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Gay Rights Photo Essay

By Piotr Zalewski

According to a newly released report by Amnesty International, prejudice and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in Turkey is troublingly commonplace. Over 70 percent of LGBTs fear physical attacks. Last year alone, LGBT groups report, 16 people were killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender. (Since many hate crimes go unreported, the real number is believed to be much higher.) According to another study, 87 percent of Turks say they do not want gays as neighbors.

The government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), at the helm since 2002, has done little to help. Last year, Selma Aliye Kavaf, the minister for women’s and family affairs, claimed that homosexuality was “a biological disorder and a disease that needs treatment.” The AKP has not passed a single law to protect sexual minorities. Likewise, it has refused to amend article 10 of Turkey’s constitution, which promises equality irrespective of language, race, sex or religion, but makes no reference to sexual orientation.

Earlier this month, the AKP rolled to a third consecutive victory at the polls. Its leadership has pledged to adopt a new, fully democratic constitution to replace the one drafted by a military junta in 1982. Turkey’s LGBT community intends to use the constitutional-reform process to draw attention to its quest for equality, and has launched a campaign for equal employment opportunities, protection from hate crimes, and non-discrimination legislation.

The photos below were taken at a Gay Pride parade that drew thousands of marchers to central Istanbul last weekend.

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Protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square unfurl a giant rainbow flag, a symbol of the LGBT community.

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A man holds a banner depicting Ahmet Yildiz, who was murdered last year, allegedly by members of his own family. Newspapers have described the case as Turkey's first “gay honor killing.”

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“The pervasive prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Turkey and the fear of ostracism and attacks, means that many feel compelled to conceal their sexual orientation, even from their families,” says Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey.

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Transgender women in Turkey, often denied regular employment and forced to turn to sex work as a result, are among the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community. The vast majority of transgender sex workers are exposed to abuse on a regular basis, be it at the hands of clients, gangs, or policemen. Nearly every transgender woman interviewed by Amnesty International in early 2011 described being subjected to extreme violence – including sexual violence – during police detention over the past few years.

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Turkey's first gay pride parade, which took place in 2003 in Istanbul, is said to have attracted only a few dozen participants. This year's parade-goers numbered in the thousands.

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At this year’s parade, two women—one wearing the traditional Muslim headscarf—danced to a tango tune.

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Piotr Zalewski is an editor at European Stability Initiative and a correspondent for Polityka, Poland’s best-selling news magazine.  His article about Turkey's foreign policy, "A Self-Appointed Superpower," appeared in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of World Policy Journal.

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Beth and Tanya waited at the altar while their guests walked towards them down an aisle of autumn leaves. Matt arranged the wedding before Paul had said yes. Kylie’s dad gave a sermon for her and Rosalie. Govind and Adrian tied a gold knot around each other’s necks. Stephen and Dan had an instant attraction but waited 13 years for the big day. Some of Michelle and Georgia’s former pupils came too.

These wedding stories are all special and yet in their same way familiar. They all involve Australians. And yet, because Australia has yet to legalise same-sex marriage, there is one thing they don’t have in common. Either the weddings were held abroad; or they were held as ceremonies in Australia, aside from a legal marriage which took place elsewhere or not at all.

Daggy parties and love letters: neighbours unite for marriage equality

Their stories have been told with the help of a group of national wedding photographers who have come together to send a strong visual yes message for the same-sex marriage postal survey. Steering away from the detail of politics, the images put forward by the photographers show a simple story: commitment, family, love.

“Many of us have been shooting same-sex marriages, commitment ceremonies and families for many years,” said Alan Moyle, master of photography, following the AIPP Australian Professional Photography awards held in Melbourne. “We also have members in our photographic community who would love to get married too. From a general human rights perspective it’s about time that everyone was represented and able to marry who they want.”

  • Photographs courtesy of Alan Moyle / Photobat

Adrian van Raay and Govind Pillai

Fairfield amphitheatre, Melbourne, February 2015

Adrian: Govind proposed to me three years ago when we were on holiday in Paris in summertime; we were having a picnic at the Eiffel Tower. There was an orchestra and a big celebration with fireworks for Bastille Day. They were also celebrating same-sex marriage becoming legal in France. It was perfect timing. Govind proposed with antique rings he’d selected that reflected our personalities. It was an amazing surprise for me, but it was very well thought out by him – he’d even spoken to my parents first. Because marriage wasn’t legal here in Australia, Govind chose his words carefully – he couldn’t say will you marry me, he said, “Will you be my fiance?”

Knowing we couldn’t legally get married we had to think in great depth about what marriage meant to us – probably more than most have to. We already had a house together and could change our names, but for us we felt that the purpose of a wedding is to make a public declaration in front of our family and friends. We could have done it in New Zealand but we knew many of our families may not be able to make it.

