Thousands of men, women and children gathered in Istanbul’s historic Taksim Square on Sunday for the annual gay pride festival only to face water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
“Where are you, my love?” sang one group of LGBT rights activists, waving rainbow flags and holding hands, swaying to the popular Turkish love song. “I am here, my love!”
Moments later, Turkish riot police aimed a water cannon into a crowd of people sending them running for safety as water pounded them from behind. Belongings flew off with the force of the water as people struggled to stay on their feet — a scene that caused several young police officers to laugh openly, mocking the drenched protesters.
It was just one of many assaults Sunday against peaceful gay pride participants, reportedly the first time in 13 years that the annual festival was forcefully dispersed.
Many people expressed confusion as to why the peaceful parade was blocked by police forces after more than a decade of successful gay pride marches. Just the week before, on June 21, a smaller transgender pride parade took place in roughly the same location without encountering police force.
Despite being squashed by police forces, Sunday’s pride festival was one of hope and acceptance for Turkey’s LGBT community and its growing group of allies. Even after police dispersed crowds from Taksim Square, people poured into side streets singing, dancing and chanting.