US concerned over prevention of Istanbul Pride, says US envoy on LGBTIs
İpek Yezdani – ISTANBULThe U.S. State Department’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people, Randy Berry, has expressed the U.S.’s concern over the police crackdown on the annual Pride March in Istanbul on June 28.
“Clearly, we were concerned earlier this summer when the Istanbul Pride march was not allowed to proceed. As we would be with any instance in which a peaceful march or protest was not allowed to exercise the right of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech,” Berry told daily Hürriyet in an interview, adding that he had spoken about the issue with the parties he met in Turkey.
Berry said he had held meetings with members of civil society organizations, senior municipal and government representatives, and business leaders in Ankara and Istanbul.
“We’ve also had a very good conversation with representatives of the LGTBI community in Turkey, on some of the particular successes or challenges they have tended to face. It has been very instructive to me,” he said, adding that these meetings would help inform the U.S.’s policy on the issue.
“It helps inform our engagement with governments. My meetings were really helpful in shaping that understanding,” Berry said, describing his contacts with the Ankara government as “constructive” and “very open.”
“I come away from Turkey hopeful overall that we will see progress in the discussion,” he said.
Responding to a question on how important it is to have a gay pride march in a Muslim-majority country like Turkey, Berry said the police suppression of this year’s march on June 30 marked “something clearly different,” rolling back the “remarkable progression and wonderful expressions of pride through freedom of assembly and freedom of expression seen in Istanbul over the years.”
Evaluating how he saw the current situation of LGBTIs in Turkey, Berry said that “like in any other place, the situation for members of the community here is a little in flux.” But he stressed that there have been “significant steps” forward in Turkey over the past decade.
“My discussions with civil society folks helped me understand the strength of civil society. Because there is a very gifted, insightful bunch of people who are working in this space. That gives me great hope. Of course, challenges certainly remain. But we are not looking at the issues as being completely separated from the global movement,” Berry stressed.
Stating that he was “deeply impressed” with the level of dedication, creativity, and the constructive manner in which civil society works in Turkey, Berry praised the “brave people” who work for change in their environment.
Discussing the LGBTI community’s position in the U.S. today, Berry said that having a representative such as himself for the human rights of LGBTI persons was only possible because 20 or 30 years ago activists in the U.S. “made very difficult though very modest changes through their work, which ultimately changed the equation.”
Berry said Washington approached the LGBTI issue as a core human rights issue, and the real departure point for tackling LGBTI rights as a core foreign policy issue came while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.
“She [Hillary Clinton] first identified LGBTI human rights issues as a core human rights function. Since 2011 we have been engaging as a foreign policy issue on the issue as part of our human rights portfolio, because we believe it is fundamental to the inclusion of diversity in our democracy,” he added.
Berry emphasized that the U.S. believes discrimination based on identity is a violation of human rights, and that part of the human experience is being free to live according to your identity.
He said the decision to create a special envoy post was taken in order to send a positive signal that the U.S. was increasing its work and engagement on human rights issues for members of this community around the world.