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Politics in the Piyasa

Marching, Marketing and the Emergence of Gay Identities in Istanbul

Samuel Williams

The emergence of gay identities in Istanbul is often regarded as a practical result of mobilisation by minority sexual rights NGOs. Indeed, Istanbul Pride emerged in the early 2000s as a widely-referenced exemplar of the political promise of street-level activism in Turkey. Tracing how gay initially was used in the nightlife market around İstiklal Street and reconstructing the early history of agitation for an annual Pride march, I argue that street traders and small-scale entrepreneurs, not street-level campaigners, have played the critical role in prising open spaces where men could come to identify themselves and be identified as gay. Moreover, spaces afforded by particular fixed-place businesses in the nightlife market critically shaped the initial forms of political association involving gay men that were able to develop and consolidate in the city.