Original Content

Created by and for LGBTI News Turkey

My Pride Story: Istiklal has never been so beautiful

Today in Pride stories: Friends calling to ask “are you ok”, my brother calling to ask “what are you doing with those fags” (!)

Cihan’s Pride story

When I read Hakan’s Pride story in the middle of the night, I said to myself “Yes, I have to share mine as well”.

Last year’s Pride March was my first Pride as well. In the previous years I was mostly held back by my make-up exams – I’m not lazy, studying medicine is hard work- and more importantly visibility was a problem for me. I was thinking that I would be somehow visible among the tens of thousands of people and not having an Istanbulite koli [1] to stay with and being poor had impacts as well.

(more…)

My Pride Story: Ideological banner!

Today in Pride stories: Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted.

Tunca Özlen’s Pride story

It’s 2012, a year has passed since we founded the Red of the Rainbow, together with a handful of people. The pride of coming out, finding each other and holding on together is not enough. The struggle is pushing us to producing politics, to going out on the streets. We want to see what our political claims correspond to in life. With the hope we mustered at the march we attended in Ankara, we rolled up our sleeves for Istanbul Pride March. 

We said we would walk behind the banner “Equal citizenship is in socialism!” After all, we believe in equality against discrimination, citizenship against pan-Islamism, socialism against capitalism. We have never gotten banners made in our lives and here I found myself in a flagmaker’s on Kazım Karabekir Avenue. Then off we go to Istanbul. It was time for Pride March. It’s our first time participating as an organization, we are excited of course. With our red rainbow flags and our banner, we joined the march from a point we saw fit.

A friend, who we later on found out was a part of the Pride Week Organizing Committee did not take his/her time to ‘welcome’ us: “Your banner is ideological, you either take it down or walk at the back!” Only we were ideological among the thousands of rainbow flags, slogans against heterosexism, the tens of thousands who filled Istiklal Avenue, ultimately we are communists! The imposition of “Pride March above politics” is itself ideological, we don’t buy that! We said “We will walk behind this banner, through the crowd”. And we did what we said, we are communists after all.

Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted. We were a few before the march, our numbers grew, even if [just] a little, after the march. We accepted being a few at the beginning, in order to grow. If we took down our banner that day, we would have given up altogether. Today we are not few at all, for we focused on growing our crowd and not on our banner. But we are still terribly ideological!

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

My Pride Story: Being born into love

Today in Pride stories: Maybe my story doesn’t take place in Istanbul, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I wasn’t soaked by water cannons but that day a big void inside me was filled.

içimizdenbiri’s Pride story [1]

May 21, 2016/ Lefkoşa [2] March Against Homophobia

Note: Maybe it wasn’t Pride, but it was for me.

img_9516

A child, who never thought they could and who never did join Pride, whose self acceptance process started only a few years ago, who is only trying to let themselves go to be happy. This child has only lived inside themselves and raised their voice only for others. But that day something was different, that day this child walked for themselves. You know why? Because love…

Maybe my story does not take place in Istanbul or any other big city in the world, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I was not soaked by water cannons, I wasn’t exposed to homophobic stares, maybe I wasn’t shot that day, but a big void inside me was filled. The hope that years took away from me piece by piece was standing in front of me as a whole and all it needed was a little courage.

When we got to the starting point of the march, there was a little group and we did not draw too much attention. But minutes later, people started gathering, people who brought their children with them, people who drew rainbows on their faces and eyes. As the crowd got bigger, I couldn’t stop the enthusiasm rising inside me. I grabbed a flag, looked at the crowd and the first thing I felt was happiness. I wasn’t the “other” anymore, I did not feel different. I was there, everyone was seeing me and I was smiling like there is no tomorrow; we were infinite. The march started and people started joining the crowd along the way. Old aunts and uncles applauding from their balconies. Slogans, whistles, laughters, I didn’t want any of that to end. But everything ends and so did this, but this end was the beginning of many things.

If I learned anything these past few months of my life, you become someone when you let your guard down, a person. And your whole life stands in front of you and looks at you. Your feelings are free, your thoughts are not restricted. That is when love comes- or not but that’s what you think- it enters your life when you least expect it. The feelings whose existence you did not accept for years stand in front of you like a mountain. No one knows, and many don’t believe it but there you know it and the rest is not important. What you hold on to is not that love or what you feel for that person, it is just that hope. Then the desire to get up and do something is born inside you and your march towards the sun starts.

As Sezen Aksu [3] says “If I didn’t die of love, if I wasn’t born into love, would I devote myself to fairy tales?”

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] İçimizden biri means one of us in Turkish.

[2] Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for Nicosia, a city in Northern Cyprus.

