03/05/2021 | Writer: Kaos GL

Exactly 20 years ago, Kaos GL participated in the May 1st demonstrations in Ankara with its banners and rainbow flags.

The 20th year of Kaos GL's participation in May 1st:  That happiness was beautiful, from preparing the banners to the march itself Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

2001 May 1st rally in Ankara was the first organized public protest of LGBTI+’s since the transgender women's hunger strikes in the 80s and 1993 İstanbul Pride Parade. Kaos GL marched on May 1st with banners and rainbow flags, saying, "Mandatory heterosexuality is a crime against humanity."

Let’s read those days from the oral history book “Trails: Hacking the Official History”...

Ali Erol: May 1st Experiment in 1997

For example, what does everyone know? It is said that homosexuals and transgender people joined May 1st in Ankara for the first time in Turkey with rainbow flags and their own banners in 2001. Right... I mean, that’s true as of date, but we had an experiment on May Day, 1997. We are already a group that hosts regular Sunday meetings, regularly publishes its magazine, works, tries to weave its policy of struggle. In fact, we are a group that has come to work as an association even without a name. Therefore, we want to participate in May 1st and in 1997 we participated for the first time. All hell broke loose at the Sunday meeting after May 1st. So a segment was saying, “What are we doing on May 1st?!” or they were asking “How is it related to us?” just to understand. There were people who sensed where this was headed and how it was going to end. And because they sensed that it wasn’t going to end by joining a May Day, they were saying, “Where did it come from?” So it took time to get to this stage... No… So Kaos joins May 1st and works to ensure that homosexuals are safely participating and returning without even a nosebleed, but it doesn’t impose on everyone to join everywhere. For example, when a group goes to May 1st, I can keep watch in the office and keep it open, and when my friends come back, I can make tea, coffee, bagels. I mean, whatever I want to do, whatever I can do. This stage, for example, took time. Similarly, Mehmet Ali Birand, a prime-time news anchor, wanted to make a special program for his show, so we said, “What’s wrong with that, we’re not hiding anymore, let’s join in.” All hell broke loose again. “How can it be” that “even if two people from the group show up there, even if two people from the organization goes there, the work will not end with them because I am a member of this group too”, people felt that the conflict of visibility would eventually compel them too…

I think we made some historic interventions there. For example, we were sensing the thing there; What do the friends here actually want to tell us? So is this anxiety a personal concern, a collective concern, a concern that comes from not being able to predict or know something, or is it a stimulus that we should say, “Oh, we missed that part, we didn’t think about it, and we need to look at ourselves”. When we tried to understand that, I realized. We needed to act on the average demands of the groups on issues like the tv show, visibility, May Day experiment, etc., for the sake of the survivability of the group, for the average of the group and to protect the organized network. If we hadn’t done that, I think there would probably have been a more radical rupture in Kaos GL, and Kaos GL would have been a smaller group, thrown off its cooperative, independent and inclusive line. It has something to do with space too. Again, as we saw that the number gradually increased during those meetings, we saw something. People couldn’t find a place to have coffee or beer in the past but with the opening of some new places, people were being accepted to some of them at least for a period, in the summer, when Ankara is emptied and those places starved for customers. Even if they kick you out in six months, on whichever excuse. There were also suggestions that meetings should be held in a bar, for example. It was the first time I’d noticed a thing there. People were looking into our eyes, to make us understand. These guys, the guys who actually go to the bar on a regular basis, they want to go to that bar, but they don’t want this meeting they come to on Sunday to be held at that bar. They were looking into our eyes to make us see that, but they see us there as decision-makers to keep them from conflicting with the friends who invited us to that bar. So we said, “No, this discussion is over, these meetings will continue as long as we find a place, but they will never be held in the hall of a political party or in a corner of a bar.” And on the other issues of tv, May 1st and so on, we said, “Oh, the group is not ready for it yet. Rather than disbanding the group, let’s postpone it for three years.” And that was what actually happened. We had our own place at the same time on May 1, 2001, when we joined together with our own rainbow flags and our own banners, which we participated together as the gay magazine Kaos GL together from gay to transgender. And there had already been meetings, which we discussed why were we attending, and so on, and there the group has become a structure that started acting for itself, layer by layer, that protects itself. For example, who goes to May 1st? Who’s going to stay at the precinct when the ones that go to May 1st go? Who will be in charge of the building’s door? Who’s going to brew the tea? Who’s going to take care of who’s coming, who’s going to take care of who’s going? When all this happened, it happened with enthusiasm and we said it happened finally, we came back after May 1st to the center, we had that tea and coffee, had that bagel, and people felt good about themselves. And I’d say the problem of finding a place was solved.

