Turkish minister Suleyman Soylu dismisses student protesters as ‘LGBT+ perverts’

Turkish interior minister Suleyman Soylu speaking before members of the press

Turkey’s interior minister Suleyman Soylu has called student protesters “LGBT+ perverts” after a government loyalist was appointed to the head of their university.

Students and faculty at Bogazici University in Istanbul have protested president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s appointment of Melih Bulu as the university’s rector. Bulu has been linked to Erdoğan’s ruling party. 

Protesters have been calling for Bulu’s resignation and for the university to be allowed to elect its own president. 

The controversy intensified when four students reportedly laid down a piece of artwork that depicted the Kaaba alongside rainbow symbols commonly associated with the LGBT+ community. The students were later arrested for disrespecting the Kaaba.

On Sunday (31 January), Soylu tweeted that “LGBT+ perverts” had been detained for “disrespecting the Great Kaaba”. He repeated the slur today (2 February), saying on Twitter that the Turkish government would not tolerate “LGBT+ perverts who attempted to occupy the rector’s office”.

Suleyman Soylu’s harmful tweets is in the ‘public interest’

Twitter then placed Soylu’s tweet behind a notice warning that his message violated the social media’s rules around “hateful conduct”. The website said it decided to allow people to continue to view Soylu’s tweet on the grounds it was in the public interest to have access to a tweet by the elected politician.

The tweet comes just a day after Erdoğan made comments during an online address where he praised young people in his party for not being LGBT+. Speaking to young people in Turkey, Erdoğan said: “We’ll carry our youth to the future, not as LGBT+ youth, but like the youth from this glorious past.”

He continued: “You are not the LGBT+ youth. You are not the youth who vandalises, but you are those who mend those vandalised hearts.”

Protests rage across Turkey

Halk TV reported that police in Istanbul have used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a new demonstration against Bulu’s appointment. Police in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, have also dispersed a demonstration by students who gathered near the city’s main square in a show of solidarity with the Bogazici students. 

Halk TV reported that at least 69 demonstrators were detained as a result of the Ankara protests.