Are we not even to drink tea?

Yıldız Tar wrote about the latest developments in the LGBTI+ movement and the struggle for fundamental rights under the shadow of censorship

Yıldız Tar

Censorship is perhaps one of the most insidious means of oppression available to the government. It is not only a practice that, when applied sufficiently, becomes normalised at lightning speed and is legitimised in a societal and political climate that is given to find fault with those seeking their rights; it is also a method of political violence that surpasses the boundaries of physical violence with the circle of silence and fear it creates.

One of the groups who suffer the most from this method are the LGBTI+. Unfortunately, censorship for them does not begin with the government’s practices. Censorship begins much earlier, when you first want to express yourself and is implemented by the family and society. It can take the form of a sneer when you put on nail polish, your favourite shirt being torn off of you, or a beating when you hold the hand of your lover. The methods change, but the mechanisms that lend power to censorship can range from shaming to physical violence.

This makes the first step in the struggle for LGBTI+ rights being able to tell your own story and the ability to be yourself. Being yourself is not to be underestimated. When you cannot be yourself, let alone joining the rights struggle, it may not be possible to speak out after a beating. Because you know that should you speak out, your identity, for which you have been shamed, will be disclosed. Right at the start of your path to becoming yourself, you will become an easy source for rumour-mongering, a piece of gossip fodder.

Being gossip fodder, which begins in the deepest recesses of daily life has also been a fact in the political field for a long time. The LGBTI+ are fodder for high politics; finger food on the high table. No one eats it. And no one deigns to take it away.

This situation becomes the most apparent in the freedom of expression and association. According to the Human Rights of LGBTI persons report titled Let’s March on to Freedom by the Kaos GL Association, while hate demonstrations were held in 15 cities under the protection of the state in 2022, at least 571 LGBTI+ activists were detained. 2022 was a year of torture, maltreatment, detentions, bans, plunder and trials for the LGBTI+. Examining the report which describes these practices as a whole as “expulsion from public space”, we see that they all share the same goal, which is to censor the reality of the LGBTI+ and the struggle to have this reality recognised.

To take a closer look at some of the conclusions of the report:

*In 2022, LGBTI+ persons spent a total of 37 days in courthouses. Sometimes they were there to follow penal trials as complainant parties, sometimes to follow administrative cases and sometimes to follow the cases concerning associations active in the field of LGBTI+ rights, as in the case of the Tarlabaşı Community Centre.

*LGBTI+ rights were violated in many fields with practices ranging from bans on demonstrations and performances to bans on books and symbols; censorship to bans on publications.

*The right to bodily integrity was violated, especially during violent mass detention practices.

*The high number of detentions is shown by the concentrated data on violations of the right to liberty and security of person.

*Violations of the freedom of expression was most often the case in bans on special events, followed by law enforcement interventions on meetings and demonstrations.

*In 2022, province and district governors imposed at least seven cover bans. Meanwhile, hate demonstrations targeting the LGBTI+ were held in 15 cities under the protection of the state.

*June was the month in which most violations occurred, due to the bans on pride weeks and increasing law enforcement violence.

*Labour unions’ activities on the theme of gender equality were banned. Universities banned extra-curricular activities, which are elements of education, and therefore discriminated between LGBTI+ students and other students in terms of extra-curricular activities.

These conclusions could very well apply to 2023. But this year saw its own share of absurd bans. During Pride Month 2023, the LGBTI+ were banned from eating lentil balls and pastry rolls; watching films and even drinking tea. This is a form of censorship that goes far beyond bans on activities in which you can express yourself in public space and seek your rights. It is as though the indefinite bans imposed in Ankara in 2017 have returned. Back then, there was ban with no definite time limit imposed on more than one LGBTI+ person being together in public spaces, no matter whether it was open to all or not.

The legal process, which is the only means of remedy against bans imposed by administrators itself becomes a mechanism that supports censorship because it is dysfunctional and because the far from just structure of the administrative law does not lead to setting precedents.

To wit: Let’s say an activity you intended to hold was banned. You file a court case and request a stay on the execution of the decision to ban the activity. While the trial is ongoing, some decisions that need to be taken post haste for you to be able to hold your activity are not issued. Or sometimes, administrative authorities issue the decision for the ban a day or sometimes a few hours before the activity to block any access to judicial remedy.

I have even seen decision banning activities after the banned activity was over. Turning over how this might be possible to quantum physicists, we return to our example. Let’s say you were nevertheless able to file your case. But you could not hold the activity, either because the police attacked or the venue withdrew. The trial will take months. In the end, the LGBTI+ win almost every such case. A happy ending, wouldn’t you say? Reasonably, you would expect that the same activities will not be banned again. However, judicial rulings do not prevent bans by administrators. Just as the court has issued or is about to issue a ruling on an activity you were prevented from holding during Pride Month, the next Pride Month rolls in and you have to engage with the same cycle once more. To top it all, you yourself may be on trial in cases against the freedom of association, known as “2911” from the number of the law.

The LGBTI+ movement which is trying to defend life in the shadow of censorship has to be as “creative” as possible to escape this much pressure. This means holding the LGBTI+ Pride Parade in Nişantaşı, when the police expected it to happen in Taksim, like we did this year; or spreading all around İstanbul, saying “We will disperse”. I cannot help but liken this situation to the tactics we came up with just to survive as children, to escape family, school and peer bullying. Back then too, it was sad to have to be “creative” to do the simplest things in the world. It is also sad now.

Wishing for days to come in which we won’t have to be “creative” to tell our stories…

A belated happy Pride Month to us all!