Istanbul becoming proud of Pride Week

EMRAH GÜLER
ISTANBUL
Hürriyet Daily News Turkey’s LGBT communities and their supporters will be flying the rainbow flag high as Istanbul’s 19th Pride Week kicks off Monday. A week of events will be capped by next week’s Pride Parade, during which thousands will march against discrimination. The Hürriyet Daily News talks to event organizer Rüzgar Gökçe Gözüm about the week’s history
The very first Pride Week goes back to 1993.
The very first Pride Week goes back to 1993.

It’s that time of the year for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, people to put on their high heels, get their rainbow flags out of the closet and strut their stuff on the street to Lady Gaga’s anthem on acceptance, “Born This Way.” June is Pride Month in many countries as LGBT communities the world hold events in time with the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots that kick-started the gay rights movement in the United States.
While the colorful, often stereotyped, and mostly marginalized photos of Pride parades around the world are splashed over the pages of newspapers in Turkey, not much is seen or read about the country’s very own Pride Week, which began nearly two decades ago and returns this year on Monday.
The very first Pride Week goes back to 1993 when the organization of the events opened the way for the establishment of lambdaistanbul, the biggest LGBT organization in Turkey.
“A group of LGBT people that would be the backbone of lambdaistanbul wanted to organize a Pride Parade back in 1993. However, the Istanbul Governor’s Office didn’t give permission,” Rüzgar Gökçe Gözüm, a volunteer both for lambdaistanbul and an organizer of Pride Week, told the Hürriyet Daily News this week in an interview about the week’s upcoming events, Pride Week’s history and the difficulties of planning and running a highly visible LGBT event in Turkey. “The group then decided to organize a Pride Week, in which there would be meetings and panels, with events held at closed locations. The objective at first was to reach out to as many LGBT individuals as possible.”

It was not until Pride Week’s 10th anniversary that the event closed with a parade. “The first Pride Parade took place on ?stiklal Avenue with the participation of not more than 30 people. But the number increased exponentially each year, with around 5,000 people gathering and marching against homophobia and transphobia last year,” Gözüm said.

Parade increases visibility

Asked what kind of impact the increasing participation in the Pride Parade had on the LGBT cause, she said, “Our visibility increased tremendously, which, in turn, meant we were able to reach out even further.”

Pride Week includes a diverse range of events from workshops and panels to film screenings and parties, covering issues on discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and hate crimes. “While there’s a certain number of people joining the parade, we are able to reach out to many people through our selection of events,” she said.

Last year’s themes at Pride Week were family, hate crimes and religion. This year, the events will center around themes of taboos and laws – “themes that have an impact on everyone, not only LGBT communities,” she said. Issues such as gender roles, the institutionalized family, politics of the body and identity, the patriarchal urban structure, transformation, as well as the politics of discrimination, are some of the issues that will be discussed at this year’s Pride Week.

Although lambdaistanbul is the organizer the event, Pride Week is essentially a volunteer event, a collaborative effort among organizations and individuals supporting LGBT causes.

Gözüm said the organization was apprehensive about receiving sponsorship from major companies and brands – as happens in some Western countries – because those “Pride events are stripped of their political nature and transformed into ‘carnivals.’”

Still, the organization receives modest financial support from certain nongovernmental organizations and consulates.

No help from authorities

“Primarily, it’s difficult to organize an event of this scale with financial limitations,” Gözüm said in discussing some of the challenges facing the event’s organization. “But a bigger problem is finding venues. Either the venues are all booked or they’re asking for unreasonable amounts. And there are those places that keep us waiting until the last day, or change their minds at the last minute.”

Another problem is the treatment by the state. “While municipalities in Europe and the U.S. are opening their doors wide to LGBT organizations, you can’t even get an appointment here. We are not receiving any support from the municipality or the government. Sometimes, it comes to the point that we are willing to forego any support as long as they don’t cause problems,” she said.

The celebration of differences, politics of identity and good old-fashioned fun go hand in hand at the Istanbul Pride Week. This year the colors of the rainbow will hopefully fly even higher with more participation both in the events and in the parade next Sunday that will close Pride Week. Check lambdaistanbul.org for the detailed program.


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