Istanbul Gay Pride 2011

I was out doing a bit of Sunday shopping along Istanbul’s busy Istitkal Caddesi and emerged from a store to find myself right in the middle of a large Gay Pride march. I did not expect it and had no idea it was being held. This march wasn’t like the usual parades in the west with floats and music, this one was more like a demonstration but a lot more… fabulous. The first Pride demonstration was held in Istanbul in 1983 when only 30 people showed up, but this year (the 19th Pride celebration in Istanbul) thousands marched, carrying their rainbow flag and signs proudly, blowing their whistles, beating their drums, dancing and cheering loudly! It is the first and only Muslim majority country in the world that marks Gay Pride. Like the parades back in Canada and the US and the one I attended 2 weeks ago in Tel Aviv, this one was also led by parents, family and friends of the LGBT community. They carried signs saying ‘my child is gay’ or ‘my child is trans’ and ‘don’t hurt my gay child’. The march basically took over the busy pedestrian shopping street with people (like me) emerging from shops and restaurants to see what all the commotion was about. Just about everyone was smiling and joined in the fun by clapping and cheering along with the marchers. Of course I joined in, walking and cheering along with the crowd, minus the chanting since I don’t speak Turkish and had no idea what they were saying, but it didn’t matter I knew what their message was all about.

I actually had goose bumps as the crowd raised its’ voice demanding acceptance and an end to homophobic violence. I talked to a few people who spoke English and found out that the march doesn’t encounter any resistance, no violence or catcalls. It’s a chance for the LGBT community to speak out collectively, more politics than party. In fact I learned later that some Kurdish leaders had joined the march and the protesters welcomed them by chanting for Kurdish rights. Earlier in the day as I was walking in Taksim Square everyone started coughing, sneezing, rubbing their eyes and covering their mouths with scarves, including me. I learned later that there was a Kurdish demonstration nearby that turned violent when police launched teargas into the crowd, arresting dozens of protesters who staged a sit-down. After it broke up, the Kurdish leaders decided to join the gay march. I also noticed a big banner by the group ‘Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’, the same one that created a huge controversy and was banned from Toronto’s Pride Parade last year. Like the crowd taking part; gay, straight, partiers and activists the rally was diverse but the final message was the same, “Everybody dance now!


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