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Erdogan slams Turkey's LGBTQ community, weaponizes homophobia ahead of vote

Homophobia and transphobia have unprecedentedly taken a prominent stage in the campaign period ahead of Turkey’s consequential elections.
A participant faces riot policemen wearing a rainbow flag during a Pride march in Istanbul, on June 26, 2022. - Turkish police forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said. The governor's office had banned the march around Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled. (Photo by KEMAL ASLAN / AFP) (Photo by KEMAL ASLAN/AFP via Getty Ima

ANKARA — With only 10 days to go until Turkey's consequential elections, embattled President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Thursday that the LGBTQ community is “the strongest current threatening the future of Western nations" as part of his efforts to weaponize homophobia against the opposition.

Speaking at a rally in Turkey's Black Sea region, a stronghold of conservative nationalists, Erdogan reiterated his homophobic messages to slam the main opposition six-party opposition bloc, led by the Republican People’s Party (CHP).  “LGBT cannot get into the AKP [Erdogan's Justice and Development Party],” he said, adding “But is CHP pro-LGBT? Yes! Is the Good Party pro-LGBT? Yes! Can others [in the alliance] speak up against this? No!”

Though divisive and polarizing rhetoric has long been a campaign staple for Erdogan, the ruling party’s current election campaign has featured unprecedented levels of homophobic narrative ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls on May 14.  Earlier in the day, Erdogan wrote on Twitter that LGBTQ movement is “the strongest current threatening the future of Western nations.” 

Over the past two months, Erdogan and his government officials have galvanized homophobic sentiments among their conservative voter base.

Speaking at a campaign event last week, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu went so far as to claim that LGBTQ “also includes marriage between animals and humans.” 

The homophobic and transphobic language has fueled concerns amongst Turkey's LGBTQ community. Defne Guzel,  an activist with the Kaos GL, one of Turkey’s largest LGBTQ organizations, believes the rhetoric fuels violence against LGBTQ individuals 

“First and foremost it tarnishes the dignity of LGBTI+s,” Guzel told Al-Monitor. “This narrative is simply  criminalizing LGBTI+s. It paints the existence of LGBTI+s as a crime and LGBTI+ organizations as criminal organizations. Diversity of gender identities and sexual orientations are portrayed as anti-family.” 

While Turkey is a constitutionally secular country where homosexuality has never been criminalized, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ individuals are rampant.  

Pride marches in Istanbul have been banned since 2015. Protests face brutal police suppression. The government has steadily dialed up its homophobic rhetoric since early 2021, when it withdrew from an international accord combating violence against women, the Istanbul Convention. Government officials argued that the convention was encouraging homosexuality and transsexuality. 

The ruling alliance’s expansion to two Islamist parties that have publicly denounced LGBTQ rights are further stoking fears.  

Opposition leaders, meanwhile, remain largely silent, although almost all leading opposition parties pledged to fight against discrimination in their election manifestos.

“The most important thing is that these pledges not get forgotten at the parliament in the upcoming period,” Guzel said, stressing that the opposition parties would have to develop “effective mechanisms” to combat the anti-LGBTQ voices in the parliament. 

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