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Turkey's LGBT Community Pushes Ahead With Plans For Pride Parade


In Istanbul, there's a parade on Sunday to mark Pride Week, if authorities allow it. The event was blocked, for security reasons it is said, in 2015 and in 2016. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports LGBT activists are preparing to revive the parade despite a right-wing threat to disrupt it.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: At a workshop at an Istanbul Pride event this week, attendees engaged in role-playing to experience some of the scenarios gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can face on any given day, from hostile confrontations to pressure from friends to be open about their sexual and gender identity. The sound is a bit muffled because I'm recording it from outside a closed door. Protecting privacy is a priority. It's a sign that this week's events involve anxiety as well as pride.

For more than a dozen years, supporters of LGBT rights gathered in Turkey's largest city, even as a ruling party led by pious Muslims became the dominant political force in the country. This is what Istanbul Pride gatherings used to sound like.


KENYON: But these sounds, recorded in 2014 and posted online, haven't been heard in a while. In 2015, authorities cancelled the Pride gathering. And last year, police used tear gas to disperse people who tried to hold the event anyway. Homosexuality is not a crime in this majority-Muslim country, but hostility toward the LGBT community has drawn condemnation from rights groups and others. A European Union report last fall said hate crimes and violations of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons continue to be a source of concern.

Some Turks say the intolerance seems worse during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - and not just against the LGBT community. Last June, a mob attacked a record store where fans of the band Radiohead had gathered for a listening party, apparently angered at people listening to music and drinking beer in public during the Muslim holy month. When residents gathered to protest the assault, they were dispersed by tear gas-wielding riot police.


KENYON: This year's Pride gathering comes at the tail end of Ramadan. And Istanbul Pride organizer Aydinc Yuksel says they're preparing for a positive celebration of diversity in Turkey.

AYDINC YUKSEL: (Through interpreter) For the past two years, the governor's office told us we couldn't have the parade. This year, we haven't heard anything from them, so we're going ahead. So far, parades in other cities have been held without a problem.

KENYON: But a group linked to a right-wing nationalist party is vowing to disrupt the Istanbul event. Spokesman Kursat Mican gave a television interview, that mainly consisted of a homophobic rant, before avowing to stop what he called this indecency from spreading inside.


KURSAT MICAN: (Through interpreter) If the state lets them march, we will stop them. Wherever region they try to walk, we will not let them pass. If they have a right to be on the streets, then it's our right, too.

KENYON: Berkant Caglar, a member of the Istanbul Pride committee, says the anxiety in the LGBT community is real but so is the determination to be seen and heard.

BERKANT CAGLAR: We will not cancel according to their threats. Otherwise, they will be successful. And their hate and threat will find a legitimate way.

KENYON: Another element of uncertainty - Turkey's still under a state of emergency, giving police broad powers to detain and jail people without the usual due process. It remains to be seen if those powers will be used Sunday.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.


Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.