Oya Burcu Ersoy: May 1st, 2001!

There was a handful of us. Two people were already holding the banner. Three people carrying placards. My mother didn’t know about me at the time. I told my parents all about my research and stuff. They know me as doing research. My mom said, “You know, you did your research, it’s over, okay, don’t see them anymore. Otherwise, you’ll be a lesbian too, they’ll make you a lesbian.” If I’m a lesbian, Mom, I’m a lesbian, you can’t be a lesbian afterward. I mean, I was making sentences that were looking for ways to tell her. But my mother had a very tall mental wall. She was saying, “We raised you so well, you’re a good family girl, you can’t be a lesbian.” I was like, “They’re from good families too, I told you.” So my only unease on the march was this: I was so happy. I was so proud. I was so excited. It’s just that things were coming on to me from time to time. You know, the cameras are coming and such. If they record me, if we go on TV... When my mom built a wall like that, I didn’t tell her. Other than that, I’ve thought very little about it, what if my family sees me. I thought I’d be relieved if she saw me there. Support for Kaos GL’s banner was also good. The applauders... We were usually applauded from the unions, of course. It was beautiful, too, very exciting. From beginning to end. You know, that happiness was beautiful, from preparing the banners to the march itself.

Umut Güner: From May 1st, 2001 to the symposium in 2003

The Symposium on The Problems of Lesbians and Gays and The Search for Solutions for Social Peace took place on May 23-24, 2003. I wasn’t there on the first May Day. The process after that was a period where, people got interested in us after participating in the May 1st, due to raised awareness in public space, especially in civil society. And when someone came to us with an offer at the time, we weren’t saying no to anyone. If someone came to us and told us they wanted to make a presentation about the offside decision in a play-off match, we would welcome it too. Because we wanted to say homosexuals don’t just talk about sex. A friend of ours, Adem Arkadaş, said he wanted to tell about the project cycle. We don’t know anything about projects, but we said, if he wants to talk about it, let him come and talk. He made a presentation to ten people from Kaos about the project cycle. Meanwhile, Adem prepared his presentation in English, assuming that all homosexuals speak English. Everyone besides Ali Erol and me knew English. And at the end of that year, in the fall of 2002, Ali and I wrote the project of the Symposium on The Problems of Lesbians and Gays and the Search for Social Peace in that workshop. Then we met the Dutch ambassador at another reception. The Dutch ambassador said he wanted to support us. Meanwhile, while Kaos took many steps to gain legitimacy of homosexuality in quotes, people did not know about our legal status because we worked as a very serious organization from the very beginning. For example, the ambassador accepted our project, assuming that we already have been an association that was publishing a magazine for years. Then, of course, it turned out we weren’t an association. We’ve made all the preparations for the symposium. The day before the symposium, the ambassador gave me the money in cash. I signed a document like this at the embassy and delivered it. And it’s so funny that we didn’t have any taxi money to go to the ambassador. I took the bus. How scared I was while carrying 10,000 euros on me. It’s a neighborhood I don’t know about. It’s something like that.

It was going to be the first event that the gay movement was talked about in public. So we tried to shed all the issues that the gay movement had been worried about up until then. It was a very busy schedule. It took two days. I think there were sixteen or seventeen speakers, and there were many areas from psychology, psychiatry to HIV, AIDS, human rights, law, media, working life... Unionists, for example, were afraid to come. So in 2003, when the Symposium on The Problems of Lesbians and Gays was being held in the municipality, at the Center for Contemporary Arts, for example, the wife of a speaker who came to talk at the hall asked him, “Are you sure you’re going to go to that event?” People said they’d rather contribute from the hall than talk at the symposium. I mean, it was held in a period like that.

