4 Queer Culture Workers From Turkey Respond to the Anti-LGBT+ Rally in Istanbul

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On September 18, 2022, an “anti-LGBT+ march” was held in Istanbul under the name of “The Big Family Gathering” with the slogan “Protect Your Family and Generation, Stop Perversion” and the participation of communities and sects was supported by the state institutions and political parties.

The Istanbul Pride March has been banned since 2015 on the grounds that it endangers “public safety.” As a result, this march has been subjected to intense police violence for the last seven years. Three hundred and seventy-three people were arrested during the pride march in 2022, the largest mass detention in recent years. Activists were detained, subjected to physical and psychological violence, and kept in police vehicles for many hours.

The calls for participation in “The Big Family Gathering” is the latest move by the anti-LGBT+ movement organized by the political Islamist government and ultra-nationalist parties and supported by state institutions.

Their actions reproduce the conspiracy theories that have been taken for granted in recent years, arguing that “LGBT propaganda in the digital age is a virus that is enveloping Turkey and the world” and that “If you want to say ‘stop’ to the global and imperialist lobbies that want to ungender the community, reduce the human propagation, and destroy the family institution, join our Big Family Gathering to protect our family, our children, and future generations.”

A video of the call for participation was deemed a “public service announcement” by Turkey’s Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) and was encouraged to be broadcast free of charge by national channels.

This anti-LGBT+ movement, which aims to engage voters in advance of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023  by exacerbating mass polarization, performs illusionary victimhood while channeling the anger of the increasingly impoverished people to “easy target LGBT+ people” and instrumentalizes hatred. The LGBT+ community, the target of increasingly active hate politics in recent years, is treated as a criminal organization and queer people, who are currently not allowed any public visibility and representation, are exposed to all kinds of unfair treatment and violence and put in insecure and precarious positions.

In Turkey, not only is the Pride Parade banned, the rainbow flag considered a criminal device and the abbreviation “LGBT” is considered propaganda, but all counter-protest events such as March 8 meetings, the Boğaziçi University resistance, and concerts of opposition singers, were also banned. The existence and movement of all opposing identities are under constant paranoid control. 

This text, produced for Protodispatch (Protocinema’s new digital publication project that commissions artists’ perspectives on local and intercontinental issues), consists of the responses of four queer culture workers from Istanbul to the anti-LGBT+ rally that took place on September 18.

Young filmmaker Toprak Kara, who participated in The Big Family Gathering, shared the photos they took from the walk with us. Toprak Kara, who dared to go to the rally wearing a hat with the rainbow flag–which has now been designated a terrorist symbol–documented the uniform mass, the ironic moments of the march, and the appropriated slogans used on banners.

On the same day and at the same time as the Big Family Gathering, Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu’s queer performance at Salt Beyoğlu in the heart of the city unfolded. Through this new work, titled Angelus Altera, she* transforms Turkey’s queer past and resistance into active research through her* body. Darıcıoğlu uses her* hair to beat seven sand dunes, each filled with rainbow-colored glitter until each is flattened, spaying glitter everywhere. This whipping action mirrors the “whipping up” of emotion at the hate march that coincided with her* performance and took place a few kilometers away. 

Yasemin Kalaycı and Elçin Acun create a queer, feminist, and transparent art space directly in contact with the hustle of the city in an atmosphere where queer representation on the street is impossible. Kalaycı and Acun share their ideas about Turkey’s increasingly aggressive governmental LGBT+ policy and their experiences through Koli Art Space, which they founded in 2021 in Kadıköy, which can be considered an alternative ghetto of the city and even the country. Koli Art Space reestablishes our faith in art and politics by foregrounding the hope that art can serve as political representation when public participation is not possible.
Alper Turan

 

B. Toprak Karakaya

A “hafız” candidate (a term used by Muslims for someone who has completely memorized the Quran) holding a sign saying, “We are against all kinds of hatred, violence, and imposition directed at individuals” in an anti-LGBT+ rally held in İstanbul. Becoming accidentally pro-LGBTI, the young “hafız” was using the same sentence LGBTI+ are using to attack them. Photo: B. Toprak Karakaya.

Although any image of the rainbow has been recently considered sacrilegious among many Islamic groups and is illegal in Turkey to sell to minors, a woman carries a rainbow tote bag, waiting for the rain to stop. Photo: B. Toprak Karakaya.

A woman holds a sign, saying “Say stop to those trying to take away your grandchildren’s right to live”. Photo: B. Toprak Karakaya.

Members of the Ottoman Motorcycle Club, a male-only monarchist group, were present at the rally. They were wearing gilets with an Ottoman coat of arms and fez, a symbol of Ottoman affiliation. Photo: B. Toprak Karakaya.

B. Toprak Karakaya is standing among the rally crowd, wearing a hat with a rainbow flag.

B. Toprak Karakaya, next to a rally attendee wearing a t-shirt with an “Islam” umbrella protecting a “family” from a rainbow. The graphic concept, re-appropriated according to specifics of various localities, are being used in Russia, Poland, and Qatar.

 

Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu

Leman Sevda Darıcıoğlu, . A shot from the performance in Salt Beyoğlu on September 18, 2022. Courtesy Salt, İstanbul. Photo: Emirkan Çördük.

His Our face is turned toward the past. Where we you perceive a chain of events, he sees we see one single catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his our feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. We are going there, summoning the ghosts and making whole what has been smashed.1

On July 2, 1993, the first LGBTI+ Pride March and the three-day event program that Turkish lubunyas2 wanted to organize under the name of Sexual Freedom Activities were banned on the grounds that they were against the customs and values of society. The house doors of some of the lubunyas on the organizing team were destroyed with sledgehammers, houses were plundered, people were detained, and participants who came from abroad for support were deported.