[3] Sezen Aksu is an iconic Turkish singer/song-writer.

My pride story: I’m here and resisting, my love!

Until the earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!” [1]

toma

Hakan’s Pride Story

As a lubunya [2] from Ankara who came out 3 years ago, 2015 Istanbul LGBTI Pride March was my first pride march. When I was a student I could not join because I had no money and later on because I had to work on weekends.

Can someone be assaulted in their first ever Pride March? Apparently, yes, one can.

On Friday, I left for Istanbul from Ankara on the high speed train. I felt both the excitement of Pride and the pride to be finally able to go to Pride. I had previously marched in my own city on May 17 [IDAHOT] and it was the time when I felt the dynamism of the LGBT movement intensely. I was fighting, I was transforming.

After I got off the train, my lover and his flatmate picked me up from Pendik. Yes, Pendik. You love the people picking you up even more, when they travel all that distance to Pendik. Then we caught up on all the fun of Pride Week. That same night we enjoyed ourselves in Tünel, we drank and danced. On Saturday we went to the picnic at Maçka and met lots of beautiful people there. We fell in jugs of beer on Mis Street, partied again, had fun again and kissed on the streets!

Resist Pride March!

Then that day arrived. On the morning of the march we had our breakfast and went to Taksim around 15:30. I shared the video “Mahsun, take me to Taksim” from the film “Tabutta Rövaşata” that morning. Because “I had to go” to Taksim. We saw the tension and the police check points. We considered the possibility for an assault. But we still entered Taksim with Hasan, holding hands. Although that day was the Pride March, those who saw us hand in hand looked twice at us. I thought to myself, “Visibility is a must in our heteronormative society”.

That’s when the resistance started. We could not go up to Taksim from the side streets. We had to drop our lollipop banners and get out. As soon as we got out, a TOMA [3] came from the direction of Taksim and cornered us on Mis Street with high pressure water. We got gassed on Mis Street. We first took refuge in nearby establishments. I can tell you the spirit of Mis Street was glorious. We were together with those who stood against the TOMAs and who resisted for hours.

hakanhasan

We got gassed, resisted and stood against our assailants together. But I cannot deny that the most significant and the most romantic moments were when my lover sprayed Talcid [4] on my face as I got gassed. When it is so difficult even to come out, to come to a point where you can resist against the system and the assault with your lover on your side, it is a memory that makes me shiver to this day. It feels extremely good when you have someone worrying for you as you resist and when you both try to save each other from harm against the police.

Even though we ended our relationship two months after our resistance together, Hasan remains my biggest comrade in the path of resistance I have taken.

Until the Earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!”

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

[1] A popular chant in Pride Istanbul goes: “Where are you my love? I’m here my love!”

[2] Lubunya refers to a gay or trans person in Lubunca, the LGBT slang spoken in Turkey.

[3] Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

[4] The lozenges used for stomach problems, they are also used for their anti-acid effect against the teargas.

 

 

My Pride Story: No descriptions!

 

Today in Pride stories: Free love is impossible to describe and the ecstasy of getting lost in her eyes…

Pragsidike’s Pride Story

I’m only twenty years old. I have never been able to understand what I was feeling, until today. I never believed in love. I love the cinema, I watched films about homosexuality, the ones which really capture you, I watched most of them with tears in my eyes. I know the cruelty they inflicted for years. Inequality, injustice were everywhere and evermore. People never got past beyond these silly reactions, they were unable to. Together, we will go beyond these…

1(1)

Until today, I have always been interested in women, as much as I have been in men. I thought of my interest for women as a matter of emulation, of being inspired by other women. Up until three days ago. Imagine someone who thinks of herself as heterosexual and who does not believe in love, getting lost in a woman’s eyes. The excitement I felt, the tone of her voice, her smile. There is no way to describe how I felt. There shall be no descriptions, we shall love freely.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

My Pride Story: We carry flowers in our mouths!

We carry flowers in our mouths. Flowers that you will never be able to wither.

Orkoninya’s Pride Story

I had the chance to join the pride march on June 2015 for the first time in my life. Everything was planned weeks before the march and we departed Ankara with my boyfriend at the time and two other friends.

