Istanbul becoming proud of Pride Week

Published: June 19, 2011

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

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.

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