24/07/2013 | Writer: Kaos GL

Presence of LGBT movement in an Istanbul’s park, where children play during the day and men make love at night...

LGBT Movement and Protests in Turkey Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+
Turkey is not an Arab country and protests in Turkey are not an Arab spring. Yet, Turkish tensions and the ones that inflame many countries of Northern Africa share various, more or less important, elements. Among them, the link between the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and the symbolic place of the riots: both Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Taksim Square in Istanbul, with the adjacent Gezi Park, in fact, are known as cruising areas, where gay people meet each other, make friends, organize sexual encounters. Gezi Park, which in the daylight is a paradise for families looking for a green corner, at night becomes the republic of a proletarian and almost anarchist homosexuality which prefers the trees along Mete street to chic gay clubs, when in search for a quickie , a male prostitute, a love...

It is not surprising, therefore, that, since the first moment, the LGBT community has been at the forefront in the defense of Gezi Park, which the Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wanted to destroy to make room for a shopping center. The protest, which could remain a neighbourhood complaint, has turned into a general rebellion that involved all major cities, from the capital Ankara to Izmir, from Antalya to dozens of other centers, and that brought together multiple instances: the denunciation of the authoritarian government, the defense of secularism, the critique of a voracious and inhuman capitalism, the demand for greater democracy ... "People are fed up with increasing capitalism and conservatism," says Ömer Akpınar, media coordinator for Kaos GL, one of the leading LGBT organizations in the country.

The key concept of the protests, the activist says, is "public space": "Our protests revolve around the use of public space - and by this we mean also the media, because there are too many pressures on how people have to interact with each other and how they can be represented in media as a public space". Homosexual and transsexual people are the main victims of these pressures: if their rights were not protected even by the secular Kemalist governments and the situation has not changed too much, the religious rhetoric of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Islamist force in power, has made the problem more obvious.

In contrast to the reports of some media, however, the Turkish protests didn’t have any anti-religious nuance, not even by secular and atheistic groups: "Our target is not religion, but this ’neo-Islam’: the government uses Sunni Islam as a tool to ignore minorities, to create a monolithic culture, to cover all its authoritarianism"explains Ömer. The political use of religion is also criticized by many Muslims, "people want freedom for all, believers and non-believers." In events with a surprisingpluralism, veiled women and punk girls, football fans and middle-class families, nationalist politicians and representatives of ethnic minorities marched alongside each other...

For the rainbow movement it has been the time to strengthen the political and social ties created through decades of full and generous activism. "Our movement has always been in touch with other movements, such as the Kurdish one, the feminist one, the ecologist one... We see the oppression of LGBT people as an intersection of different issues, such as class, ethnicity, gender, privileges in general." But the Gezi’s protests were also an opportunity to create a dialogue with interlocutors who were traditionally hostile or indifferent: "There was a great solidarity among all groups, even between LGBT people and Muslims: during Ramadan, for the first time in Turkish history, people sat and had their breaking-the-fast dinner on İstiklâl Avenue [the most important pedestrian street in Istanbul], "says Ömer.

LGBT associations have not only protested, not only organized distribution points for food and drinks, not only provided first medical aid to protesters hit by the police, as many other groups did. Homosexual and transgender activists have also contacted other sections of protest and tried to persuade them to not use any more homophobic, transphobic, misogynist slogans ... The results were surprising: the chorus most often used by fans ("Erdoğan is a fag [ibne]") became "Erdoğan is sexist", while also anti-capitalist Muslims participated in the Pride, along with tens of thousands of Turks that, thanks to the common struggle for Gezi Park, have known and finally understood their "non-heterosexual" fellow-citizens.

Now Gezi Park is safe, thanks to a court ruling in Istanbul, but the government’s attempt to impose its crazy projects to denature one of the most fascinating cities in the world has opened a Pandora’s box: the slow decline of Turkish democracy will no longer proceed quietly and without shocks and a big portion of the population is demanding even more rights, more freedom, more participation. For everyone.

The generosity of the protesters, focused on the general concept of citizenship rather than on the specific needs of their groups, made all the political instances to take a step forward. The government repression has transformed groups that were distant into people who now feel emotionally united, and feel empathy for each other. And Turkey, if pluralism and respect - the key values ​​of the protest - will prevail, could become again a model for democratic people in all countries with a Muslim majority, a hope for the whole world. Turkey is not an Arab country and protests in Turkey are not an Arab spring. But perhaps the future of Arab countries and of Arab Spring is blooming in an Istanbul’s park, where children play during the day and men make love at night...
 
This article was originally published in Italy’s il grande collibri.
 
Photograph 1: Kemal Aslan
Photograph 2: Kaos GL 

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