Religious Freedom: Turkish popstar Gülşen arrested over joke

Image: Gülşen Instagram

Turkish popstar Gülşen, a prominent LGBT ally, is languishing in an Istanbul prison cell after her arrest for some onstage banter with a band member which offended bigots.

As though more evidence was needed that religious freedom is generally code for religious dictatorship.

Following her first hits in 1996, Gülşen went on to become a leading Turkish singer/songwriter, the first to achieve 200 million views of a music video on YouTube. However, the religious right despises her for her queer allyship. Her glamourous stage costumes and actions like unfurling rainbow flags during concerts inspire constant complaints.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces both presidential and parliamentary elections in ten months. The authoritarian leader confronts a volatile electorate. Turkey, like numerous other countries, currently suffers from a post-COVID and post-Russian-invasion-of-Ukraine economic malaise.

Riling up the religious base is of course a go-to for strongman leaders. Since taking power in 2002, Erdoğan relentlessly undermined the founding principles of the once proudly secular state and transformed Turkey into his own theocratical fiefdom. He frequently vilifies the LGBTQIA+ communities who he describes as “against the values of our nation.”

In 2021, Turkish police broke up an attempted Pride parade by firing plastic bullets at marchers.

In 2018, the country boycotted Eurovision over the inclusion of queer performers.

That’s where his perversion comes from

During an April concert, Gülşen bantered with a band member about attending a religious school (İmam Hatip) in his youth.

“He studied at an İmam Hatip previously. That’s where his perversion comes from.”

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also attended an İmam Hatip.

A pro-government newspaper consequently posted footage of the banter to social media prompting a flood of calls for the singer’s arrest.

Gülşen apologised to anyone offended by the joke but denied accusations of inciting hatred.

On August 25, police arrested the singer and charged her with ‘inciting hatred and enmity or humiliation’. They rejected a request to release her ahead of her trial.

A ruling party spokesman rejected accusations of police overreach.

“Inciting hatred is not an art form.”

Except, of course, inciting hatred against the queer community. That apparently is presidential.

Ah, yes. Religious freedom. The freedom to do as you’re told.


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A post shared by Gülşen (@gulsen)

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at

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