On 21 March 2017, a group of Kurdish LGBTI+ activists walked into the massive crowds celebrating Newroz in Diyarbekir, carrying “Na/Hayır” (“No” in Kurdish/Turkish) flags together with LGBT pride flags. It was no coincidence that the symbolic meanings of Newroz myth – in which Kawa the blacksmith defeated the tyrant Dehak – came together with the pride flags against Turkey’s present regime of fear. Consequently, these bodies gathered to give a clear message: despite the threat of state violence, we are here, we celebrate, we object.
The referendum on 16 April has a lot of bricks to offer to Turkey’s already hard, thick, tall walls of injustice and denial. I borrow the metaphor of the wall from Sara Ahmed, who theorizes the wall as a sedimenting of inequality, a building-up and institutionalization of violent social relations. While every single move made by the opposition is trapped in the ever-tightening vice of these walls, the outcome of the referendum is likely to be the same as the process leading up to the referendum. First of all, the referendum is taking place under a state of emergency (OHAL in Turkish). Secondly, thirteen MPs of the oppositional HDP—the third largest party in Turkey’s parliament—are currently in prison, including its co-chairs. In addition, hundreds of journalists are also in prison. More recently, another imprisoned Kurdish politician, Sebahat Tuncel – the first MP in Turkey’s history to request a parliamentary inquiry into the status of LGBTI+ rights – has joined hunger strikes in prisons. Clearly, these ongoing arbitrary and oppressive practices represent a terrifying preview of the authoritarian ideals underpinning the proposed, if not imposed, presidential system.
It almost goes without saying that LGBTI+ lives have always been vulnerable in Turkey, and in the shadow of the referendum, their hard-earned existential rights are at severe risk. Homophobia will find its place within the system that is trying to demolish democratic checks and balances in order to institutionalize the state of emergency. It is not difficult to foresee that Erdoğan’s vision includes no [safe] space for LGBTI+ people, a vision that coincides with the ruling AKP’s discourse on LGBTI+ people. Quite recently, the Minister of Interior used homophobia in conjunction with the crackdown on journalists when he called a journalist a “fruit.”
Making LGBTI+ lives invisible in the public sphere and before the law is a strategy of hetero-patriarchal regulations. In this regard, Kaos GL’s 2016 Media Monitoring Report underlines the dramatic decline of LGBTI+ people’s visibility in Turkey’s print media in the second half of 2016, thereby highlighting the success of these regulations. The structural violence stemming from the lack of constitutional recognition for LGBTI+ identity exacerbates this problem. And yet, in spite of this, LGBTI+ resistance remains palpable and potent, as this short paragraph from the press statement of last year’s banned Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March reflects:
(…) We proudly own all the insults they throw at us to hurt us. We are expanding our limited spaces with solidarity. We are leading a revolution on every street we walk, on every workday, in every house, in every love and every act of lovemaking. We are killed and reborn in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antep, Diyarbakir, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Orlando. We will always exist, shout out our existence, and always be proud of our existence.
In sum, each queer breath inhaled and exhaled is an adamant “NO” that refuses what the upcoming constitutional referendum has to offer. By its very “nature,” queer existence must object to any alignment with authoritarianism. To be sure, I am aware that a “NO” in the referendum will not swiftly turn Turkey into a democracy, nor will it heal the deep wounds of the people. But our objections – indeed, our very existence – serve as reminders that there are cracks in the wall, and as we know, that “that`s how the light gets in.”
(1) “Brick Walls”, Living a Feminist Life (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), 135-60.
(2) I reevaluated the queer possibilities of Leonard Cohen’s song “Anthem” after reading a powerful piece by Gülkan ‘Noir’ in Kaos Q+ issue 4, 2016, 83-86.
[Hakan Sandal is a PhD student at the University of Cambridge – Centre for Gender Studies. His doctoral research focuses on the intersection of ethnic, gender, and sexual identities, with particular focus on Kurdish LGBTs.]