Competing sexual citizenships: LGBTQ Activism in Puerta del Sol and Gezi Park. Pablo Pérez Navarro, University of Coimbra 1 - PDF

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Competing sexual citizenships: LGBTQ Activism in Puerta del Sol and Gezi Park Pablo Pérez Navarro, University of Coimbra 1 These people rose against the government during Gezi. Anonymous police officer.

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Competing sexual citizenships: LGBTQ Activism in Puerta del Sol and Gezi Park Pablo Pérez Navarro, University of Coimbra 1 These people rose against the government during Gezi. Anonymous police officer. We know were you live now. They ll release us anyway: You ll have to deal with the consequences. This was the threat that Kemal Ördek, an LGBT and sex workers rights activist, received from his assailants at the police station in Istambul, one month and a half ago. He was, in that moment, making statement at the police station, right after three men robbed him and raped him in his own home. After commenting These people rose against the government during Gezi the police officers released the assailants who, nowadays, continue to harass the activist. This kind of scene is not rare at all in contemporary Turkey. Impunity of hate crimes against LGBT people (and sex workers) seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Sometimes, it is the police who exercises violence against them. This year s LGBT pride march in Istambul was a good example. The authorization of the demonstration was retired at the last minute. Then, the police blocked the streets surrounding its departure point, Taksim Square, and attacked the participants using water cannons, pepper gas and rubber bullets. Although this sequence of events involves many layers of explanations, there is one that comes unavoidably to mind. Since the occupation of Taksim Square in 2013 the 1 Paper presented in the panel Rocking the Boat: Changes in Political Participation in Crisis Era Southern Europe at the ECPR General Conference, Université de Montréal, August 2015 (28th August). This work has been developed within the project INTIMATE - Citizenship, Care and Choice. The Micropolitics of Intimacy in Southern Europe , funded by the European Research Council - Starting Grant n ( ), hosted by the Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra, under the coordination of Ana Cristina Santos. 1 participants of the LGBT pride have multiplied from about in 2012 up to An increase which is directly related with the role that LGBT activism played during the citizen uprising and, it would be hard to deny it, with the brutal repression of the pride march. In order to gain an understanding of the rapidly growing support for LGBT activism in Istambul, it seems important to understand the role played by LGBT activists during the occupation of Taksim square in What I will offer here is only a partial approach to it, in terms of the spatial politics involved in the settlement of the protest camp as a whole, on the one hand, and of the relation established between queer activism and the space of the protest, on the other. I will also refer to the occupation of Puerta del Sol in Madrid during the 15-M movement, two years before the Gezi uprising, so that the similarities - and differences- between the two scenarios may benefit a better understanding of both cases. To begin with, a preliminary question must be addressed: What is a camp? Heterotopian counter-cities. In 1967, Foucault dedicated a conference, entitled Of Other Spaces, to the concept of heterotopia. In it, he offered an account of certain spaces that work as a kind of effectively enacted utopias (Foucault, 1984: 86). Indeed, Foucault contrasted utopias, conceived as ideal and imaginary spaces, with heterotopias, thought of as places that introduce, in real space, those forms of radical alterity that we usually associate to the political and literary topic of utopias. The examples offered by Foucault are greatly diverse. They include disciplinary spaces such as the prison, along with others where the utopian element is easily identifiable, such as certain Jesuit colonies of the XVII century. However, all his heterotopias would share the property of establishing a critical relation with the space in which they emerge. It is there where their disruptive force relies, in the sense that they offer an alternative, and sometimes even a critical parody, to ordinary social spaces. This is the kind of relation that links Foucauldian heterotopias with our protest camps: their emergence entails the constitution of a spatial alterity which represents a radical alternative to everyday social, political and economic practices of the neoliberal city. In what follows, combining heterotopias with the, intimately related, definition of counter-spaces by Henri Lefebvre (as he puts it, counter-spaces are spaces of the city 2 which respond to the demands of a body transported outside itself in space, a body which by putting up resistance inaugurates the project of a different space, either the space of a counter-culture, or a counter-space in the sense of an initially Utopian alternative to actually existing real space, (Lefebvre, 1991: 349), I will refer to the protest camps as heterotopian counter-cities. A tent of one s own. Of course, there is a huge difference between utopias, conceived as merely imaginary spaces, and enacted ones. Precisely because heterotopias occupy a specific space where you can actually go, walk, eat, sleep, and gather with others in open assemblies, they are inevitably conflictual spaces. In this sense, they can be utopian and dystopian at the same time. The settlement of the feminist tent within Acampada Sol, in Madrid, during the occupation of Puerta del Sol Square by the 15-M movement is a good way to expose this kind of spatial and political complexity. As they themselves have explained (Feminismos Sol (2011)), through social networks, we tried to meet between us all really all- at the same place and at the same time in the middle of the crowd, but it was absolutely impossible. However, the intention and the necessity