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Turkey: Gezi Park’s queer connection

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — A Vocativ post on the 18-day-old, anti-government protests in Istanbul's Gezi Park focuses on the visible queer presence in the thousands-strong resistance.

Prominent among the images that emerged from the protest, initially prompted by a bid to stave off the redevelopment of the park, a green oasis in the otherwise concrete Taksim Square, was the rainbow flag, Oray Egin wrote.

Interestingly, when members of an ultra-nationalist group tried to attack a trans Pride
in Taksim Square last June, they threw stones and bottles at participants who were waving rainbow flags. The youth wing, known as Alperen Ocaklari, had gathered
in the same square to remember fallen Turkish soldiers and chanted, "The
only flag allowed here is the Turkish flag, not that piece of fabric." 

Egin says that it's not surprising, despite the history of discrimination queer people have faced, and continue to face, in Turkey, that they are a significant force in what has been dubbed Occupy Gezi, as the park had been their turf at night, a fact that's highlighted in gay guidebooks.

Egin quotes fashion designer and activist Barbaros Sansal, who has been visiting the park for 50 years, as saying, it’s the "most important meeting point and cruising area for gays in Turkey." 

Even before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government had moved to raze the park, gays had started to be forced out.

Egin writes, "First, the local government in Istanbul destroyed the bushes in the park, so there wouldn’t be blind hook-up spots for gays. And starting last year, the police made its presence known, regularly carding whomever passed through."

With the push-back against the government's plans, the queer presence became more visible again, and according to Egin, a "different sort of unity" emerged, with gays and lesbians establishing connections with "unlikely friends," including soccer fans and a conservative group called the Anti-Capitalist Muslims. 

American advocacy organization GLAAD noted in early June that queer organizations, "often ignored, sometimes aggressively persecuted," were applauded at one point and shared food and sold T-shirts.

Egin notes that members of queer groups who saw anti-gay graffiti in the park when the protests first started painted over the slurs and took the opportunity to educate people about homophobia. 

It's a marked difference from some of the stories that came out of Turkey last year.

In September, The Hürriyet Daily News
reported that a teenager was allegedly murdered by family members
because of his sexual orientation in the southeastern province of

The 17-year-old, referred to by the intials RA, had reportedly sought
refuge at a friend's house after being exposed to violence by his family
but was forcibly removed from the house by an uncle, the report
alleges. "The boy reportedly had an argument with his father, after
which the latter allegedly shot his son 14 times before he and his
brother deposited the body by the side of the road," the daily Cumhuriyet reported. The boy's father and uncle were later arrested in connection with the murder.

Gay Star News
quoted Turkish advocacy organizations as saying that such murders —
dubbed honour killings because of the negative social stigma attached to
homosexuality — are underreported.

"LGBT activists . . . often object to the term [honour killing] stating
that it is nothing short of murder, objecting to its classification as a
special form of 'killing,'" Gay Star News notes.

Then in November, a new Turkish Armed Forces penalty regulation draft said gays will
be discharged from the army as punishment for their "lifestyle choices,"
the Hürriyet Daily News reported.

The report noted it would be the first time in the country's history that
homosexuality is clearly listed as an unnatural occurrence in army
regulations. Queer advocacy groups criticized the move, calling it a
violation of human rights, as "an individual’s personal life choice has
nothing to do with their ability to perform military duties."

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