Although the first Pride March took place only ten years later, in 2003, this first attempt to march pierced the twilight that had fallen on that day, paving the way for the lubunyas to find each other, come together, and create today’s powerful Queer movement.

While the magnitude of violence has been increasing every year and the power has been gradually playing for high stakes for the last seven years, imagine a group of people who did not close themselves in their homes and gathered in Beyoğlu and its surroundings to inscribe their existence in the city, to defend their desire, their existence, not to be alone and not to leave each other alone, even though they knew that they would be exposed to police violence.

Although it is frightening to watch what has happened in the last two and a half years since I moved away from Turkey, the lubunyas remind me that even if our backs hit the ground after every protest, we have each other to lift us up and rub our wounds. The slogan of the West, “The Future is Queer,” printed on T-shirts, is breath for the bodies here, that’s clear. We are the future; the future is lubunya.

While I was designing Angelus Altera, the durational performance I performed at Salt Beyoğlu on September 18, I had these thoughts in mind: The first three and a half hours of the performance looked at the twilight of the 80s, which is an inflection point for both lubunyas and Turkey in general. On one hand, during this period, a prison of fear was woven into the entire society by the military coup and the people who died and were tortured in prisons. On the other hand, the 80s represent the loneliness of not being able to find each other, or even not knowing one’’s own existence.

The Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian houses that were destroyed and the lives that were displaced when Tarlabaşı Boulevard was being opened revealed the broken doors of Ülker Street, a trans ghetto of the 90s, violated by Hortum Süleyman3, who was the commissioner of Beyoğlu Police Station and famous for his transphobia. There was also the fear that came between bodies and desires with the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The next three and a half hours of my performance contained the voice of destroying borders and setting up extra-territorial positions, as in the history of Turkish performance art, of the war and the resistance on the one side of the country, of getting stronger as lubunyas, of coming together, and the way of saying: “We are the future and no matter what you do, you cannot stop us.”

Knowing that RTÜK4, the media watchdog of the country, of which I am a citizen and to which I pay taxes, issued the call of the Family Gathering as an invitation to the attacks that were happening 20 minutes away, spreading hatred against queer existence, inflamed my performance of Angelus Alter.

There were silent cries of, “Here’s your hatred, here’s your family,” by the sand piles that I beat with my hair. My screaming, my whip materialized throughout my hair, as my hair was beating the dunes and my body was undulating in this three-and-a-half-hour pogo of sand and hair. My every fall spread more rainbows, more glitter, more sparkles. The tears I saw in the eyes of the audience were saying: We are tearing down these hills that are being put against us, we are uniting already, we are dancing together in the sand and the shine, in tears and desire.

Koli Art Space (Yasemin Kalaycı & Elçin Acun)

Shot from Koli Art Space opening reception of the current exhibition, ÇARK, September 3, 2022. Photo by Tahir Akkurt.

Turkey’s policy toward LGBTI+ individuals is heading toward a quite divisive point due to the approaching elections. Those in power are constantly calling for hatred through their long-held channels. The media are effective at this. People are invited to express solidarity in rallies such as the “Big Family Gathering and March,” with absurd, baseless, and outdated arguments presented in the name of public service announcements. A contagious hostility is fueled by creating a sense of unity out of hatred.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests, such as the “8 March Feminist Night March” and “Pride Month Events,” are completely prohibited and, when they do happen, are met with police violence. In this regime, it is then okay to stand behind the rhetoric of violence in gatherings such as “family” rallies.

Political power decides which body is important and is considered a legitimate part of the social body and can easily persuade people to marginalize, devalue, deem expendable, or even criminalize those who are different. This threatens our very existence by fueling a lynch mob culture.

More than ever, we need spaces where we can allow our thoughts to breathe, meet around similar ideologies, produce together, and feel safe without being exposed to hate speech. At KOLİ Art Space, this has been our aim since the beginning, and in this context, we hope to be activists in the struggle for the liberation and visibility of LGBTI+ individuals, focusing on gender equality.

KOLİ is a place in the neighborhood of Yeldeğirmeni, with windows on all facades. Therefore, it establishes a direct relationship with the outside and has an architecture that attracts the attention of even those who are not art audiences and invites them inside. Yeldeğirmeni has changed greatly in the last few years; it has become expensive and some of the people who have lived there a long time have had to move, while boutique cafes have replaced local shopkeepers.

Despite these changes, it is still a district where the neighborhood culture continues. We are surrounded by local tradesmen; people attach importance to neighborly relations. We observe that they live by respecting each other’s spaces without regarding each other as strangers. It is one of the rare districts in Istanbul where we can exist comfortably and freely without a sense of elitism.

Although most mainstream galleries are on the European side, the artists prefer to keep their workshops here on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. They settle in districts such as Yeldeğirmeni, where they can feel the spirit of the city and experience the chaos of Istanbul and form a community rather than in newly established neighborhoods. Local shopkeepers and our neighbors are accustomed to artists and venues in this sense. This openness is an advantage that increases the visibility and diversity of the people we address, but also makes it vulnerable.

So far, we have not had big problems during the events we have held. While we have sometimes encountered complaints during the performances that overflowed the streets and, on occasion, the police even came, nothing serious ensued.

As people who are so often denied and pushed into the shadows in public places, it is important for us to be visible. At the same time, the increase in hate speech in today’s climate inevitably pushes us to be cautious.

We dream of being able to protect what we have without fear, with confidence and to be more liberated with every step.

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