I remember shouting suddenly while listening to Bandista’s  “Aşk Şarkısı (Love Song) in the car:

“Look at that, a rainbow!” A giant, colorful parabola was greeting us. After seeing so many rainbows on our way, we realized that love was on our side, this day was our day.

cicekgokkusagi

The night we arrived in Istanbul, my excitement did not let me sleep. As thousands of people, we were going to shout, unite and paint Istiklal Avenue into the colors of the rainbow that we are. But the next day I could smell the tension in the air as we arrived on Istiklal Avenue. Hundreds of police officers were mocking us on every corner, turning their despising stares on us. Once more, it did not take them too long to target us with their barrels, filled with plastic hate. We ran away from TOMAs* spraying hatred and homophobia on us, some of our friends got hit, people were rushing about, covered in blood. We took refuge in a shop, the shutters were drawn and we started to wait. As everyone started to cough out the pepper spray, I remembered the gas chambers. We waited, we waited, we waited… I was struggling with a disease called panic attack back then. I was panting for breath, my eyes started to black out and I sat on the floor, coughing. I did not have the power to go on anyway. We went back home…

I had great dreams of this march, but it didn’t happen. I was happy anyway. There were so many of me there that day, they all filled me with hope. And the rainbow I mentioned, gave us such a salute that I realized our colors were plastic bullet-proof. As Mabel Matiz says in a song, we carry flowers in our mouths, and these are flowers that you can never wither away. We shall open our mouths for you to see, try to take a whiff. You will feel love. Love…
*Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

 

Families of LGBTs in Turkey Dare to Hope

It was in 2013 that I sat in a dark movie theater, alone, ready to cry watching My Child, a documentary about families of LGBT individuals in Turkey. I was going through a rough breakup and an even tougher time with my mother. I cried, well, more like sobbed throughout. The parents’ stories of anguish, helplessness, acceptance, and hope were so honest and inspiring that in retrospect I feel like it helped me snap out of my wallowing. These people had created a mode of activism that transcended statistics and policy arguments. They focused on fostering connection, understanding, and empathy. And there, on the silver screen, I met Sema Yakar or Sema Mother for the first time.

Sema Mother is one of the 7 parents who told their intimate stories in My Child. Nearly two years after I saw the documentary, I finally got to meet the mothers at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in May. I was hesitant to approach them but when I finally did, I thanked them for opening up my world and for empowering me. Seeing their courage to tell their stories along with the bug of activism that touched many during the Gezi Protests had pushed us, a group of volunteers, to start the translation project LGBTI News Turkey. Sema Mother told me that she loved our work and that she was proud of us. Then she hugged me.

12144733_10153718702151639_5691037926081324761_nA day after Turkey’s repeat November elections, I sat with Sema Mother and fellow activist Metehan Özkan to talk about their trip to the United States in October. I had seen pictures of Sema Mother standing exactly where her son Boysan had stood at Human Rights Campaign, with two balloons in their hands. We tear up constantly. Boysan- LGBT activist, advisor to Şişli Municipality mayor, son, lover, friend, inspiration- died in September in a traffic accident. I feel guilty that life continues and we talk about our plans. But here is this woman, at a painful crossroad in her life, telling me her dreams for the future of LISTAG, the Association of Families of LGBTs in Istanbul.

“LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”

Since 2008, LISTAG has been providing much needed support to parents who are seeking information and guidance on how to understand their gay or trans child. They hold monthly group meetings with psychologists reaching nearly 40 families at each session. Parents of all stripes, religious, secular, young, and old, pass through these doors. Some of these parents, a core group of 20 volunteer families, meet every Saturday to plan their activities, share experiences, and meet new parents. They host monthly potlucks with their children, creating safe, non-judgmental spaces to spend time. This special group is a product of Metehan’s doctoral thesis to create a support and solidarity group with parents and his chance meeting with Sema Mother who had used a pseudonym to publish a column in a mainstream newspaper in 2006 calling on all mothers of LGBTs to be there for their kids, to drop their prejudices, to educate themselves. My Child is an extension of that call.

This socialization is key. Parents often feel a giant wave of emotions like fear, self-blame, shame, loneliness, and confusion when they find out about their kids’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Being gay or trans in conservative Turkey is not easy, as LGBTs face hate crimes, honor killings, and rampant discrimination in all aspects of life. To know that there are other parents out there going through a similar experience and who have embraced their children is perhaps the most hopeful thing out there.

Instead of fixing or rejecting LGBT children, Sema Mother says, “LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”. This is why LISTAG parents have become every LGBTs mothers and fathers as they continue to be inspiring examples of what unconditional love looks like. But Sema Mother and Metehan are constantly thinking about how to make LISTAG sustainable, how to make sure it continues as an institution after they are gone. Their trip to the US helped them imagine a future for LISTAG, express the priorities of Turkey’s LGBT, and come back with revamped energy.

“We don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue”

The duo was invited to a PFLAG conference in Nashville, Tennessee. PFLAG is the largest organization for parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTs in the US. They had heard about Sema Mother and Boysan- this was reason enough to connect. Metehan explains that Turkish and American societies are similar in placing family at the core of social structure. The families they spoke to were surprised that a family group like theirs would exist in Turkey and appreciated the influence their experiences in PFLAG and elsewhere informed LISTAG. The fact that families in Turkey and the US face similar challenges meant that they are not alone and that there are ample opportunities to work together.

