Tutus, Turks and Tear gas: Istanbul Pride 2011

As some of you are well aware, I’ve recently been hanging out in Istanbul with about 30 amazing people from around the world talking about sex more or less 20 hours of the day (and dreaming about it for the other four). So it seemed somewhat serendipitous when we realised that we were in Istanbul for pride week and more importantly that the Istanbul Pride March was going to be on the afternoon of the last day of our institute. For some members of our group it would be their first march, coming from countries where homosexuality is illegal and can result in harsh punishment; from beatings, imprisonment and even execution (state sanctioned or other). So for these individuals, pride was more than just a party, it was a real opportunity to be proud, something like the true spirit of pride which can be somewhat lost in the big events with their choreography and flash. Not that I don’t love a bit of glitz and hairspray, but Istanbul pride was really about making the LGBTIQ population of Turkey’s presence known and appreciated.

Istanbul is the only pride march in a muslim majority country in the world and this, it’s 9th year, drew thousands of marchers from across the country and international visitors as well. It is a demonstration of solidarity, an opportunity to show the people of Istanbul that the LGBTIQ community exists and generally just a good excuse to party. There was no registration, no requirement to march as a part of a group, you just turned up, grabbed a rainbow flag or banner from one of the organisers and marched through Taksim, an area of Istanbul full of colourful nightlife, including many gay majority and gay friendly bars and cafes.

I attended with visitors from China, Syria, Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa. An eclectic mix of activists, advocates, community workers and journalists from across the world, brought together in Turkey by CREA, an Indian NGO which does significant work in sexuality and gender rights. My Chinese friend and I found dropped banners with messages we didn’t understand but assumed were positive, danced and chanted (well, attempted to chant more or less what we were hearing, sometimes we just made noises to the same tune to add our ‘voices’ to the crowd), smiled and laughed with the people of Istanbul and had our photos taken by hundreds of photographers who lines the main street we were marching down. The mood was ecstatic, some people had brought their own personal PA systems and were leading chants with whomever could hear their speakers, there was an enormous rainbow flag which took up nearly the width of the street and was the size of at least four buses driving in formation.

The only negatives were one drunk guy determined to pick a fight and the mysterious tear gas cloud which wafted over one part of the march. No one knew where it had come from and it wasn’t strong enough to drive anyone away but there was a definite stinging in the eyes and tickling of the throat that was familiar to many of us, especially the Egyptians who had participated in the revolution some months before.

So what does Istanbul pride have to do with Australian feminism? Well it’s simple really, (or at least it is if you’ve been studying the history of sexuality gender and rights for the past two weeks). The LGBTIQ rights movement used to be very much separate from the women’s movement in most parts of the world, but as the mantras of “women’s rights are human rights” and “the personal is political” started to resound from the feminist camps, LGBTIQ rights activists began to find more and more common ground with women’s rights activists and many lessons have been learned from the early days of the feminist movement which are applicable to contemporary LGBTIQ movements. Like feminism, LGBTIQ is not a monolithic movement, it’s a series of moments of solidarity and dissent. There are the radicals, the moderates, the Marxists, the collectivists and everyone in between. There are those that say it’s really a G movement with a bit of L thrown in and the rest ignored or ostracised for non-conformity, not fitting the picture or used as the “other” that is so much worse than the “we”. So pride is a feminist event because of the need for solidarity and support, the desire of LGBTIQ activists to be accepted and celebrated for who they are, not what they do and the increasing challenge to gender norms and normative social values which is a common goal with feminist activists around the world.

6 thoughts on “Tutus, Turks and Tear gas: Istanbul Pride 2011

  1. You go, girl. The fact that Istanbul even has a sanctioned Pride Day march is huge in any Muslim country (as you point out), and one drunk guy and a little tear gas aren’t much to complain about. Try Moscow, in a “civilized” “European” country . . . or try down the road from my house in Pennsylvania. Good on you for taking part and good on the brave Turkish folks who organized it!

    • Thanks John, it was quite an experience to get back to “real” pride, in the grass roots, protest, chant and sing style. There are plenty more photos if you’re interested but I can’t post them online for the security of the people in them.

  2. The last clause of your last sentence is a telling one . . .. but I would love to see more pics. News like yours makes one realize that the good news from New York is just a step on a long, long journey . . .

  3. Hey, how are you?
    I do miss our pride day together. That was one hell of an experience. It was my first pride march ever, and by god I loved it. I couldn’t believe that I was taking a part in a gay pride parade; it was one of the most amazing experiences I did in my life.
    By the way, I’m tweeting many of your articles to my friends and followers on Twitter, 2000+ people are getting links to this website. 🙂

    • THANKS! my gorgeous boy. The hits on the Pride article did suddenly do a bit of a jump! I’m at World Council Young Women’s Leadership Dialogue and desperate for the eternal coffee machine of the Erboy! xxxxx

      • Hahaha. That coffee machine saved our lives at times, did it not?
        I figured out the teargas thing, btw, turns out the same day of the gay pride parade, on a nearby streets, Kurd citizens of Turkey were demanding their rights and faced with teargas from the police.
        Hope you enjoy the World Council Young Women’s Leadership Dialogue; I heard about a big AWID meeting next year in Istanbul – it’ll be 2000 odd feminist activists gathering together from across the globe. Do you have any idea if there is any funding to be found to attend the meeting? I would love to come and to see you there.

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