The Books “Being a Queer in the 80s” and “Being a Queer in the 90s”

In Turkey, with the escalation of state violence during the 1970s and the bans that were introduced as part of the military coups, “other” identities were able to get organized only by the second half of the 1980s. They had to come together through “illegal means” in the first years of their organization. During this period, LGBTİ+ activism was under immense pressure by the government. Beyoğlu and Istiklal Street were important meeting points for LGBTI+ individuals. This is the reason why the first resistance movements were formed from these places. One of the first protests held by LGBTI+ individuals in a public space was the hunger strike launched by 37 gay and trans people on the stairs of the Gezi Park facing the Tarlabaşı Square in 1987 to protest harassments and police violence targeting LGBTI+ individuals.  Following these “first” protests that were held in public space, the media continued to portray LGBTI+ individuals as “the source of violence” in the 1990s. While TV stations were celebrating gay artists on their “entertainment” shows, trans sex workers were portrayed as “people who harm public morality, feed violence and prostitute themselves.” (Being a Queer in the 80s, February 2012)

Meanwhile, the LGBTI+ rights movement in Turkey was becoming a more visible social movement in the 1990s. LambdaIstanbul, the first organization of the LGBTI+ movement, which was formed in clubs, apartments and around the inner circle of the Green Peace Daily in the 80s, was founded in Istanbul in 1993. Kaos GL, the second LGBTI+ movement organization, was founded in Ankara in 1994. The Pride, which was organized for the first time under the name “Sexual Freedom Activities”, was prohibited by the state in 1993 and many international guests were deported. The Governorate also banned the international gay and lesbian conference organized by LambdaIstanbul between July 2 and 4, 1993 in Istanbul. The organization started to organize meetings that aimed to increase ideas sharing between homosexual people and develop a common language through shared experiences at the Club Prive. But these meetings were interrupted by the police most of the time. Against all these pressures, weekly meetings held at different places continued to bring together homosexual people. The Pride Conference was banned again in 1995.

Becoming more visible in the 2000s, the movement held the first Pride in 2003. 50 people participated in the march which would be attended by 11 thousand people in 2011. The largest Istanbul Pride March was held right after the Gezi Protest on June 30, 2013. (Hatırlayan Şehir: Taksim’den Sultanahmet’e Mekân ve Hafıza, 2019). On the other hand, in 2015, pride marches started to be banned again. This policy served a double purpose: It was a result of an urge to end any kind of protest or march before they even start, and curb the visibility of the LGBTİ+ movement which has always been a nuisance to Islamists with their visibility.

Scope and Purpose

Being a Queer in the 80s and Being a Queer in the 90s are two books of memory that were published following oral history studies carried out on the history of the LGBTI+ individuals by the Black Pink Triangle Izmir Association. Following the completion of oral history studies carried out with the Global Dialogue Foundation, the first of the book series was published in February 2012 and the second was published in March 2013 as part of the Black Pink Triangle History Series.

The founders of the Black Pink Triangle Izmir Association, who started to organize in September 2006 carry out their activities as an association since February 2009. Fighting for LGBTİ+ rights, the association also creates open-access sources on the personal and social histories of LGBTİ+ peoples which have been overlooked so far. Starting with the idea that there are not enough sources on the history of LGBTİ+ individuals in Turkey, the Black Pink Triangle Izmir Association describes the main goal of the oral history study that started in December 2010 as narrating and seeing the last 40 years in Turkey from the perspective of experiences and testimonies of LGBTİ+ individuals. The reason for choosing the period that covers the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s as the focus of the first book is to tell about the experiences of LGBTİ+ individuals before and after the 12 September military coup which has been a turning point for the political history of Turkey. Even though LGBTİ+ individuals were the target of discrimination and violence committed by the state’s security forces during the coup d’etat period, no extensive study has been conducted on the subject until recently. Another aim of this study is to memorialize the discrimination and rights violations faced by LGBTİ+ individuals within Turkey’s political history.

“Being a Queer in the 80s” provides a short historical context for the ‘80s and tells about the life stories of nine LGBTİ+ individuals as told by themselves. During the study, more than one semi-structured interview was held with most of the LGBTİ+ individuals (some of them refused to be interviewed and sometimes physical conditions made it impossible to conduct interviews). Several books and fanzines were used to confirm whether there are discrepancies between places and events that were mentioned in the interviews, and also to have more information. Moreover, the book also features photographs shared by the interviewees.

“Being a Queer in the 90s” is the second book of the series prepared by the association to develop LGBTİ+ historiography and create a memory. This time, 19 people shared their testimonies on how LGBTİ+ individuals got together for the first time and organized. The book mainly focuses on how practices such as the Pride of the 90s, the first organization experiences, the publishing of thematic magazines emerged and continued. The experiences of transgender people, who accelerated the LGBTİ+ movement from the streets, and Ülker Street[1] events are among the main topics of the book. The LGBTİ+ representation in mass media, the systematic violence and discrimination perpetrated against LGBTİ+ individuals by the state; details on places of socialization such as bars, clubs, Turkish baths and parks.

[1] This terminology is used for the violent attacks against LGBTi+ individuals and the events that followed in the Ülker Street in the Cihangir Neighborhood of Beyoğlu, Istanbul in the period before the “Habitat II” conference to be held in June 1996 in Istanbul.


The books Being a Queer in the 80s and Being a Queer in the 90s bring the legacy of the LGBTİ+ movement to the next generations, leaving a permanent mark. The books were freely distributed by the Black Pink Triangle Association. Being a Queer in the 80s can be accessed via the association’s website. Personal stories that were recounted in the books have been adapted to the theater by Ufuk Tan Altunkaya. Staged continuously at Mekan Artı since 2013 in Istanbul, the plays have been seen by thousands of people, thus many people had the opportunity to know trans people better and witness their lives. The plays have been staged in Izmir, Bodrum and Ankara and were staged twice in Berlin in 2016 and 2019.


Even though many years have passed since May 17, 1990, the date when the World Health Organization declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, severe stigmatization and discrimination against gays, bisexuals and trans people continue. LGBTİ+ individuals cannot disclose their sexual orientation or sexual identity. When they do, they lose their homes or jobs, face social pressure or discrimination, sometimes risk their lives or become victims of hate crimes. Yet, LGBTİ+ individuals are still identified as mentally ill, deviant, immoral and targeted by many individuals and institutions including the government or pro-government press. Thus, LGBTİ+ are forced to hide their identities, pretend like they’re someone else, all of which lead to depression and suicide. Many LGBTİ+ people, who disclose their sexual orientation or sexual identity, are humiliated, endure verbal or physical harassment or violence. Like in the case of Baki Koşar, most of the perpetrators in LGBTİ+ murder cases are unknown, or not investigated; and when they stand trial, they get unjust provocation abatement. When violence is justified, hate murders of gays or suicide cases increase. Turkey is the 9th country with the highest rate of trans murders in the world. To address and end homophobic, transphobic and hate speech, a series of policies should be implemented; state institutions, managers and officials in all ranks should abandon this mentality; hate crimes should be addressed in an egalitarian framework and included in the laws.

Moreover, the words of those who disclose their identity in the face of such risks, and tell about their history and personal stories cannot be circulated because of the dominant heterosexual, patriarchal, sexist and discriminatory ideology, and they cannot be included in historical accounts.

As for the project, the book was published on a limited budget. This had negative consequences nor in terms of content, but for the promotion of the book. Since the book is published as part of a civil society project, it cannot use professional distribution channels of a publishing house. Therefore, the book can only reach a limited audience with its content that could have reached more people if it had been in bookstores.