were more than evident. Shall we form a feminist block? yes!, was the excited answer. Finally, the gathering of feminist and queer activists was made possible thanks to the settlement of a tent of their own, paraphrasing Simone de Beauvoir. This tent provided a meeting point which was, at the same time, a convenient space of appearance for feminism within the encampment. One which was not received sympathetically by all the participants in the nascent movement. Just one day after the tent was settled, the huge feminist banner that was hanging from the front of one of the buildings of the square, with the slogan The revolution will be feminist, or it won t be was ripped off in an spontaneous action that was cheered by many of the observers (6). With this precedent, it is not a surprise that the feminist assembly was constituted, in terms of the inner organization of the movement, as a work group and, at the same time, as a commission. Work groups, on the one hand, were dedicated to the discussion of more or less specific topics and demands (economy, education, health, etc.). Commissions, on the other, were committed with the internal organization of the camp 3 (legal issues, infrastructures and the like). The unprecedented double status of the feminist assembly proves the double directionality of its political work: toward the outside of the counter-city raising up feminist demands within the frame of the 15M movement- and toward the space of the camp itself. This latter task entailed addressing issues such as the use of inclusive pronouns within the assemblies, organizing feminist workshops and, at a certain point, confronting different forms of sexual harassment. Possibly, one of the major lessons that the Feminist assembly taught to the movement as a whole was that the habitability of the camp for women and gender non-conforming people was not a given, but something to fight for. There was another group committed with the politicization of gender and sexuality within the movement, this time from a queer point of view: the Asamblea Transmaricabollo [ transfagdyke assembly] de Sol. The call for its formation was made at the feminist tent, which had already facilitated the gathering of queer activists, including myself. Initially, some conceived the new assembly as a subgroup of the feminist assembly and the consensus over its independence had to overcome repetitive resistances. When it was finally achieved, it signaled the emergence of a queer autonomous space within the 15- movement in a proper sense, favoring its visibility within the physical and virtual spaces of the movement. A political space which, pretty much like in the case of the feminist assembly, can be read as the irruption of a queer or feminist- heterotopia within the heterotopian counter-city. Moreover, if we take seriously the initial resistances to the appearance of both assemblies, and even to the latter in relation with the first one, we can start to see that these counter-spaces tend to relate to each other in complex ways, sometimes even acquiring some sort of a Russian doll-like structure (Pérez Navarro, 2014 : 91). In her speech in Occupy Oakland, Angela Davis contrasted the social movements of the last decades, which have primarily appealed to specific communities with the unity and inclusivity of an Occupy Movement which imagines itself from the beginning as the broadest possible community of resistance the 99%, as against the 1%. And she posed the most crucial question linking this imagined coalition with the effectively enacted one: how can we come together in a unity that is not simplistic and oppressive, but complex and emancipatory?.(davis, 2011). As I see it, the concept of heterotopia can help us to grasp the complex relation between the imagined, utopian unity and the enacted one. The political ambivalence of the concept allows us to highlight that this kind of coalitional 4 politics is, precisely, never a given nor a departure point but, rather, a possibility opened up by the unauthorized repetition, although at a different scale, of the challenge launched by the movement through its occupation of public space. In the same way that the movement as a whole poses an alternative, competing form of citizenship to what is perceived as a neoliberal hijacking of democracy, so do the proliferating minorities within the movement occupy spaces of their own within the space of the protest. This time, forcing an encounter between alternative forms of protest and competing claims for citizenship, posing the question of whether or not, or to what extent, they are going to be able to put into practice an effective coalitional politics in order to multiply their forces. During the first interventions of the Transmaricabollo Assembly at the general assembly of the encampment, even the mention of its name was received with nervous laughs, as if its very existence was some kind of joke. At the same time, openly hostile comments proliferated through the virtual spaces of the movement, mostly based on the supposed damage that such a group could represent for its public image. Needless to say, the political work of the assembly have also had to be, unavoidably, bidirectional. Fortunately, overcoming the initial resistances deserved the effort: from the days of the encampment until the present day, it serves is a meeting space where the response to the ongoing process of precarization and the regressions in fundamental rights is articulated using the strategies of queer activism, very often in coalition with other collectives, such as sex workers, feminists, antifascist networks or the squatter movement. Moreover, the assembly is one of the very few groups of Madrid denouncing the effects of austerity politics on the queer community, a commitment which is almost completely absent from institutionalized forms of LGBT activism in Spain. Queering the Gezi Resistance. From the point of view of queer spatial politics, the case of the LGBT blok at the Gezi Resistance in Istambul is, for different reasons, paradigmatic. The trigger of the mobilization, that is, the project of constructing a huge shopping