A Conversation On Pride Parades

It’s Pride month which means pride parades everywhere!!! Right?
If, like Aylin or me, you live in a country like Belgium or Germany there’s probably one in your city, or a city close by. You’ll be able to celebrate your gender identity, your sexual orientation, or the one of someone you’re close to. If you’re closeted or not this is your time to be open and free without worries. And that’s what pride’s for, isn’t it?

Aylin and I started talking about this a few weeks ago due to two completely different reasons: Cishet people at Pride, and the difficutlies Istanbul has to organise one.  Somehow these two topics tie in with each other so please bear with us.

Around April, I visited one of my close friends, Leoni. She recently moved to a new city to study so I was really curious to meet her new friends. That’s how I found myself sitting at a table with a bunch of straight chemistry students.
It was almost funny because 1.) bless them, they were exactly like I pictured chemistry students to be like, and 2.) I sometimes forget what it’s like to be the only non straight person in the room.
At some point during the conversations about ions and molecules (and an awful lot of other things I didn’t understand) one of them told my friend she wanted to go see the pride parade there this year and Leoni immediately agreed that, yes, she wanted to do the same, and she turned to me and said:”Maura you should totally come too!!”.
Maybe I read too much into this, but in that moment I felt like pride meant something completely different to them than it does to me.
I know Leoni supports LGBT rights, I’ve known her since i was 11 years old, and I don’t remember when or how I came out to her, but I do remember she said “cool” and we stayed exactly the same.
When I heard her talking with her friend about going to pride though it seemed to me that it was less about supporting LGBT people and the rights they should be given (Fun Fact: Germany does NOT even have same-sex marriage, and if you’re a gay man you cannot donate blood etc) and more about watching the parade like it’s some sort of carneval.
I mean that’s fair enough. As long as you’re not fighting against the cause you do you. It just strikes me as odd that Pride turned into an attraction for cishet people when it orgininated from the stonewall riots.

Last year, living in the center of the most LGBT friendly city in Europe, I obviously participated in the pride parade. Another queer friend of mine was visiting too so I had two reasons to go: him and the fact that I freshly came out to myself and was ready to embrace my new sexual identity.

However, I really really hated the parade. It was too loud and too crowded and to use Maura’s words, it was more like a carnival to me. And that’s exactly what I didn’t like about it. See, I get why pride is organised like this: after years of hiding and having to minimise themselves, they want to be out there, loud and proud and colourful and I get it (note that this is not an official statement or anything it’s just my perception of pride parades). But for me, coming from a society that doesn’t except LGBTI+ people at all, pride has a different connotation. For me pride month means making people aware that we exist, that we are legitimate, fighting for our rights. Pride month is about speaking up, giving us not only physical but also juridical  space to live. That’s why this kind of celebration wasn’t appropriate for me, especially because of that happened at the pride Parade in Istanbul 2015 and 2016. Something didn’t feel right and I felt uncomfortable.

I thought maybe we take pride for granted, because like Aylin, I don’t feel comfortable just going out there to party. Not being political at Pride feels like a loss of opportunity. Especially when it’s almost a privilege being able to celebrate pride so widely here when it’s difficult to have a parade at all in other places that aren’t even that far away from.
The other day I read an article published by I-D Magazine and written by Rhys Chapman about screening his short film Wonderkid in Moscow (It’s a short film about homophobia in football and it is now available online for free here. If you’ve got 30 minutes on your hand I’d highly recommend watching). His thoughts on the difference between a screening in the UK and in Russia in a way it reflects my thoughts on this matter.
I can accept though that everyone on the LGBT spectrum has had their own journey and some journeys ask for a celebratory pride instead of a demonstration.

However, because in my culture it is not widely accepted yet to be queer (my own father said he wouldn’t know if he’d love his own kids if they were queer), I need this to be a political outlet for me.
In the last two years (2015 and 2016) Istanbul Pride has ended in police violence.  2015 Pride was ended by Turkish riot police using tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons against the participants. This happened because pride had been banned from happening last minute but obviously that didn’t stop our community and so they got not only attacked physically but also insulted and spit on. According to gouverneur Vasip Şahin this was because Pride was during Ramadan (which is a bullshit excuse because state and religion have been separated in Turkey since over 50 years; or well at least they were before Erdogan’s regime).
The following year was banned yet again and again this didn’t stop the Turkish queer community. People gathered anyway to demonstrate this ban, giving speeches and marching all over town and the demonstration was attacked by the riot police the same way as the year before with rubber bullets and tear gas and some people where detained as well. (The week before that police had also taken down a trans pride event in the same fashion). 2016 Pride was banned after nationalists threatened to end the parade if it were to happen. Instead of supporting and protecting LGBTI+ citizens the government chose to ban the event despite Turkey being one of the oldest countries to “legalise” homosexuality (unlike most Muslim countries). In 2014, up to 100,000 people took part in the parade, making it one of the largest Pride events in the Muslim world which makes these incidents even sadder.
And now this year again, the Pride Parade has been banned. However, this isn’t stopping our brave brothers and sisters and in these hours they are gathering at the Taksim square to walk hand in hand against this injustice.
The way wasn’t an easy one. Since the pride was banned, they had no official funding whatsoever and have been struggling to gather the necessary financial means to organise the pride week. But they somehow made it with the help of  the amazing community and the love that connects us, even though they couldn’t reach 50% of their monetary goal.
And even now it’s not over yet. I am sitting here in anxiety praying that nothing bad will happen to these brave people today. Only at the end of the day we will know…

Follow Istanbul Pride to keep updated and show support:
IG: @istanbulpride
Twitter: @istanbulpride
Facebook: Istanbul Pride

UPDATE:
An hour ago, 20 people have still been under police arrest. Lawyers are trying to get them out. Police used brutal force again against protestants, street camera haven’t been “working”, journalists were not allowed near the demonstration.

 

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