‘Hate speech was a very useful tool’: Turkish opposition MP slams Erdogan over anti-LGBT rhetoric

Turkish opposition MP accuses President Erdogan of using hate speech against the LGBT community for political gains.

 Gay pride festival in Taksim (Istanbul, Turkey) 2013 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Gay pride festival in Taksim (Istanbul, Turkey) 2013
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Dozens of people were detained after Istanbul’s LGBT community marched in a defiant pride parade on Sunday despite police blockades and amid an increase in homophobic rhetoric from the government.

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The marchers paraded in the liberal central neighborhood of Nişantaşı after police cut off access to their regular route near the city’s major central square, Taksim Square, and nearby areas. Metal fences ran across much of the center of the city, including at Taksim Square, the site of anti-government protests in 2013.

Riot police followed the marchers and blocked off some areas of the neighborhood. But the marchers managed to walk down the streets, carrying rainbow signs and demanding increased rights.

Earlier in the day, activists unfurled a large rainbow flag off the side of a multi-level parking garage. And in the evening, a rainbow flag was hung from the Galata Tower, one of Istanbul’s most popular landmarks.

Organizers said that on Monday some of those detained were beginning to be released. Gökçe Gökçen, a member of the Turkish parliament from the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), who focuses on human rights, said the government was exploiting religion in its comments against the LGBT community.

 Istanbul Gay Parade Pride - Peace Tower, 2013 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Istanbul Gay Parade Pride - Peace Tower, 2013 (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

“Populist leaders prefer creating fake enemies or terrorists in order to hide real problems and use people’s hate and fear. This is what [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan has been doing against the LGBTQI community. Hate speech was a very useful tool during the [recent] election campaign,” Gökçen wrote to The Media Line.

The parade’s organizers posted on Instagram, writing: “We will not leave our spaces, you will get used to us. We are here today despite all your prohibitions and in spite of you. We declare that our struggle will not be contained in a single march, in a single week. We are shouting out that our every march is a pride march.”

They also said that the LGBT community was being pushed out of public spaces. Baran Elma, a member of the Association of Lawyers for Freedom in Istanbul, told The Media Line that Taksim had special symbolic value because it was where much of the LGBT community developed and where many of its members lived.

Organizers urged marchers not to walk alone out of safety concerns and to take theiridentity cards and a power bank with them. Amnesty International said participants in the pride parade had been detained and at least one was injured in the head.

Istanbul Pride's shifting legality

Pride parades used to be legal in Istanbul but were banned in 2015 by the city’s governor, who is connected to the national government. On Sunday evening, the governor tweeted that the country’s future depended onprotecting the family as an institution and any action to weaken that would not beallowed.

Erdogan and his allies used anti-LGBT rhetoric while campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary elections in May, accusing the community of being against family values. Erdogan was re-elected and his coalition, led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), maintained a majority.

Erdogan claimed that the opposition was pro-LGBT. His then-interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, who has since lost his portfolio, claimed that if Erdogan lost, the opposition would legalize same-sex marriage and marriage with animals. Elma said there had been an increase in anti-LGBT comments from politicians to attractright-wing voters.

“The main reason is to create an enemy and a threat through the family structure, to make themselves look like heroes in this way, to make promises to eliminate these threats before the election, and finally try to win the election in this way,” Elma wrote in a message to The Media Line.

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a swearing-in ceremony at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 2, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a swearing-in ceremony at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, June 2, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/UMIT BEKTAS)

The AKP-led municipality of Bursa canceled the performance of singer Melike Şahin at a festival the day after she talked about LGBT rights at an awards ceremony.

“I believe that a day will come to this land when we will not be judged or lynched for whom we love, whom we kiss, and where we uncover or cover ourselves. … All my sisters, all queers ... I know that we have the power to cover every part of us that is hurt with compassion,” Şahin said, according to the Duvar news website.

A study by Istanbul’s Kadir Has University in 2020 found that while 77% of respondents said that same-sex relationships were against social norms, 45% supported equal rights for gay, bisexual, and transsexual individuals.

The Turkish government withdrew from an Istanbul convention aimed at protecting women from gender-based violence. Members of the AKP have also proposed a constitutional amendment on the protection of family and marriage, stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

“The government has also declared they would bring a constitutional amendment. Although details are not known yet, recent statements show that it would contain [a] fight against so-called perversion,” Gökçen wrote.