Turkish clothing chain bans LGBT symbols amid growing homophobia

Turkish clothing chain LC Waikiki has banned symbols linked to the LGBT+ community on its products, newspaper Sol reported on Wednesday.

In an email sent to a group of company employees under the subject line “Design bans”, LC Waikiki’s administration shared a list of LGBT+ symbols, such as rainbows, unicorns and figures resembling people from the LGBT+ community, that “should never be used”, Sol said.

The newspaper cited the administration’s justification behind the ban, saying it was disturbed by LGBT+ visibility generated by recent Pride Week events.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey, however its LGBT+ community has faced considerable hostility under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party. Turkish authorities have banned pride celebrations in the past few years citing “security concerns”.

Especially since the 2013 Gezi protests, which started in Istanbul but grew into a nationwide protest movement against increasing authoritarianism in Erdoğan's government, Ankara has turned to take harsher measures against all minorities, including LGBT+ people.

Turkey has also seen increased pressure on the LGBT+ communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ali Erbaş, president of Turkey's Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) spoke on the LGBT community while addressing the COVID-19 pandemic during a sermon on the first day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in April.

Erbaş falsely accused LGBT+ community as a source spreading the pandemic, and he said that “Islam curses homosexuality… Homosexuality brings with it illnesses and decay to lineage. Let’s work together to protect people from such evil.”

Controversial proposed legislation designed to reform, and critics say weaken, critical bar associations came out of Erbaş’s remarks which were first harshly slammed by The Ankara Bar Association.

The association later filed a criminal complaint against Erbaş, accusing him of hate speech. The bar association also accused Erbaş of not doing enough to tackle the abuse of children and feeding a hostile environment towards women and LGBT+ people. It said no one should be surprised if Erbaş were to incite men to burn women like witches.

“It all started with children drawing rainbows and hanging them to their windows during lockdown, an activity designed by school teachers for morale. They were then accused of LGBTI+ propaganda,” Istanbul-based lawyer Güley Bor said in a tweet at the time.

The next day, April 23, Turkey’s Children’s Day, the hashtag “LGBTI children exist” went viral over social media, many social media users tweeted photos of themselves as a child with rainbow drawings.

A day later, Erbaş gave his sermon targeting the LGBT community.