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Organizers cancel speech by ‘gay imam’ Mohamed Zahed in İstanbul

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A speech that was planned to be given in İstanbul in November by Dr. Ludovic Mohamed Zahed, a French-Algerian imam and scholar of Islam who is an openly gay Muslim, was canceled after he was targeted by anti-LGBTQ groups in Turkey, local media reported on Thursday.

The anti-LGBTQ groups also called for a boycott of the brands sponsoring Brand Week – İstanbul, the event scheduled for Nov. 7-11 at which Zahed was to speak, including Turkish bank Garanti BBVA and media sponsors Bloomberg HT, Habertürk and Show TV.

Born in Algeria in 1977, Zahed is the founder of an Islamic prayer room in Paris, with the goal of accommodating the LGBT and feminist Muslim communities. He also founded the LGBT Muslim association Homosexuel(les) musulman(es) de France (Muslim Homosexuals of France) (HM2F) in 2010 and manages the Calem Institute in Marseille.

The development comes after hundreds of people attended an anti-LGBTQ rally Sunday in İstanbul, answering a call from dozens of conservative associations.

The participants carried banners with slogans such as “Protect your family and your generation” and urged a ban on associations defending the rights of gay and transgender people, whose own rallies have been banned in recent years.

That move drew a storm of protest from human rights groups.

Opponents of the march took to the internet to flood social media with messages such as “No to the march of hate” in solidarity with LGBTQ backers.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, in 1858, it is widely frowned on by large segments of society, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, while same-sex couples are not legal.

One minister previously referred to gay people as “deranged.”

Last year the government withdrew from the Istanbul Convention on protecting women’s rights, claiming it encouraged homosexuality and threatened the traditional family structure.

In addition, after İstanbul had hosted more than 100,000 people for a Gay Pride march in 2014, it has since clamped down on similar gatherings, citing security issues.

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