Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights in Turkey

Updated: Jan 15, 2019

By Seden Hortoglu


This paper will examine and address a fundamental human rights issue: the discrimination and violence lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexuals (LGBT) citizens face in Turkey. The central aim of this paper is to respond to two basic questions:


Why does the LGBT community face discrimination in Turkish society?


How can we decrease discrimination and harassment towards LGBT people in Turkey?


That being said, even though LGBT people are becoming stronger and more visible in Turkey, they are still facing violence, attacks, abuse and discrimination on a daily basis. Honor crimes against LGBT are believed to be a way of keeping the ‘honor’ of the family intact. Kaos GL, a Turkish LGBT rights organization, tracked 16 “hate crime” murders of gay men and transsexual people in Turkey in 2010 alone. (www.lgbtinewsturkey.com/2013/09/11/2012-report-of-human-rights-violations-based-on-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity/)


Homofin, is a herbal treatment, which claims to influence hormones. The manufacturer states: ‘It is now up to you to be or not to be a homosexual”. Homofin’s site even encourages mothers, who suspect their sons are gay, to buy these capsules and secretly dissolve the drug in their food. The government has yet to take any legal action to get this unethical, unscientific drug off the market.(http://www.mambaonline.com/2014/01/03/gay-cure-pills-condemned/)


In addition, police officers regularly arrest LGBT people on the accusation of prostitution. Sexual orientation or gender identity is often used as a basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention. Critics say these actions are a way of putting pressure on the LGBT community. Most LGBT people that have experienced such incidents do not report this misconduct; they know that those responsible will never be punished.


To this day, there are many obstacles LGBT activists face on social networking sites and the

internet in general. One example is that websites of LGBT associations are regularly hacked by religious groups.


While the government plays dumb, the fundamental rights of LGBT people are being violated, especially their right to private life. Homosexuals are increasingly targeted, also in hate speeches made by government officials. In 2010, Selma Aliye Kavaf, the Minister for Women and Family, classified homosexuality as a biological disorder and a disease which needed to be cured. Further, in response to the question ‘when Turkey is going to have openly gay ministers’ the mayor of Ankara, Ibrahim Melih Gokcek stated ‘ if god willing (insallah) in our country there are no gay and will never be’ when he was asked ‘when Turkey is going to have openly gay ministers’. Even more so, the fact that Prime minister Erdogan has never mentioned homosexuality or LGBT people during his service is a clear sign that the government should be blamed for the violence and harassment against LGBT people; by being passive, the government clearly shows their toleration of homophobic and transphobic attitudes.


Moving forward, The Universal Declaration which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10th 1948 passed with a vote of 48 in favor (Turkey being one of them), zero against and eight abstentions. Article 1 of the Universal Declaration states that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood’. However, the rights of LGBT people are ignored and not mentioned in the Turkish constitution’s prohibition of discrimination or the social and civil rights. (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/)


Meanwhile, LGBT groups are pushing their agenda forward in order to include protection against gender/sexual orientation discrimination in the Turkish Constitution and have some support from outside the LGBT community. The LGBT activists campaign for equality before law.


On the 30th of June 2013, the gay pride parade attracted almost 100.000 people. This was seen as a positive development by LGBT activists. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/world/europe/protests-squelched-gay-rights-march-brings-many-in-turkey-back-to-the-streets.html?_r=2& )


On the other hand, Gezi resistance which started on 27th May 2013, was an anti-government struggle against injustice and cruel and inhuman intervention of the Turkish police. The protesters demanded freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the removal of all barriers between the citizens and their right to education and health service, as well as protesting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.. During the Gezi struggle, LGBT people got a chance to show that they are normal and harmless human beings, and do not warrant that people are afraid of them. Gezi remains an event that has sent a clear message to everyone : ‘the struggle of the people in Gezi Park was a battle for democracy and rights for all’.(http://roarmag.org/2014/01/gezi-ottoman-turkish-nationalism/)


A momentous decision was taken when People’s Democratic Party (HDP) freshly nominated five LGBT activists. Furthermore, the Republican People’s Party member and also LGBT activist Öykü Evren Sözen has announced her candidacy once again from Bursa Osmangazi district city. Another big step was made when Can Cavusoglu, an openly gay independent candidate, publicly announced that he is running to become a mayor in Giresun’s district of Bulancak in the March 2014 local election. He declares himself gay, activist, writer, thinker, painter humanist and women’s rights activist. (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/hdp-pledges-diversity-with-its-party-assembly.aspx?pageID=238&nid=57005)


Being Gay, bisexual or transsexual is seen as an “illness” by religious groups. Hate crime is a daily reality throughout Turkey. Islam being the dominant religion in Turkey is one of the reasons why there are anti-gay actions. Religious clerics state that homosexuality is a test. If you are not able to stand the temptation, you will go to hell. If you resist, you will be pardoned and go to heaven.  In Turkey, there are many religious people who believe that Islam’s position regarding LGBT people would be to apply the death penalty (http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/321419/pinoyabroad/

worldfeatures/gay-muslims-in-turkey-torn-between-religion-and-sexuality)


To conclude, the government in Turkey has to introduce a new constitution containing greater human rights protection.  An anti-discrimination law to protect LGBT is a necessity.


In this way, the discrimination in society will not only decrease but will also reduce the long-established judicial practice of giving penalty reductions based on unjust provocation in hate-motivated killing of LGBT people. Currently, the perpetrators continue to be rewarded by the judiciary. LGBT people will continue to be targets if the LGBT are not seen to be equal before the law. The demands of LGBT people for equality and protection under the law, full justice and freedom for LGBT people should be accomplished. This year was utterly a difficult one, marked by several hardships the LGBT had to endure, such as killing attempts, ill treatment, rape and cyber attacks. Thus, I reckon a proper end of my article would be a very inspiring line from Nazim Hikmet’s invitation poem: “To live like a tree single and at liberty and brotherly like the trees of a forest.


Bibliography

1.  http://lgbtinewsturkey.com/2013/09/11/2012-report-of-human-rights-violations-based-on-sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity/

2.  http://english.alarabiya.net/en/life-style/art-and-culture/2013/08/07/Homosexuals-in-Turkey-want-to-break-taboos-.html

3.  http://www.amnesty.org/en/appeals-for-action/end-discrimination-against-lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-people

4.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/world/europe/protests-squelched-gay-rights-march-brings-many-in-turkey-back-to-the-streets.html?_r=0

5.   http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/turkey/111011/honor-killings-target-turkeys-lgbts

6.   http://www.mambaonline.com/2014/01/03/gay-cure-pills-condemned/

7.   http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/321419/pinoyabroad/worldfeatures/gay-muslims-in-turkey-torn-between-religion-and-sexuality

8.   http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

9. http://contemporaryworldliterature.com/blog/poetry/davet-2/

10. http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/turkey/130914/can-cavusoglu-wants-be-turkeys-first-openly-gay-mayor

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