More than any other city I have been to before, I think I was most anxious coming in to Istanbul. Not because there is something scary about the place, but because it has gone through a pretty big upheaval in the last month.
“Be careful” was the first thing to come out of the mouth of anybody who heard that I was coming here. And with fair reason. All our screens have been filled with protesters being tear gassed and then shot at with water cannons. And with my declaration at one point that I would probably check the protests out, my family were quickly talking me down.
However, I have to admit, there was one thing beyond the protests I was a bit anxious about. This week also happens to be Pride Week. I would say I lucked out, but my natural prejudices have lead me to being a little bit anxious about whether I would get involved. With the violence over the last months, and my fears of violence against queers in a Middle Eastern country, I was nervous even at the thought of it.
I’ve been here one day now and my prejudices have been proven wrong. Less than 24 hours in and I got myself caught in the middle of a snap queer march. I was walking down the main street when all of a sudden a semi-large group of queer activists appeared, holding rainbow flags, and chanting in front of a store. I am not quite sure why the store was targeted, but it was clear they had done something wrong. The march was loud – much louder than you would hear in Australia. It then moved on about 100 metres until the organisers said something over a loud speaker, people clapped and it all ended. A pretty quick and eventful rally. And one that gathered a lot of support.
Doing some more reading, it seems like queer activists have played a major in the uprising here and that Pride will be a big event. Gezi park, which is the epicenter of the protests is also a queer gathering space, and because of that queer activists have taken a central role in the campaign. Unfortunately however, there are also reports of queers being targeted by the police because of their sexuality. That has made the need, and demand for queer activism in the protests even more important.
We often don’t think about the role of queer activism in global movements like those happening in Turkey. But 24 hours in and I can already see that queers are here and active. Hopefully next week I’ll be able to tell you about an eventful Pride!