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Gay Pride and the Middle East: Is Turkey ready for Europe?

28th April 2016

Tel Aviv Pride, Israel’s (and indeed, the Middle East’s) only major LGBT parade, will take place this year on June 3rd. This will be part of the city’s 10th ‘Pride Week’ (in 18 years) celebration from the 29th May, expected to be the biggest in all of Asia.

The celebration is marked by 24 hour nightlife, shopping, food outlets and events including an open beach all week. Thousands are expected to attend in June; in 2014 an estimated 150,000 people took part in the parade. Given that Tel Aviv’s resident population is under 500,000, this is a phenomenal turnout.

High profile guests have not yet been announced, but it is expected that a host of Israeli celebrities and LGBT rights leaders from all over the world will make an appearance.

The aim of the event is to raise awareness and improve support for gay and LGBT populations not only in Israel, but across the Middle East. This comes in light of negative attitudes to homosexuality in Muslim countries. Homosexuality carries the death penalty in Iran and Saudi Arabia (and now parts of Iraq and Syria under the control of the Islamic State) as well as other severe punishments in most other nations in the region and many in Asia.

Given Israel’s more liberal attitudes to LGBT issues in comparison to the region’s Muslim states, it is the prime place for activists to attempt to improve the lives of gay and lesbian citizens in those Muslim countries which are not yet accepting. This is why Israel’s most liberal city, Tel Aviv, has been chosen by Gay Pride to host this event.

Given that Israel and especially Tel Aviv are considered ‘gay friendly’, you have to wonder if the organisers behind Gay Pride would take the bold decision to take on the Muslim states of the Middle East and demand an LGBT pride march. Israel already recognises same-sex marriages. There may be work to do, but the foundations are lain. What of Saudi Arabia? What of Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia, the UAE? Further afield, what of Pakistan, Afghanistan or Indonesia? Will the organisers of Gay Pride take to these Muslim countries to lay the foundations of equality?

More importantly: Will the EU’s new best friend, Turkey, offer to host Gay Pride any time soon? Or is Erdoğan’s Islamic regime still far behind the rest of Europe on social equality? Is Turkey ready for Europe?

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