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.
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