ISTANBUL (AP) — A 25-year-old interpreter by day and trans drag performer by night felt overwhelming fear and anxiety as thousands of protesters marched across Turkey on Sunday, demanding that they end gay propaganda. Ban and outlaw LGBTQ organizations. .

The mass family march in the conservative heart of Istanbul drew parents with children, nationalists, hard-line Islamists and conspiracy theorists. Turkey’s media watchdog gave the government’s blessing to the event by adding a promotional video calling LGBTQ people a “virus” to its list of public service announcements for broadcasters.

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“We need to defend ourselves against this LGBT. We need to get rid of him,” said Mehmet Yalsan, a 21-year-old construction worker who wore a black headscarf at the event as a testament to his faith in Islam. attended “We are sickened and really upset that our children are being encouraged and drawn to this.”

Photos of the gathering shocked drag performer Willie Ray, who identifies as non-binary, and Willie Ray’s mother, who cried after talking to her child. The fear was not wrong. The European branch of the International Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association ranked Turkey second from last in its latest 49-country Legal Equality Index, ahead of only Azerbaijan, saying that LGBTQ people suffered “countless hate crimes”.

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“I feel like I could be killed in public,” said Willie Ray, describing the daily sense of dread living in Istanbul. The actor recalls leaving a nightclub in make-up on New Year’s Eve and rushing to get into a taxi when strangers on the street shouted abuse and “basically tried to hunt me down.”

Sunday’s march was the largest anti-LGBTQ demonstration of its kind in Turkey, where the civil rights of a community commonly referred to as LGBTI+ — gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other gender identities — were threatened. and sexual orientations—have been attacked. In the years since 2014, an estimated 100,000 people have celebrated Pride in Istanbul.

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In a clear sign of change, the anti-LGBTQ march went ahead without any police intervention. In contrast, LGBTQ groups have had their freedom of assembly severely curtailed since 2015, with authorities citing both security and ethics grounds.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the Pride March planned for this year. The event has since been banned by government officials. Activists have tried to gather anyway, and more than 370 people were detained in Istanbul in June.

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President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s views have also grown strongly anti-LGBTQ over time. Before the 2002 elections that brought the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power, a young Erdogan said in a televised campaign event that he was shocked by the mistreatment of homosexuals in Turkey and their Legal protection is therefore “mandatory.”

“And now, 20 years later, you have a completely different president who is himself mobilizing for the LGBTQ movement based on these inhumane, criminal practices,” said Maine Eder, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bogazici University. Is.”

Interior Minister Suleiman Swallow has called LGBTQ people “bad”. In 2020, Erdogan defended the head of religious affairs after he claimed that homosexuality “brings disease and causes the downfall of the race.” Backing his long-held belief that women’s identity is rooted in motherhood and family, the Turkish leader last year urged people to reject “gay” talk.

Turkey also withdrew from a European treaty protecting women against violence, after lobbying by conservative groups claimed the treaty promoted homosexuality.

The country may become more hostile to the LGBTQ community. The organizer of Sunday’s event, The Unity in Ideas and Struggles Platform, said it plans to push for a law that would ban alleged LGBTQ “propaganda” that the group has pushed on Netflix and social media, as well as in the arts and sports. I am also spreading. .

The platform’s website says it supports banning LGBTQ organizations.

“We are a Muslim country and we don’t call it that. Our politicians and other parties should all support it,” said Betul Kulik, who wore a Turkish flag scarf at Sunday’s rally.

“Haunted by the feeling that you could be attacked at any moment,” Willie Ray believes it would be a “total disaster” if LGBTQ organizations that provide visibility, psychological support and safe spaces were banned. Will be.

Professor Eder said it would be “simply illegal” to shut down LGBTQ civil society based on ideological, Islamic and conservative principles – even if Turkey’s principles are indeed “forbidding the use of violent language, violent tactics and the legalization of them.” have moved on.”

The Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, a non-governmental LGBTQ advocacy and outreach organization in Istanbul commonly referred to as SPOD, is among the LGBTQ groups that turned in their addresses after receiving threatening calls. Stopped posting the line.

“It’s easy for a madman to try to hurt us after all the hate speech from state officials. How much work we need to do every time,” said 27-year-old SPOD lobbyist Ogulkan Yedioryan.

Gay activist Amut Rozda Yıldırım, who works as a lawyer for SPOD, believes that the anti-LGBTQ sentiments seen on Sunday are not prevalent in Turkish society as a whole, but that they Expressing minorities “are more vocal when they have government funding, when they are supported by government watchdogs.”

“You can only close one office, but I am not going to disappear. My other colleagues are not going to disappear. We will stay here no matter what,” Yildirim said.

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This story has been corrected to reflect that the NGO’s name is the Association for the Study of Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, not the Association for the Study of Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.

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