LGBT organizations in Turkey participate (and are accepted) in Gezi Park Protests

Much of the news coming out of the Gezi Park protests in Turkey has been focused, rightfully, on the police violence and the distinct lack of media coverage within the country. However, as the dust begins to settle slightly in Istanbul (though not in the rest of the country), the silver lining is beginning to show.

"People have united here," said Birce Deren Sezegen, an Istanbul resident. "Atheists celebrate religious days, religious people claim their love of Atatürk."

"Fans of the different football clubs, who fought after almost every game, now walk in the streets arm in arm," said Tugay Hanegelioğlu, another Istanbul resident.

"The LGBT community is proudly around for the first time."

It seems that in the midst of the tear gas and rubber bullets, the people have united in ways they never have before. LGBT organizations, often ignored, sometimes aggressively persecuted, have become deeply entrenched in the movement.

One such group is KAOS GL, a leading LGBT organization in Turkey. In 2005, KAOS GL applied for non-governmental status and received it. The deputy governor of Ankara, the nation's capital, petitioned to have that status revoked, claiming that KAOS GL broke the country's immorality laws. The case was dropped. Throughout the Gezi Park protests, KAOS GL has been constantly updating its Facebook page with photos from the protests around the country. Another group involved in the protests, Lambda Istanbul, was almost dissolved in 2008 by Turkish courts. The ruling was later overruled and the group remained.

The group organizing gay pride week in Istanbul is planning an event to gather and prepare supplies for protesters at Gezi Park. Istanbul Bears, a group for bearded gay men, has a table in the park filled with snacks for anyone who wants. A journalist for The Week spoke with Ahmed Kaya, one of the bears, who reminded him that "people are homophobic still in Turkey." However, the table in the "LGBT Blok" is, according to the journalist, always surrounded by people.

There have been no reported examples of homophobia within the protests. Earlier this week LGBT groups were applauded in the park. On Thursday, an LGBT group sold t-shirts and shared food.

"It was actually very inspiring," said Ms. Sezegen "because unfortunately they wouldn't be welcomed another time."

A large group was seen waving a large rainbow flag and shouting, "I am transsexual and I am here!" and it is widely acknowledge by protesters that transgender people allowed protesters fleeing police violence to take refuge in their homes.  

Hopefully, this is a sign of a positive change in a country that, in 2011, was condemned by Amnesty International for ignoring the violence and discrimination LGBT face regularly. Perhaps protesters having now experienced such unjustified violence and harassment, understand the difficulty faced by the LGBT community a little bit more.

The real test will be to see if this peace among protesters lasts past the protests. Whether they save the park (which in a city with less than 1.5% green space, they hopefully will) or not, the protesters must try to save the feeling of being united by the common bond of Turkish citizenry, rather than being divided by what makes them different from one another. These protests could be the start of something incredible for Turkey or it could die when the last occupier leaves the park. It's up to everyone in the park and around the country who has already to stood up against one injustice to keep the momentum going.

 

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