The Istanbul police’s violent response to the local gay pride parade last Sunday is a chilling reminder that the victory for marriage equality in the United States does not necessarily improve the lives of LGBT people around the world. In the short term, it might even make it worse for some.
Marchers and onlookers at the parade, which began in historic Taksim Square, dodged rubber bullets and water cannons shooting streams laced with tear gas. When revelers moved the parade to nearby streets, police troops in riot gear followed them, sometimes grabbing marchers and hurling them to the curb, as this CNN video shows.
In a Vice News video, a drag queen in a rainbow flag skirt voices the parade-goers’ proud defiance as she shows the camera her injured leg:
I’m not scared of being arrested. If I can walk around like this, if I can be brave and live like this in Turkey, I’m not scared of anything, and if I die, I’ll die under the LGBT flag.
The Istanbul Governor’s Office’s excuse for disrupting the parade was blatantly tied to religion. This year, the parade took place during the holy month of Ramadan. The Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week Committee had been planning and publicizing the parade and other events for months, but the local government waited until the last minute to announce that the parade would be prohibited because it conflicted with the Muslim holiday.
Many Turks, LGBT and straight, are skeptical that Ramadan was the real reason for the parade’s violent disruption. This is the parade’s thirteenth year, and up until now, it has always proceeded peacefully, even when it has coincided with Ramadan. A week earlier, Istanbul’s Trans Pride Week, which included a parade, was celebrated without interference.
So what changed?
CNN interviewed several activists who connect the incident with a recent national election that left President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s conservative Justice and Development Party with too few votes to maintain their single-party rule over Turkey.
“This is happening after the elections because they realize the power of the LGBTI movement,” said transgender activist Ruzgar Buski. “Erdogan’s government has lost their power and they know the LGBTI community stands with other minorities.”
There’s no real religious indignation here, parade participants like Buski assert, just a government struggling to maintain its hold over a diverse and rapidly modernizing nation. Like most conservatives who fall back on faith-based justifications for unjustifiable behavior, they’ll lose that struggle for control in the long term.