Earlier this week, the Turkish management of the clothing chain LC Waikiki banned LGBTQI+ symbols on their products and displays—or even anything that might be confused as an LGBTQI+ symbol. The company’s employees leaked an email that stated rainbows and unicorns should be avoided, especially during Pride Week. “The number of colors must definitely be reduced” and care should be taken “to avoid the impression of LGBT support”, the emails stated.
LC Waikiki’s memo comes as hate speech against LGBTQI+ people surges across Turkey. As LGBTQI+ issues grow more visible, the reaction is ever more vehement. These days, it is not even necessary for something to be explicitly pro-LGBTQI+, the mere suggestion of the topic is enough to spur an outburst of hate.
For instance, on June 27-28, close to 2.5 million prospective college students partook in the Higher Education Foundations Examination (YSK). On the section of the exam testing students’ abilities in Turkish, there was a question about singer and songwriter Mabel Matiz. A short paragraph described Matiz’s meteoric rise to pop fame since his first album in 2012, noting his fusion of mysticism, folk poetry, and modern synth-pop. Students were then asked to answer two multiple choice question about the preceding overview of Matiz’s place in Turkish music.
Many took to social media, including Matiz himself, to express joy that contemporary pop music is taken seriously enough to be included on a state exam. Simple enough—or so it seems. It didn’t take long for hatred to rear its ugly head again. Head of the Student Selection and Placement System Prof. Halis Aygün made an announcement declaring: “The sensitivity of our institution’s leadership regarding spiritual values and social value judgments is clear. The people responsible for preparing the question will be removed from the [exam] preparation process.”
The reason for this reaction? Matiz is a vocal support of LGBTQI+ rights. Yet the questions on the test said nothing about this aspect of his life and career. It simply asked students to analyze the lyric “What my eyes see and what my chest knows is not the same” from the song “Fırtınadayım” (I’m in the Storm). Once again we see that an unwritten ban against anything even hinting at the existence of LGBTQI+ life has become acceptable in certain powerful circles.
Matiz’s reaction to this turn of events was both candid and heartbreaking. He wrote on Twitter: “Hello :) My music being a subject on a test of life-changing importance made me truly happy. Now I am watching with surprise as my personal values are being made into a subject through this same exam […]. Look at what I’m being tested with.” A few days later, Matiz won awards for “Best Male Artist” and “Best Music Video” at the 46th Annual Golden Butterfly. In a speech he told the audience: “In life, love, and music, it is important not to get stuck on borders, labels, and human-invented categories.” Expressing support for Matiz, diva Nükhet Duru took to Twitter to write: “May our ‘national values’ include the fact that everyone’s life belongs to themselves.”
It is this idea that a person’s life is theirs alone that this hate speech is explicitly designed to sabotage. This intrusion in the lives of others has reached such an extreme that it includes fictional characters.
In another unfortunate turn of events, we learned this week that a gay character was likely censored from the Netflix teen drama Love 101. Mahir Ünal, the AKP’s deputy chair in charge of publicity and media, stated on a YouTube interview that he had read the show’s original screenplay in which the character Osman was gay. Rumors to this effect spread online in April 2020 before the show was released, prompting Turkey’s media watchdog, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), to denounce “immorality” on streaming platforms like Netflix.
Yet when the show was finally released, there was no gay character. In my review at the time, I suggested that something in Osman’s smile in the final scene of the show hinted that there was more to his character than we had been showed. Mahir Ünal’s statements suggest that this hunch was correct, though it is still unclear at exactly which stage in the show’s production the story was edited.
In his YouTube interview, deputy chair Ünal went on to declare that waving a banner in favor of LGBTQI+ rights entails “transforming certain inclinations into an entity struggling against all the values and beliefs of this country,” thereby making LGBTQI+ issues into “something political.” Yet when even rainbows, unicorns, songs, and TV characters are enough to motivate such a violent reaction to the existence of LGBTQI+ people, how can the issue not be political?