The pair’s eyes glitter when they talk about all they learned in the biennial PFLAG conference. Participants were asked to think about their vision for the next two years. With focused intensity, Sema Mother says the workshops at the PFLAG conference helped them see that they can realize their goals. She says, “we don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue” and with more projects, more trainings, and a more effective process, they can expand their support group. Metehan explains that their next plan is to expand the LISTAG model, which exists in the metropolitan cities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, to more hubs in Turkey. “We aim to bring LISTAG to Samsun in the Black Sea area, Mersin or Antalya in the Mediterranean area, Diyarbakir or Gaziantep in the southeast”, he says. With the creation of regional networks, the LISTAG parents and psychologists would reach families across Turkey. They envision bringing together these groups under one umbrella in two years. “We want to be a pressure group in Ankara to change laws and to be an ally to the organizations working on LGBTI rights”, says Metehan, in his unique way of looking ahead and imagining the emotional force mothers and fathers across Turkey could have in helping create inclusionary policies for LGBTs.

“We emphasize how important the coming Pride is

As Metehan and Sema Mother thought about their future plans in Turkey, they also had the opportunity to meet NGOs and US administration officials and explain the situation LGBTs and their families face in Turkey. The Turkish government has been sending conflicting messages on LGBT rights. This past year we witnessed Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc argue at the United Nations that LGBTs are equal before the law even if there are no special regulations for LGBTs in Turkey. On the other hand, criticizing the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party for nominating an openly gay candidate for parliament became campaign fodder for the ruling Justice and Development Party. Candidates for the party and pro-government media pushed LGBT existence as an aberration that is detrimental to the Turkish family structure and society. Finally in June, the Istanbul governorate, for the first time, banned the 13th Istanbul Pride and police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of people gathered to celebrate LGBT and diversity. Boysan was in the front lines trying to negotiate with the police to allow the march. The parents, including Sema Mother, were also there and the consul-generals of the US, the UK, and several European nations joined them.

With their memory collection accumulated over the years working on LGBT rights and their hearts open, Metehan and Sema Mother went to Washington, DC. In a pilgrimage of sorts, they went to leading LGBT institutions Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund where Boysan had worked in May. They met with Human Rights First, Open Society Institute Foundation, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and the Center for American Progress- all prominent institutions that have helped push forward LGBT rights in the US. The duo also went to Capitol Hill to observe a human rights briefing, met with the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and with members of the Obama Administration, including Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Individuals Randy Berry. “This visit to the US really helped me after Boysan’s death. It allowed me to return to the rights struggle more quickly. I wanted to anyway but now I feel that I can do much more”, says Sema Mother.

Metehan and Sema Mother asked their NGO and US administration contacts to pay special attention and monitor Pride in June 2016. “We emphasize how important the coming Pride is”, says Metehan. They feel it is absolutely crucial that Pride takes place not only for Turkey’s LGBT community but also for the global LGBT movement- Istanbul Pride provides a space for LGBT from across the region to openly exist for one day. But Pride’s importance reaches beyond the LGBT community and exists as a symbol of rights in Turkey. Before it was banned and blocked this summer, the Justice and Development Party had used Pride as an example of the party and its supporters’ respect and tolerance in an election brochure stating that “the AK Party has never had and will never have the intention to interfere with anyone’s life style”. Soon after Pride was blocked, the United Nations, Council of Europe, the US and others issued concerned statements about the state of freedom of assembly and expression in Turkey and safety of LGBT individuals. Metehan and Sema Mother believe that it is in Turkey’s interest to allow Pride.

“We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”

Conversations with international NGOs as well as countries with pro-LGBT agendas are useful to formulate thoughts to build alliances for the global LGBT movement with an eye on results for Turkey. But the actual work is in Turkey where LGBT associations lobby for equal rights and the need to have this conversation at a policy level. What the parents bring to the table is activism straight from the heart and no matter which part of the political or social spectrum one is, the experience of a mother or a father on acceptance and love can open many doors. “We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”, Sema Mother says.

After the elections, social media was awash with comments about people wanting to leave Turkey; many who did not vote for the ruling party felt anger, fear, and exclusion. But this soft-spoken woman who just lost her son says, “we need to be hopeful”. There is so much more to be done and “no one took away this field, where we continue to work, away from us”, says Metehan, adding, “there are so many mothers that these mothers need to help”.

This gives me hope.

Zeynep Bilginsoy is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She’s also the founder and project manager of LGBTI News Turkey, an English translation resource on LGBTI issues in Turkey.