarity with the Turkish LGBTIQ+ movement and condemn and sanction the oppressive government.”