Istanbul Bans Region's Largest LGBT Pride March

"We are now so afraid after what happened in Orlando because we can see that it gave courage to the Islamist groups here," a march organizer said.

The governor of Istanbul announced Friday that pride events scheduled to begin on Sunday have been banned.

"The organization of a meeting and demonstration march on the mentioned dates will not be allowed by our governorate for the safety of our citizens, first and foremost the participants’, and for public order," said a press statement from the governor's office.

Sunday's event would be the 13th year of Istanbul's pride march, a festival that started with just 30 participants in 2003 and grew to tens of thousands in recent years. But last year Turkish officials banned the event an hour before it was due to begin, and police used tear gas and water cannons at pride marchers throughout the city well into the night.

The march had been threatened by factions of the Turkish far right and Islamist groups.

"We will never, ever allow such Immorality, like this march that is called 'honor' but really it is immoral, that touch the nation’s nerves, to be normalized or encouraged," said a group linked to the ultranationalist Great Union Party (BPP).

"We will not allow this disgrace," declared a group called Muslim Anatolian Youth, which pledged to organize a counterprotest on June 19. The announcement was followed by comments including "If there is no explosion, we will meet [LGBT marchers] in the square" and "I am looking forward to the day when your heads will be halal," according to screen images captured by pride march organizers.

March organizers are bracing for violence, especially after the shooting of 49 people in a Florida gay nightclub last weekend by Omar Mateen, who officials said called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS before the attack.

"We are now so afraid after what happened in Orlando because we can see that it gave courage to the Islamist groups here," said Görkem Ulumeric, a pride organizer.

But these fears were made worse after Enes Babacan with the Milat newspaper posted a note on his Facebook page on June 12. “Greetings to the jihadis who have spread fear in the hearts of the infidels in the U.S.,” the note read. "The martyr has given the homosexuals the lesson they deserve, rest in peace."

Ulumeric said the pride organizers were meeting on Friday night to decide how to respond to the governor's ban. The first step would likely be to appeal to the courts, but Ulumeric said some of the organizers were already discussing marching even if the ban remains in effect.

Istanbul Pride is one of the few pride events in the region, and last year organizers had expected 100,000 people to participate. With few opportunities for LGBT people to publicly express their sexual identity in the Muslim world — in recent years, ISIS has been known to execute allegedly gay men a part of its propaganda — the event holds symbolic importance.

While Turkey is a secular state and its government has also been targeted by ISIS, it is governed by the Islamist AKP, and Ulumeric said the shutdown of the parade has put it on the side of extremist groups against the rights of LGBT people in the country.

"Our government is not that different from those groups," he said.

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