center in the Beyoğlu district, was part of a process of gentrification of the area which had been in progress since at least the eighties. A process that already carried a memory of dispossession and displacement (Nahrwold & Bayhan, 2013: 134) for LGBT people, and which had been especially violent for transgender people. The new project was part of what has been 5 described as a conservative restructuring of public space (127) given that the Beyoğlu district is nowadays a point of encounter between diverse ethnic and sexual minorities. In particular, Gezi park was not only the last green area of the city center, but also a major gay cruising area, the republic of a proletarian and almost anarchist homosexuality which prefers the trees along Mete street to chic gay clubs, when in search for a quickie, a male prostitute, a love... (Pier, 2013). In this sense, Gezi was already a queer heterotopia before the uprising. It is no wonder, therefore, the presence, since the very beginning of the encampment, of a spontaneously-hung rainbow flag on one of the trees in Gezi Park which, as an academic and activist in the LGBT block explains, became our mark to find each other in the crowd. At least, until they properly occupied their own space, at a central corner of the park, under a banner bearing our name (Okçuoğlu, 2013). The activism of Gezi s LGBT blok was, like that of the aforementioned groups, also bidirectional. On the one hand, they participated in the global resistance against the neoliberal restructuring of the public space of the city, revealing that gentrification entailed an exclusionary restructuring of public spaces for LGBT and other minorities and, thus, an exclusionary construction of citizenship. In the words of Emrah Yildiz, an anthropologist from Harvard University: In order to ensure the safety and well-being of Turkey s youth and build his conservative generation through increased procreation ( at least three children per couple, he [Erdoğan] repeatedly ordered), commanded that Beyoğlu had to be cleansed, and the LGBTQ spaces dismantled. In other words, Erdoğan s larger renewal project has always been equally interested in generating capital accumulation and heterosexual procreation. (Yildiz, 2013) On the other hand, the blok conducted an inner work within movement, struggling against the use of homophobic slurs in their slogans (Pier, 2013) and building strong solidarity links between the diverse groups that had joined the protests (Okçuoğlu, 2013). The best proof of the success of these coalitions was the LGBT pride demonstration organized the very same year of Gezi uprising. Not only because it increased the number of participants from up to about attendants (Pearce, 2014 : 116), but also because the attendants were very visibly part of the different communities of the Gezi resistance (117). For all these, between other reasons, the emergence of a queer heterotopia at the encampment represented, for some, a transformative contribution to 6 the collective memory of LGBTQ people in Turkey, which may have opened up the possibility of thinking what was previously unthinkable (Okçuoğlu, 2013). No doubt about it, it is that opening what this year s repression of the pride march sought to erase. There are of course huge differences between the political contexts of Istanbul and Madrid. In Istanbul, LGBT rights belong to a somewhat distant horizon, even if same-sex sexual activity, per se, has never been a crime in Turkey (unlike in Spain, where it was prosecuted until the end of Franco s dictatorship). As an activist from Istanbul puts it: we re still fighting for our right to life, not even our civil rights just yet. (Carter, 2015).. Despite the differences, the parallelisms between the two contexts, in terms of the double directionality of queer activism within a massive citizen protest, of the processes of coalition building and the importance of the occupation of spaces of their own within the protest camp not only mimic each other, but also the ones of many other queer groups within the Occupy movements that have proliferated throughout the globe during the past four years. To finish with, I would like to go back to Foucault s essay and, more specifically, to one of his examples of heterotopias. Possibly the most metaphorical, poetic one. He ended his reflection by stating that the ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, he wrote, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates (Foucault, 1986 : 27). Given its tendency to travel from one city to another, the protest camp can be conceived as one of these heterotopian ships. And, if anything, queer activism irruptions in it has shown that stowaways are meant to play an important role when it comes to rocking the boat, making some of the necessary waves that boost our dreams of collective resistance. Bibliography Carter, W. (2015). Suffering and loss in Istanbul s transgender slum. Middle East Eye. Retrieved from Last accessed Davis, A. (2011). The 99 %: a community of resistance. The Guardian. Retrieved from Last accessed Foucault, M. (1986). Of Other Spaces. Diacritics, 16(1), Lefebvre, H. (1974). La producción del espacio. Revista de Sociología, 3, Nahrwold, J., & Bayhan, S. (2013). Gezi Resistance From a Spatial and Gendered Perspective. Anuari Del Conflicte Social, 3, Retrieved from Last accessed Okçuoğlu, B. (2013). The LGBT Block. In Talk Turkey Conference: Rethinking Life Since Gezi. Retrieved from Last accessed Pearce, S. C. (2014). Pride in Istanbul Notes from the Field. Sociologists Without Borders, 9 (1), Pérez Navarro, P. (2014). Queer Politics of Space in the 15-M Movement. Lambda Nordica, 19(2), Pier. (2013). LGBT movement and global protests - 2. Turkey. Il Grande Colibri. Omosessualità E Interculturalità. Retrieved from Last accessed Sol, F. (2011). Dossier de la comisión de feminismos de sol. Retrieved from file:///c:/users/ces_2/downloads/dossiercomisionfeminismos15m.pdf. Last accessed Yildiz, E. (2013). Cruising Politics. Sexuality and Solidarity after Gezi. Counter Punch, July. Retrieved from Last accessed
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