Meanwhile, Kürşad Kahramanoğlu had a significant contribution, especially in terms of international guests. Michael Cashman came as a parliamentarian of the European Parliament. Cemil Çiçek was the Minister of Justice at the time. “I’ve come to an event about LGBTs, do you have any work on this?” he asks. Cemil Çiçek says, “Are there gays in Turkey?” He told us that. For example, the first street poster about homosexuality was made at that event. It’s funny, we had fifteen people out there hanging posters because we couldn’t provide security. Two people are putting up posters. The other ten people around them were trying to cover them so that no one would see what they were posting. And then we were all running away from there. Everywhere, Kurtuluş, Cebeci, Esat, we hanged posters everywhere. And then people were looking, they were checking to see if the posters were removed or not. They were e-mailing, the banner here didn’t seem to be removed, the one here is removed and such. And then the next day, we were going back on posting, to re-post the posters in the same places. It’s been that kind of a process.

There were five hundred people in the hall, and it provided a very serious visibility. There was a lot of media attention. It had a very important function for me to open up in the public sphere. For example, when we were told to meet with the media by making a press release on the results of Güztanbul six months ago, three people had come out to meet with the media. Ali and I were back because my ticket was already purchased, so we were going back to Ankara. Six months ago, there were five people in Turkey who could talk to the media about LGBT, and six months later we had an event watched by five hundred people. We were thinking that the media will come and Tuba Özkan and Yeşim Başaran will meet with the media as media officers. Tuba is heterosexual, by the way, a friend of ours who works as an academic. Yeşim is bisexual, an open friend of ours from Kaos’s old days. Those two were going to communicate, and we thought we weren’t going to deal with any of that. But the media showed so much interest that the live broadcast vehicles came, the fire brigade came. Çankaya Municipality or the metropolitan municipality had sent a fire truck in a strange way in case a brawl broke out, an incident, a fire broke out. And we promised to talk to media outlets so that the media, cameramen and televisions, wouldn’t bother people, Oya, Ali Erol and I, saying “We will explain what we’re doing here today”. So that we talked with the media, and they’re broadcasting live at the time, but I didn’t know it was live, by the way. I was thinking they’re going to shoot, they’re going edit it, meanwhile, I can tell the folks at home. Turns out we were talking on live television, and I was on nine or ten news channels that day. In fact, my grandmother saw me on TV, probably heard the lesbian as technician, so she was talking about something like, “What’s a technician?” She said, “I called all the neighbors, the relatives, and I said, watch the TV.” With my opening up in the public scene, my coming out to my family, and the dispersion of the obscure cloud over my homosexuality happened during that event. At the same time, it has been a process in which being anti-homophobia brings the need of talking about it, brings activism, and sparked a debate that this is a necessity. In terms of the institutionalization of Kaos, it has the following function: While we were planning and discussing the sessions, we also actually began to define the workspaces of Kaos. Kaos GL is going to do this in this area because homosexuals are going to live these kind of things in that area.

And one of my personal sweet memory is that I’ve never spoken before the symposium except for the Kaos meetings about homosexuality. I didn’t have any experience being an orator. Since Perihan Maden did not come, the program was empty, Ali Erol and Oya Burcu were speaking on many of the panels, so I was told to speak at the media session as a person from the magazine editorial board. Yusuf Eradam, Yıldırım Türker and I will speak. Of course, no one would come to listen to Yusuf Eradam and me. Everyone would be coming to listen to Perihan Maden and Yıldırım Türker. That’s what happened. By the way, I got very excited, I told Yıldırım that. Yıldırım taught me a very simple technique there. I’m still using it. “Take ten blank files, pretend you’re following notes in the file, when you feel overwhelmed lean to the papers like you are reading. In the meantime, this will be an opportunity for you to think.” Yusuf Eradam also introduced me as Perihan Maden at the panel. Coming to the stage as Perihan Maden, while my confidence was at its lowest... Of course, he corrected it again during the session, and he told me that he made a joke, but in the end, I was already mortified. No one wants to listen to you when you have someone like Yıldırım with you. You know, everybody wants to listen to him, and everybody’s looking at you as shut up and let that guy talk.

