Among the world's largest cities in Muslim nations, the Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul (population 13.1 million), is easily the most accepting of gays and lesbians. That being said, Istanbul's GLBT community is still fairly discreet compared to other major cities in Europe, and despite successfully staging a Pride March since the mid-'90s, participants in the city's 2015 Istanbul Gay Pride Festival (Istanbul Onur Haftasi) on June 28 were attacked by police officers with pepper spray and water cannons.
Now in its 14th year, Istanbul's Turkish Gay Pride week has quickly become a major event drawing thousands of participants, and despite the unfortunate events of last year, organizers have planned to come back in 2016 stronger than ever. Istanbul Gay Pride takes place this year from June 20 to June 26, 2016, and it consists of a variety of GLBT arts and cultural events, including films, health and political discussions, Bear Pride events, dance workshops, a picnic, and several parties and other gatherings.
Pride Week in Istanbul culminates on Sunday, June 26, with the Istanbul Gay Pride March, on İstiklal Caddesi Taksim (İstiklal Avenue), one of the most prominent and fashionable neighborhoods in the city. And although police attempted to put a damper on last year's celebration, it's safe to say that the resulting worldwide publicity from the Erdogan government's attempts at shutting down the event will only spur Istanbul LGBT activists to stage even bigger, louder, and more conspicuous Gay Pride march in 2016.
Last year, the marchers continued to rally and stand up for LGBT rights in Istanbul's central Taksim district during what's generally considered to be the largest Gay Pride event in a Muslim nation, despite the heavy-handed tactics of local government authorities. The strong-armed efforts to suppress Istanbul's Pride celebration last year appear directly related to efforts by conservative Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to gain favor with the country's far-right voters, but although attitudes throughout Turkey remain largely opposed to gay rights, Istanbul continues to cultivate a growing and increasingly visible LGBT community, and many in the nation's largest city - especially younger residents - are quite accepting of gays and lesbians.
Istanbul Gay Resources
For more on the gay scene in Istanbul, check online resources, such as the Istanbul Gay Guide at IstanbulGay.com and the NightTours Gay Guide to Istanbul. For general travel information on visiting Istanbul, have a look at the visitor site produced by the country's official tourism organization, the Turkish Culture and Tourism Office.