Govind and I designed our ceremony together – being a same-sex wedding, in hindsight, we had a blank canvas. With Govind’s Indian heritage, we brought in elements of western culture such as personalised vows, the exchange of rings, as well as Hindu and southern Indian customs. We used a really beautiful tradition from Kerala where our sister-in-laws-to-be on both sides of the family and Govind and I tied a knot each in gold thread around each other’s necks – it signified becoming part of each other’s families. It was really important that our friends and family were involved in the ceremony as much as possible. Our mothers walked us down into the amphitheatre and our dads were there to greet us – they both gave very touching speeches. It was deeply moving to be surrounded by all our beautiful family and friends against such a public backdrop. Especially being a same-sex relationship, considering 10 years ago our families didn’t know about our relationship.

To make our ceremony legally binding we consulted a family lawyer – to give us the same legal rights as a married couple we signed eight legal documents. The signing was so complicated and long that our friends had to repeat the song they were playing three times. It makes you realise that a marriage certificate is a convenient, off-the-shelf solution.

  • Photographs courtesy of Jacinta Oaten / ’Til Death Weddings

Kylie Schmidt and Rosalie Dow-Schmidt

Martinborough, New Zealand, January 2015

Rosalie: We got married in a tiny town called Martinborough, which is just out of Wellington. It’s pretty easy to get married in New Zealand compared with Australia. Martinborough is famous for its wineries, which suited us well – it is very picturesque. We really wanted a church wedding and the Presbyterian church was happy for us to use their space, which was a sweet little wooden chapel.

We had hymns, prayers and a sermon, which was to do with our understanding of marriage within the Christian tradition. There are so many different ways to define marriage, but for us it was a kind of spiritual ritual. In the same way that I understand a baptism to be a public declaration of commitment to Jesus, with the support of the church, I understand a wedding to be a public declaration of commitment to my wife, with the support of my church and family. As a part of that we had readings from the Bible, prayers and a message that provided us and our guests with some spiritual guidance. My dad is actually a Uniting Church minister, and so he preached that day.

We didn’t just focus on the spiritual side of things. We walked down the aisle, each flanked by our parents, toClose Your Eyes by Michael Bublé, and my sister sang a cover of Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran. Then as we left we played some of our favourite R&B tunes. I tried to dance and tripped over my dress and Kylie had to catch me, which was pretty symbolic of our relationship – I’m always the clumsy one! It was everything we had imagined it would be, and so much more. I’ve never been so happy in my life than I was when Kylie and I were saying our vows to each other. It just felt so right.

I was so glad that all my family came. When I had come out several years previously, my family had had the same response many conservative Christians would, which was quite negative. So to have them there at my wedding showed a huge amount of growth, from all of us.

One of my the memorable moments was just after the service my little sister, who was nine at the time, came running over and exclaimed, “Now I have three sisters!”, which was especially adorable.

  • Photographs courtesy of Benjamin Lynch / Blue Tulip Imaging

Stephen Boustouler and Dan Conroy

The Fig Tree Restaurant, Byron Bay, New South Wales, March 2017

Stephen: Dan and I met in London. I’m originally from the UK. Dan had only been in London a few months. It was an immediate attraction and we both knew early on that this was forever. Thirteen years on, we got married.

Having lived in Sydney since 2008, we really wanted to get married in Australia. We’d been waiting and hoping we could get married at the end of last year but realised because of politics it wasn’t going to happen.

Because I was from the UK, we were fortunate enough to get married in the British consulate in Sydney. It was odd though, because you’re essentially in a bureaucratic office; it was just down the road from our work. We then had a ceremony later in Byron. It was important for us to celebrate with our families and friends, especially having both lived on the other side of the world away from our families. We have been taken in by each other’s parents for holidays and Christmases, and treated like another son. It’s really nice. Both of our parents have always been super-supportive of us.

My family flew out to Sydney a week before the ceremony and then we flew to Byron for four days. The venue has amazing views and a massive fig tree in the garden. It was the most spectacular day. It was all outside so we couldn’t have asked for better weather, especially as it had been raining non-stop until we got to Byron. It was perfect sunshine.

The coming together of our families was by far the best thing. To be able to stand up in front of our families and declare how we felt with each other was extremely special. To look over during our vows and see tears of happiness in our mothers’ eyes and to see the smiles on everyone’s faces was just awesome.

It is wonderful being married. I was shocked at how different I feel towards Dan, not more in love, but more aware of my love for him. To feel the weight of the ring and to see it and play with it is a constant connection to that feeling. It has had a massively positive effect on me as an individual and on our relationship. I’m not really someone who has historically been affectionate or true to my feelings, but I feel like I have fundamentally changed as a person and how I interact with Dan. It’s super-special. The only problem was that the wedding went too quickly – we wish we could do it all again.