Can Bodrumlu / Duvar English
Turkish state’s anti-LGBTI+ stance is a long-lasting phenomenon that has targeted community members for decades. Nonetheless, the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) adopted a different approach from the historical path since 2015 and began to “vocally” attack LGBTI+ individuals. We will look at the roots of the AKP’s “new” discourse and the current condition of the LGBTI+ community.
When the AKP came to power in 2002, the LGBTI+ movement in Turkey was still an infant social struggle that did not acquire much popularity and support among others. Nonetheless, the 2013 Gezi Park protest marked a historical juncture for the community’s experience.
Prior to 2013 Pride Week, the LGBTI+ movement in the country began to attract attention from a growing coalition of actors, including the feminist movement, opposition parties, and different civil associations. However, when the 2013 protests against the growing authoritarianism of the government overlapped with the Istanbul Pride March, approximately 100,000 people participated in Istanbul Pride March. This trend also continued in 2014.
Nonetheless, the AKP government did not want to allow any flourishing social movement after the “traumatic” experience of the Gezi Protests to its rule, and banned the 2015 Istanbul Pride March. Participants faced extreme violence by the police which will be a common experience in the consecutive pride weeks. While several other pride marches spread to different provinces, violence also followed them.
In 2022 alone, Turkish police detained 582 people around the country during pride marches.
How did Turkey’s top executives begin to mention the LGBTI+ community in their everyday speeches? The story goes back to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) head Ali Erbaş on April 24, 2020 stated that Islam condemns “adultery and homosexuality” and added that they bring “diseases.” At a time when the pandemic deeply affected society, this discriminatory statement from a senior government official caused great outrage in society. Nonetheless, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement in which he expressed his support for Ali Erbaş during the controversy.
Another crisis emerged when an unexpected student movement gained power at the beginning of 2021 when the president appointed a “trustee” rector to the country’s prestigious Boğaziçi University. The student and academics’ protests against the corruption of the universities attracted serious attention from the public and faced extreme violence from the government.
At the peak of the student mobilization, the government began to target LGBTI+ students who were very active in the protests. For the first time, Erdoğan began to directly target the LGBTI+ community by naming them.
On Feb. 3, Erdoğan said, “There is no such thing as LGBT. This country is nationalist, spiritualist and is walking to the future with these values.” Later in another congress, Erdoğan said, "Let's not worry about what lesbians say."
At the same time, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu began to individually attack the LGBTI+ community in the country by constantly mentioning them as “perverts.”
Turkey officially withdrew on July 1, 2022 from Istanbul Convention to prevent violence against women. State officials carried out the justification for withdrawal from the convention in a months-long anti-LGBTI+ campaign.
Most of the time, Turkish executives “justify” their discourse on the grounds that they try to protect traditional family values and children. In this regard, a wave of "big family rallies" targeting the LGBTI+ community began in Istanbul on Sep. 18, 2022 and quickly spread to other cities across Turkey. Despite widespread condemnation, these rallies persisted throughout October, with events taking place in Urfa, Konya, Ankara, and İzmir provinces.
In the run-up to the elections that will be held on May 14, the AKP executives have stepped up the offensive. Nearly every day, one of the top figures targets LGBTI+ individuals in the election campaigns.
The AKP and its latest alliance partner New Welfare Party (YRP) on March 25 have signed a protocol including subtle clauses to usurp the rights of women and the LGBTI+ community. The parties have agreed that they will put emphasis on regulations that aim to “prevent perversions against moral values.
Previously, Erdoğan targeted the LGBTI+ community in Turkey in various hate speeches in which he deemed LGBTI+ individuals as “perverts,” “deviants,” “viruses,” and so on.
Speaking in Gaziantep province, Erdoğan on April 22 said that all of the opposition parties are "LGBTI+ supporters who are against sacred family structure,“ and added, "May 14 will be the day to teach a lesson to those who support LGBT and violence against women.”
The results of the elections will be fundamental for most of Turkey's marginalized groups. However, it will be particularly crucial for the future of the LGBTI+ community. Voters will decide on the level of "official" hate targeted towards LGBTI+ individuals even though society's stance towards the community will not shift overnight.