Last week, across the globe, was Pride Week and in Istanbul there was no exception. On june 27, 2011, approximately 2000 revelers marched onto Taksim Square, and down the Istikal, carrying banners and signs, waving rainbow-colored flags, and chanting. The group was met in Taksim Square with tear gas (which we later discovered actually had to do with a Kurdish protest that was also attempting to march onto Taksim Square) as well as astonished on-lookers. Although demonstrations in Istanbul have a tendency to turn violent, this rally remained mostly peaceful (more tear gas was released into the Pride crowd; the second time it was meant for us).
As the revelers made their way down the Istikal, they stopped in front of several businesses, booing and chanting. I later learned that these businesses had been sources of discrimination by refusing service to a member (or members) of the LGBT community. The revelers stood outside of these discriminating businesses waving rainbow flags and brandishing signs with catchy slogans such as “Love is Not a Crime” and “Out of the Closet and Into the Streets”. This was the revelers way of saying that they would not stand for discrimination based on their choices of lifestyle.
Overall, the rally was peaceful; filled with music, dancing, laughter, and smiles. Having witnessed several West Hollywood Gay Pride rallies, I was surprised by the differences between the two. Make no mistake, despite it being a peaceful demonstration, there was definite potential for things to go terribly wrong. As I mentioned before, demonstrations in Istanbul have a tendency to turn violent at any moment, and this rally was no exception. The LGBT community is not at all supported nor aided by the city in the organization of these demonstrations or in safety assurance. Streets were not cleared nor blocked off and if there had been any serious opposition to the revelers, it would not have been contained. Revelers were made to negotiate their way through throngs of on lookers and in Taksim Square there was a very large police presence, heavily armed and wearing riot gear attire. Fortunately, the rally remained peaceful and, in the end, love prevailed.
Peace and Love