http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/07/22/how-gay-rights-advance-democracy-in-the-middle-east/LGBT activists are in the vanguard of the struggle against the region’s dictators and theocrats
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Last month’s massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando launched a heated debate about the relationship between Islam and homosexuality, and more acutely, about the prevalence of a virulent homophobia in the Islamic world. But in the Middle East, this debate began long before Orlando. LGBT people in this part of the world have been battling for their rights for years, and not without casualties.

Across the region, sexuality has become one of the main battlegrounds in the broader confrontation between advocates for democracy and human rights on the one hand and authorities and conservative religious forces on the other....

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s drive to concentrate power in his own hands is being accelerated in the wake of last week’s failed coup attempt...

Since his ascent to power in 2003, discrimination has become widespread. Its manifestations range from public homophobic statements by ruling party officials — one former minister in 2010 labelled homosexuality “a biological disease” ...

...In response, LGBT activists have found solidarity with other marginalized groups and civil activists who reject Erdogan’s authoritarian drive and seek a Turkey that is tolerant, diverse, and respectful of individual liberties...

...The LGBT movement was particularly active in organizing rallies and workshops during the protests, presenting itself as a key civil society actor and opposition force. To increase visibility within the protests, various LGBT groups and activists formed an umbrella organization....up to 100,000 people took part in Istanbul’s Pride Parade in June 2013, and again in 2014. While it has been an annual fixture since 2003, Istanbul’s pride march had barely been able to gather a few thousand people prior to the Gezi protests. The overt presence of the LGBT movement during the protests laid the foundations for solidarity with likeminded groups and activists.

In the wake of these successes, Turkey’s LGBT movement became an important avenue through which Turks — and not just members of the LGBT community — could openly voice their dissent from Erdogan’s policies at a time when such avenues are being closed off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Turkish authorities banned Istanbul’s Pride Parade in 2015, and maintained the ban this year....

In Turkey, the LGBT question has become a focal point of tension between pro-democratic and its authoritarian political forces. The same pattern has been repeated in other Middle Eastern countries. LGBT activists in Lebanon, Egypt, and Tunisia have diligently sought alliances with other civil society actors by articulating their messages to broaden their struggle and gain a wider appeal....

Enmeshing the struggle for LGBT rights with the broader push for democratic reform and human rights was a natural progression, given the conservative environment in the Middle East....

These are not just victories for the LGBT community, but for all in the Middle East who seek reform based on shared democratic values. The LGBT movement is not only alive in the Islamic world, but is a leading challenger of the region’s extremists and autocrats alike.

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