Istanbul set to celebrate Pride Week

Istanbul set to celebrate Pride Week

Emrah Güler - ANKARA
Istanbul set to celebrate Pride Week

AFP Photo

The colors of the rainbow will be splashed across Istanbul this week with panels, workshops, forums, screenings, an awards ceremony and a colorful parade, all under the auspices of the 23rd Istanbul Pride Week, one of the anticipated highlights of the summer. “If you’re not here, we’re missing one” has heretofore been the slogan of the event; now, however, it has become “If you’re not here, we’re missing many,” with a focus on the theme of “normal.” 

“We are refusing to fit the ‘normal,’” said the Pride Week Committee in its call. “Not because of nature, nor because of any disease. We are not normal! We are not accepting it! We are neither wrong, nor we are alone. We refuse to accept the stoic norms or what is called ‘normal.’”

The Pride Week Committee is a group of independent activists and volunteers who are taking the burdensome yet inspiring job of organizing the week-long events culminating with the Pride Parade. They have chosen to answer Hürriyet Daily News’ questions collectively, not giving a specific name in line with the ethos of the group organizing Istanbul Pride Week.

While the Lambdaistanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association has been the major player in the history of the Pride Week, now it’s a more independent and collaborative effort. “Each year, there is an open call to set the organizing committee. It’s a team consisting of volunteers, where there is no hierarchical structure and where decisions are taken together,” said the committee. 

History of the Istanbul Pride Week

The week has many events in the offing, so much must be done to get ready. “We need as many volunteers as possible from designing the brochures to creating banners and organizing the Genetically Modified Tomato Awards [for high-profile homophobes and transphobes].” The group’s Facebook page is the ideal platform for finding volunteers. “The whole week is created by the labors of the volunteers,” said the committee.

The history of Istanbul Pride Week has been one of pride, since when the first ever Pride Week was scheduled for July 1993. It was to be a three-day event under the title “Sexual Freedom Events” with Pride Parade scheduled as the final event. However, the Istanbul Governor’s Office did not grant permission on the grounds that the events would “violate our traditions and customs, and the values of our society.”

The committee shared the events leading to the first Pride and the Parade: “The night before the parade, the police broke down [doors] and raided the activists’ homes, blockading İstiklal Avenue on the day of the parade. Those around the area suspected of being gay were detained, while foreign participants were deported.”

It took 10 years for the first Pride Parade to take place, in 2003, when a group of 40, still a marginalized minority, marched proudly. Now in its 13th year, the parade is drawing more and more crowds each year, measured in the tens of thousands. Pride Week, now in its 23rd year, has become a multitude of events spread across a week, bringing together LGBTI communities from various cities across Turkey.

Pride Week with something for everyone

How has the perception of the LGBTI changed in Turkey since those fateful days in 1993? “We have learned about the events leading up to the first Pride Week from books, magazines and activist friends – friends actively involved in the LGBTI movement,” said the committee. “At the time, the LGBTI individuals had to keep their identities secret, first organizing meetings that took place in the confines of their houses.” 

They note one popular slogan from Pride Week, summarizing the change: “We are on the streets, in workplaces, in parliament. We are everywhere.” 

People are now aware of the LGBTI movement, the communities and their demands. “We are cooperating with social movements, unions, educators. We are now in city councils, we are now running to be MPs,” said the committee. “This all happened thanks to the shared struggle of the LGBTI communities, staying strong by staying together.”

This year’s Pride Week offers something for everyone. There will be workshops on peer pressure, internalizing prejudice and discourses of illness and medicalization from the 1970s to today. There will be panels on sexual health for lesbians, members of the LGBTI community in prisons and violence and LGBTI rights in the context of sex work. There will also be performances, screenings of LGBTI-themed documentaries and features. 

The magnum opus of the week, however, will come next Sunday, June 28, with the Pride Parade, set to bring together thousands on Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue. 

Check out for the program.