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Photo-Essay: Gay Pride – and Rights – in Turkey

By Piotr Zalewski

According to a newly released report by Amnesty International, prejudice and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Turkey is troublingly commonplace. Over 70 percent of LGBTs fear physical attacks. Last year alone, LGBT groups report, 16 people were killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender. (Since many hate crimes go unreported, the real number is believed to be much higher.) According to another study, 87 percent of Turks say they do not want gays as neighbors.

The government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), at the helm since 2002, has done little to help. Last year, Selma Aliye Kavaf, the minister for women’s and family affairs, claimed that homosexuality was “a biological disorder and a disease that needs treatment.” The AKP has not passed a single law to protect sexual minorities. Likewise, it has refused to amend article 10 of Turkey’s constitution, which promises equality irrespective of language, race, sex or religion, but makes no reference to sexual orientation.

Earlier this month, the AKP rolled to a third consecutive victory at the polls. Its leadership has pledged to adopt a new, fully democratic constitution to replace the one drafted by a military junta in 1982. Turkey’s LGBT community intends to use the constitutional-reform process to draw attention to its quest for equality, and has launched a campaign for equal employment opportunities, protection from hate crimes, and non-discrimination legislation.

The photos below were taken at a Gay Pride parade that drew thousands of marchers to central Istanbul last weekend.

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Protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square unfurl a giant rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community.

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A man holds a banner depicting Ahmet Yildiz, who was murdered last year, allegedly by members of his own family. Newspapers have described the case as Turkey's first “gay honor killing.”

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“The pervasive prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Turkey and the fear of ostracism and attacks, means that many feel compelled to conceal their sexual orientation, even from their families,” says Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.

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Transgender women in Turkey, often denied regular employment and forced to turn to sex work as a result, are among the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community. The vast majority of transgender sex workers are exposed to abuse on a regular basis, be it at the hands of clients, gangs, or policemen. Nearly every transgender woman interviewed by Amnesty International in early 2011 described being subjected to extreme violence - including sexual violence – during police detention over the past few years.

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Turkey's first gay pride parade, which took place in 2003 in Istanbul, is said to have attracted only a few dozen participants. This year's parade-goers numbered in the thousands.

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At this year’s parade, two women—one wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf—danced to a tango tune.

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Piotr Zalewski is an editor at European Stability Initiative and a correspondent for Polityka, Poland’s best-selling news magazine.  His article about Turkey's foreign policy, "A Self-Appointed Superpower," appeared in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of World Policy Journal.

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