You know, I was walking around Istanbul on Sunday – Taksim to be precise – when my friend and I noticed something a bit different. There were riot police everywhere. In groups of 5 – 10, 20-50, with gas masks on top of their heads, their machine guns in their arms and a searching expression on their faces as they sized you up as you walked past.
As we walked some more towards the main drag of Taksim, we noticed that there weren’t just riot police, but regular police, water tanks, riot vans, something looking like a tank and a whole bunch of vehicles and men in uniform everywhere. Being that this is Turkey in 2016, we got a bit worried about what might be about to go down. Was there a bomb threat? Should we be clearing out? But it didn’t look like anyone else was moving out of the way, so we trundled along and tried to take “sneaky” picture of the police without them realising as they had filled every side street along the main drag with police vehicles and actual officers.
We walked some more and got a bit more worried as we were pretty sure that the entire Istanbul police force were here. In full regalia. We thought the worst. Instead my friend decided to call her cousin who, bless her, was like the gossip spring of Istanbul. We asked what was going down, do we need to clear out ASAP? Are we in danger?
Her reply was rather a shock to me…
Oh no. Today is meant to be the Pride march and they are all there because the government has told the queers they aren’t allowed to march. I stood still for a minute and did a 360 degree turn. Just to take in the amount of police presence to stop a pride march.
I took a deep breath. And I let it out again.
Mardi Gras at home is so liberating. It’s so full of love, light and laughter. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in the middle of a march for my fellow queer people and have to go up against so many police officers who were given the right to use gas, water and anything else they could get their hands on to stop you from marching.
This is the police presence in Sydney during Mardi Gras, they actually march in the parade to show solidarity, queer or not –
And yet, in Taksim, this is the reality of the police presence
I tried to comprehend why, why a bunch of queers warranted such a heavy presence. Were these people harming others? Were they stealing? Were they tearing the fabric of reality apart? What could they have possibly done, apart from be who they are, that could garner such a harsh reaction from the people that are meant to be protecting the citizens – not terrorising them?
It brought tears to my eyes to look up and see people stealthily hanging pride flags from their windows. There were rainbows slowly popping up everywhere and still the crowd didn’t really hold many queers.
To our surprise out of nowhere a bunch of people started to walk with rainbow flags, standing tall, standing strong – and I thought. Fuck. The whole police force of Istanbul against 20 young gay youths.
I’m not sure if there were more people that marched in different groups all along the Taksim main thoroughfare, but we only saw these guys before we decided to keep walking.
It breaks my heart that LGBTIQ pride marches around the world are still subject to this form of harassment and intimidation. That gay kids around the world would still rather commit suicide than come out to their religious leaning parents. That anyone would or could harm someone else because of who they fall in love with.
This was not the Istanbul that I was expecting to confront of this day. It wasn’t the Istanbul that I wanted to see. What I wanted to see was an Istanbul that was all inclusive. That didn’t march to the beat of Erdogan’s drum. That let pride marches go freely without gassing, water cannoning or beating my fellow queers up with batons.
Instead what I found myself in was a huge pile of doo-doo that pulled my heart strings, that made me realise how lucky I am as an Australian Turk that I can march without fear of getting a baton to the face for just being in the street during a pride march – let alone because I’m queer.
What I am going to focus on is that the new batch of children that are growing up will eventually replace these dinosaurs that are in power. They will start to run our governments and make laws that are progressive instead of divisive & hate fuelled.
And until that day I’m going to try not to weep for my fellow queers, that despite the resistance and unlawfulness of being who they are, that they keep on marching.