If one of the activities where the LGBTI+ movement comes out of the closet is May 1st, the second is the Problems of Lesbians and Gays and the Search for A Solution for Social Peace. Meanwhile, the event was called The Problems of Lesbians and Gays and The Search for A Solution for Social Peace, but it was an event that included transgender people and bisexuality was not very visible. And the reason we call social peace is because a peace that ignores homosexuals is not really possible.

Buse Kılıçkaya: We are organized!

Today we have the internet etc., but the tiniest publication we had back then was a diamond-worth for us, and it was in English, or it was a time when we started discussions from single sentences. All of the information we had was the fanzine of Kaos GL. Other than that, we didn’t have any data, and it was so diligently reproduced and it was a magazine where the names were changed from time to time. We had nothing but that. It was a big thing for us to even go to those bookstores for that fanzine. For example, I remember when it came to Istanbul. When it was said you can find it there, I’d buy magazines, give them to my friends, or try to sell them. It was very important to us. You’re trying to get all the magazines out of the stand, to be sold in one way or another. Or you’re worried that the bookstore can say, “It’s not sold anyway, let’s not buy this.” You try to spread it after reading, leaving it on buses, leaving it in the parks, leaving it where we can go, where there are people, let someone else read it. It doesn’t have to be lubunya. Just let somebody read it.

Meanwhile, I was sent to prison for a while. When I went to prison, first of all, I felt so alone. My parents are coming to visit me, but the first place my lubunya was hit me so sharply was in prison. I was thrown into a solitary cell. I was thrown into a cell, not even a ward! They made a concrete bed, they put a thin bed on top of it, so they built something resembling a bed, they put a thin flatbed on top of it. It’s a brown blanket, half the toilet is open, and it’s concrete again. I had to stay there because I was in a closed, three-step place because I was transgender because they didn’t put me in a ward. I was so lonely. No family, no one I could reach, no one to communicate with, and Kaos was the first thing that came to mind. I told my parents, my sisters, to contact with Kaos, that “I’m in a prison like this and I’m in terrible circumstances.” In fact, I understood the importance of the organization that day. I always believed that, but that day was something different for me. Staying in that tiny place, people screaming next to me, and at the same time, there are the guards saying, “I don’t know how many people that guy killed”... Think, right next to you, next to you! I mean, there is a person that you don’t know how many people he killed, a man who’s out of his mind on the other side, you’re in the middle, and there’s no sun, nothing. You’re so despicable even when they serve your food. And they put me in a place with glass, where they can see me. You know, like the animals in the zoo, all the people come in, they look at them at certain times during the day and leave in the evening. That’s what they were doing to me. There were actually more interesting things on both sides of me, but I think I was more interesting to them. They were looking at me. The guards were harassing me with things like “How do you do that?” and such.

I think people should organize, should believe in organized struggle. And I wrote a letter to Kaos GL. I was on a hunger strike for nearly 20 days. No one knew! Just my family. I said I wasn’t going to eat. Either you get me in the ward, you get me in a proper place, or I’m going to die here. When I was at a really bad stage, the prosecutor came in. Even when the prosecutor said, “Why don’t you eat, why do you do this” I wept before I could talk anything, and my first response was, “Why are you putting me here?” My attitude and my resistance allowed me to be in the ward. And then, after I got out of there, in 2001 when Kaos GL first participated in May 1st, I read it in the paper and said, “Yes, I have to get myself together and go back to Kaos.”

Even though we were so insecure, it was a wonderful thing for us to be seen with banners in our hands, scared, not knowing what was going to happen to us every May Day. Here in those places, the way people look at us... Because you’re very few people, and many of them say, “What rights do the faggots have?” and despite all, there are people with banners marching all around. Marching with fun. Chanting “Mutiny!” while marching. I mean, these were beautiful. But being organized wasn’t a thing that anyone wanted. When you can run after so many koli[1]s out there when you can have fun, when you can live more secretly... Organizing was something that made you feel that you were more vulnerable to violence. So there was the though of, if you organize, if you open yourself up, if you say that’s who I am, you might get hurt. Today shows how right things have actually been done. This day shows that as you hide yourself or get scared, you’ll be hurt... You move forward as long as you exist, as you organize, as you stand together.

Click here for the book Trails.

Translation: Yiğit E. Korkmaz

[1] A word from Turkish queer slang language Lubunca, meaning sex or sex partner

Tags: human rights