Yesterday, at the very last minute, the Turkish authorities banned Istanbul Pride. A peaceful celebration of difference and diversity was savagely dispersed by water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas, the weapons of choice for the Turkish State. Memories of Gezi Park came flooding back. It seems the holy month of Ramadan was the feeble excuse offered up by the Police. Yet, last year’s march also occurred during Ramadan and passed off without incident. Perhaps this was the last hurrah of a president on the skids. I do hope so. Watch the footage of a young man waving a rainbow flag being blown clear off his feet by a water cannon. Is this the image of a modern Turkey President Erdogan wants to convey to the world?
Ray Cole from Kent was recently released early from a Moroccan prison after receiving a four month sentence for ‘homosexual acts’. Mr Cole had struck up an online friendship with a local Moroccan man and popped over to see his new beau in the flesh (as it were). Nobody else’s business, you might think. You’d be wrong. The couple were arrested at a bus stop, after which the Police apparently found incriminating images on Mr Cole’s phone. Like most African and Moslem countries, homosexuality is illegal in Morocco. Mr Cole knew this but went there anyway. After all, Morocco isn’t Saudi Arabia or Iran where execution is de rigeur. It was, I guess, a calculated risk. The North African kingdom has a reputation for a relaxed don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude, particularly for Western foreigners who indulge in the many exotic pleasures that the country has to offer. But discretion is the order of the day. Moroccan life, like so many others around the world, spins on hypocrisy. Why were Mr Cole and his young paramour targeted? Who knows? My suspicion is that they were unlucky. I doubt the Moroccan authorities have any wish to deliberately upset Europe or damage the tourist trade. Mr Cole was released after a concerted legal and PR campaign by his family. A week later, his partner in ‘crime’ was also released. So that’s something, I suppose. There are many lessons in this sorry tale. Keeping the camera out of the bedroom would be the first on my list.
Thirty years ago, the National Union of Miners (NUM) was in a desperate battle with the Thatcher Government to save their livelihoods and their communities. It was a war of attrition that went on for twelve long months. It was also during the dark days of the gay ‘plague’ with John Hurt scaring the life out of OAPs with crashing tombstones every night on national TV and a certain fire and brimstone chief constable saying that gay people were ‘swirling in a human cesspit of their own making.’ Believe me, it was no fun on the picket line or the dance floor. The Police had a habit of raiding both. At the time, I was living with a quantity surveyor who was neither ‘out’ at work or to his family. What sexuality has to do with counting bricks I shall never know but that was the way back then – most closets were firmly locked from the inside. Society had a habit of making hypocrites of us all. I was his guilty secret (needless to say, he wasn’t mine).
So what do striking miners have in common with dancing queens? Not very much you might think. I didn’t think so either until I saw Pride, a new BBC Film by Marcus Warchus, the new Creative Director at the Old Vic. On general release today, this funny and illuminating movie is based on the true story of a small group of London activists who raised money to help the families of the strikers. They called themselves ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ and they did exactly what it said on the collecting tin. Officially, the über-straight, blue collar, backs-to-the-wall-lads NUM weren’t too keen on accepting the support of a gaggle of dirty pervs, even during the worst of times. So the brave pervs took their cause direct to the coal face by sprinkling a little fairy dust (and quite a lot of cash) on a small Welsh mining village. Cue the considerable talents of some seasoned pros (Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy) who know how to deliver a line or two and some gifted fresh faces to inject a dash of youthful angst and exuberance. The clash of cultures is pure magic. Moving without being sugary, political without being preachy, candid without being gratuitous and clever without being patronising, the film is a joy to watch and one of the best British films I’ve ever seen. Really, it’s that good.
As a rainbow of protesters re-occupies Taksim Square after it was once again cleared with tear gas and water cannon by the Turkish police, how will it all end? I hope for the best but fear the worst. Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly paranoid nonsense about foreign devils and domestic subversives attempting to wreck the Turkish economy may play well to the party faithful but global capitalism has no morals and abhors instability. As foreign investment takes flight to safer climes, he may be forced to eat his words as the crisis starts to hit his big business cronies where it most hurts – in their pockets.
In the meantime, some people may be put off by what they’ve seen and heard and are rethinking their travel plans. Please don’t be. Despite the troubles, Turkey remains one of the safest holiday destinations around. Tourism in free fall will hit the livelihoods of countless small family-run businesses that rely on the summer rush to see them through the whole year. It will cause genuine hardship and won’t make one iota of difference to the shiny suits in Ankara. If Liam and I weren’t already booked for sunny Spain, we would be parachuting in to Bodrum to show our support.
Our former foster home is covered in a veil of tear gas. What began as a peaceful campaign against the destruction of a city centre park to make way for yet another shopping centre has spread to a wider national protest against the creeping authoritarianism of the current Turkish Government led by the charmless bruiser Erdoğan. Watch out, my Turkish friends, he’s not exactly noted for his listening skills. Is the ruling AK Party determined to implement Islamism by stealth? I don’t know. But telling women how many babies to have, branding all drinkers as alcoholics and demanding that the Dutch Government removes a baby from a lesbian couple (because “homosexuality is contrary to the culture of Islam.”) isn’t liberalism either. Erdoğan is the most popular leader in recent Turkish history, freely elected. Democracy may be a flawed political system but it’s probably the best we have. A word of warning, though. Be careful who you vote for. It might not be quite what you had in mind. This image says it all: