May 17th: International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – we march with Pride in northern Cyprus

Athina Kariati

On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) removed homosexuality from the International Classification of Diseases. In 2004, this day was declared as the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, by the UN, a number of NGOs and other international institutions. 

Since then, in many places of the planet, protests and activities are organised on that day to fight for the rights of LGBT+ people. 

Homosexuality in northern Cyprus was decriminalised only in 2014, and only after the Queer Cyprus Association (or as they were known then HOKI – Initiative Against Homophobia) raised the issue of repealing the Punishment Regulations of the criminal code which punished homosexuality with up to five years imprisonment. 

In 2014, after the criminal code changed, homosexuality was decriminalised, but also anti-discrimination laws were set in place in workplaces and in other fields like indirect discrimination and hate speech. 

The first Pride parade was organised on May 17, 2014. Since then, every year on May 17, a committee of 21 organisations, trade unions and political parties, organise the Pride parade, demanding the recognition of all rights of LGBT+ people. 

This year’s Pride slogan is My family My Decision

This slogan comes as an answer to a “Family Workshop” that was organised at the end of February by the wife of the TRNC president, Ersin Tatar, Sibel Tatar. In this Workshop discussions were held with the participation of “experts” from the Ministry of Family of the Republic of Turkey, to “reduce divorce rates” in northern Cyprus and “solve the domestic problems”. The core idea of the workshop was the indoctrination of what a “normal” family is. This workshop is part of the conservative turn but also an attempt to limit civil rights, which is growing in Turkey especially since the 2016 coup. These ideas are continuously being imposed in  Cypriot society, especially since the last presidential election of 2020. 

Part of this conservative turn in Turkey is the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, and the banning of Pride parades. In Turkey homosexuality is not banned, and everyone has the constitutionally protected right to hold a peaceful protest without prior permission, as long as the topic of the protest is not explicitly banned by law.

However, in 2015, the Istanbul pride parade, which overlapped with the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, was banned by the Istanbul governorship hours before the event, over “security concerns”. Soon after, it was shut down through police intervention for the first time in its 13-year history. The parade had taken place in the previous year during Ramadan without becoming an issue. Since then, it is banned every year, and every year the police arrests participants that try to hold the rally despite the prohibition. 

In 2017, the capital city of Ankara banned all LGBT or LGBT rights related events, under the pretext of providing “peace and security”, with officials saying that such “exhibitions” could cause different groups of society to “publicly harbor hatred and hostility” towards each other; on the other hand, news media noted that the ban came in the context of the steady erosion of civil liberties in Turkey following the failed 2016 coup attempt.

In Cyprus, conservatism in society was always an issue. In 2006, when the first discussions about fighting to change the criminal code started, there was a fear that homosexuality will not be accepted by society. Of course, since then the LGBT+ movement has changed this situation a lot through their struggles. Now, new conservatism that is being imposed by the Turkish establishment is threatening to reverse all the gains of the movements. 

Therefore, this year the LGBT+ movement decided to focus on answering the “Family Workshop” propaganda and the conservative ideas that exist and are reproduced through institutions like the schools, the police, even the parliament. 

Below, we publish the press release of the May 17 Committee: 

“Our Family is Our Decision because we have been taught and internalized the standard of being a family in every field. A reasonable/Traditional/Accepted family built repeatedly in schoolbooks and curriculum, in the workplace, in social circles. In a workshop organized by the Presidency, its explained that the nuclear family consists of ‘a mother, a father and children’. Any family structure outside the norm is frequently ignored. When it comes to LGBTQI+, the question is how do we explain it to our children? When domestic violence occurs, the police say, ‘We cannot interfere in family matters’. While violence against LGBTI+ people is seen as legitimate in public spaces, it is said that ’we respect LGBTQI+ community, but let them not bring the matters to a spotlight, let them do whatever they want in private’. Unfortunately, a deputy elected by the people can say, ‘There is no such thing in our custom, Alhamdulillah we are Muslims’.” 

We raise our voices against all above discourses and practices and roar again, there are LGBTI+s in every aspect of life and they will continue to exist. Be with us in a week that will be full, let us meet in front of Suitex on May 17 and march together. 

The organisations: 

• Queer Cyprus Association

• Queer Collective Cy

• Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development-SeeD

• Yeni Enternasyonalist Sol – Νέα Διεθνιστική Αριστερά – New Internationalist Left        

• Özgür ve Asi – Unchained Rebel Women Cy – Μαχητικές και Ελεύθερες

• Mediterranean European Art Association –EMAA

• VOIS

• Refugee Rights Association

• Famagusta Youth Union 

• Left Movement

• CTP Women’s Organization

• CTP Youth Organization

• TDP Youth Organization

• TDP TOCEK

• HP-TCEK

• Baraka

• Bağımsızlık Yolu

• Individual participants



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