Istanbul Pride: I Can Now Check Getting Tear-Gassed Off My Bucket List
In America, Pride started out as defiance in the face of overwhelming oppression. In Turkey, it still is.
To celebrate Pride we’re offering a special 50% off discount for a year’s subscription. That’s only $25 for an entire year’s worth of content.
LGBTQ Pride dates to the Stonewall Riots, which took place in New York in June 1969. A handful of LGBTQ folks fought back against police brutality and government oppression.
Something similar happened last weekend here in Turkey.
At Stonewall, the number of protesters grew into the thousands in the days that followed, but that probably won’t happen here.
In fact, Istanbul actually used to have large and vibrant Pride celebrations. In 2014, 100,000 people turned out in the neighborhood where Brent and I are currently living.
But Turkey’s government has grown increasingly conservative, and that was the last year they issued a permit for any public LGBTQ gathering.
When such gatherings have happened away, the government has responded with riot police, rubber bullets, and tear-gas. They’ve also detained protestors and even journalists.
This year, there was a question whether any Pride events would happen at all.
Brent and I had been told by local friends where the proposed event might be, and we had some concerns about attending, but we wanted to show our support — and also witness it firsthand.
It took us a while to find the marchers. Authorities had once again denied the parade a permit, and also used heavy metal fencing to block off the main streets around Taksim Square, the location of past protests, to prevent an unauthorized march.
But we soon found where the marchers had gathered: on some nearby side streets. This was partly because, in past years, the police used water-cannons to break up the crowd, and the side streets are too narrow for such cannons.
We had been warned that violence might erupt. Even a simple picnic that Istanbul Pride tried to hold earlier in the week saw police detaining several activists and reportedly leaving one attendee with a broken arm.
In the march itself, people waved flags, chanted loudly in Turkish, and reveled in their swelling numbers, which were the result of calls to action on social media. The mood was festive and defiant, but there was also an aura of unease.
We later learned that violence had already erupted at earlier gathering spots. Rubber bullets were fired at the crowd not far from our apartment, and a journalist and two dozen activists were detained.
We’d taken a break to sit for a moment when we heard the pop, pop of tear gas cannisters being launched into the crowd. Almost instantly, we started choking and coughing, and had to quickly clear the area, along with several families who had been playing in a nearby park.
We’d never been tear-gassed before, and I always assumed it would be an unpleasant experience. But it was much worse than I expected: our eyes stung, and we both instantly had intense choking coughs. We hadn’t even been hit with the worst of it.
Marchers rushed to get away from the gas — but as they ran, many defiantly shouted, in Turkish, “We won’t shut up, we are not afraid, we do not obey!”
When you look up “pride” in the dictionary, the first definition is “a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements.”
This is exactly what the Turkish people who marched here in Istanbul on Saturday should feel.
But it is the second definition of "pride" that I think truly encapsulates the kind of pride we witnessed: "the consciousness of one's own dignity."
Folks here in Turkey are acting exactly like the first Pride protesters back in 1969: standing up for their very right to exist.
These brave Turks are showing their awareness of their own dignity. Here’s hoping it spreads throughout Turkey in the days and years that follow.
Pride lives all over the world in 2021. But it’s especially strong, and really moving to see, in the people who marched last weekend here in Turkey.
To learn more about the fight for LBGTQ rights in Turkey visit KAOSGL or consider donating to Outright Action International, which fights for equality around the world.
I'm so glad I subscribed and can now read your full stories. As horrifying as these events are, the rest of the world needs to know that they are happening. My husband and I visited Istanbul in 2012 and the country was already in transition. But the crackdown since then has been severe. What makes it even more sad for me is that Turkey has a rich secular history. Only very recently, under the not so delightful Erdogan, has the country become increasingly intolerant. We aren't planning to return until Erdogan and his legacy are gone. Hopefully this is soon, as it's a delightful place with an incredible history and culture.
Great article on your experience there. I’m sorry you got gassed, but glad you guys didn’t experience anything worse. Please continue being careful and these reports really are fascinating.