Source: Aslı Öktener Köse, “Yasemin Öz: Eşcinsel olmak seçilebilseydi, kimse bu kadar zulmü ve şiddeti seçmezdi,” (“Yasemin Öz: If being a homosexual were a choice, nobody would choose this much oppression and violence,”) T24, August 13, 2013, http://t24.com.tr/yazi/yasemin-oz-escinsel-olmak-secilebilseydi-kimse-bu-kadar-zulmu-ve-siddeti-secmezdi/7211
Yasemin Öz: If being a homosexual were a choice, nobody would choose this much oppression and violence.
One of the groups at the forefront during the Gezi Park protests was the LGBT. We followed them closely with their creative banners, extraordinary chants and rainbow flags in their hands.
To better understand the place of the LGBT movement and homosexuals in Turkey, we talked to lawyer Yasemin Öz who was given the Felipa de Souza award by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission this year.
Öz has had a significant role in the creating of legal reports and documents and the recording of rights abuses, as a part of the struggle for LGBT rights which she has been a part of for over 18 years. Contemporaneously she has also been one of the spokespersons and managers of the Justice for Pınar Selek campaign.
Chairman of the Board of Kaos GL Association Yasemin Öz, who defines herself as a ‘lesbian feminist’, talked to us about the Felipe de Souza award, being a homosexual in Turkey and the LGBT experience in Gezi.
“Pınar Selek and Members of Kaos GL encouraged me to accept the award”
-You have been given the Felipa de Souza award of International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission this year. Could you tell us about the significance this award has for you?
Kaos GL is a collective movement, we are a movement that values people as individuals but does not put anyone forward specifically. In that context, I thought about whether I should accept the award for two days when I was told I was chosen for it. I did not find it politically correct; the award being given only to me when I am part of a collective movement like this. I would have been really happy if it had been given to Kaos GL as an association. I talked to friends from Kaos GL and other friends. They told me it would be right for me to accept this award for the sake of our struggle’s visibility. We thought that a lesbian feminist from a country that is mostly Muslim being given this award would be good for drawing attention. But I can say that it was Pınar Selek who persuaded me the most. I trust the sensibilities of Pınar and my friends from Kaos GL. At the night of the award ceremony, I knew that what we had indeed done the right thing.
“The “curse” of homosexuality transformed into an award”
-And, how was the award ceremony?
In my speech, I talked about my experiences as a lesbian since my childhood and where we stand today in our organized struggle. I could not accept my homosexuality for years, my adolescence passed in indescribable depression. There was no information or person that could have helped me to accept myself. I know how that absence can lead one to an abyss. I thought of my homosexuality as a ‘curse’. It scared me that I was not like the others, I was afraid of even thinking about it, let alone expressing it. I hoped that my homosexuality was a state that would go away when I grew up. Because we are surrounded by a system that has been constructed on similarities. But today I am afraid of being like everybody else. After the foundation of Kaos GL, my purpose became the prevention of other people coming near the edge of that same abyss. I think the award is pleasant as a symbolic thing, in that context. It is like “the curse transforming into an award.”
I know that this award motivated others as well. I said I was accepting the award on behalf of all LGBT activists on this planet who gave me strength, hope, and inspiration.
“I came out to my father when I was 30. It was easiest for him to accept”
- Can you talk a bit about yourself? Where were you born, what kind of family did you grew up in?
I was born in a village of Afyon, I would not be here today if my mother had not gone there as a teacher. I grew up in an oppositional family. I was rarely exposed to the oppression that girls in general experience. I think it came to their minds that I could be a homosexual in my adolescent years, but they did not want to think about it. I think my mother and brother accepted it with difficulty but now my brother is my biggest supporter in every sense. He was happier than me for the award.
I was 21 when I joined Kaos GL. It has been 18 years. I came out to my mother and brother after joining Kaos GL. I was around 30 when I came out to my father. But surprisingly his acceptance came the easiest and I still feel his serious support.
“Being a lawyer was the most useful for my activism!”
-What about the process of you becoming a lawyer and an activist?
I became a lawyer as a result of the ridiculous university selection system. I had neither the defense of rights nor a prestigious job in mind. I could not get used to school for 2 years, I even tried to quit. But I guess, it was my curse; I became a lawyer. The only thing about being a lawyer is that it gives you an opportunity to fight against violations that people are subjected to it, of course the things you can do within this justice system is limited. I was still a student when I became a defender of LGBT rights and it carried on like that. I guess being a lawyer was the most useful for my activism.
“When the most homophobic and transphobic institution is the state itself, nothing is done against the violence towards LGBT individuals legally”
-You have had a significant role in the creation of legal reports and documents and the recording of rights violations in the struggle for LGBT rights for over 18 years… Regarding your experiences, can you explain to us the legal problems LGBT individuals face the most in our country?
LGBT individuals are mainly exposed to violence within their family and within society. Work places are also a big problem. They have to hide themselves constantly, and then they are pressured into marriage after a certain age. Threats, blackmail, extortion are the most common crimes they are exposed to. What is even worse is that they cannot resort to the judicial authorities because of the fear of being outed. When they want to file a lawsuit we first talk about what they should do in order to ensure their personal safety, then we proceed to the lawsuit proceedings. In reality, their safety can be assured with a few basic arrangements; their files could be kept confidential. But of course when the most homophobic and transphobic institution is the state itself, nothing is done. Reassignment surgeries depend on very unreasonable circumstances as well. They do not even change that. The military is a whole field of violation on its own; I am not going to go there now.
“Most LGBT murders remain unsolved”
- Can you give a few examples of the state and the judiciary’s viewpoints on LGBT individuals?
Lawsuits have been filed against all LGBT organizations with the purpose of shutting them down. The only thing that made us happy is that none of them closed down. Kaos GL is the first LGBT organization that has officially become an association. When the governorship of Ankara filed a lawsuit to close Kaos GL, the non-prosecution sentence of the Ankara Republican Prosecutor Kürşat Kayral was both legally fulfilling text and a decision that made us all happy.
“Judges and prosecutors should be educated”
It was pleasing that the defendants in the lawsuit following the assaults against trans individuals in Eryaman were sentenced because of organized crime. In some LGBT murder cases, courts sentenced the defendants without a degradation of punishment. These are legally positive decisions. However, most murders of LGBT individuals remain unsolved and uninvestigated; even if a lawsuit is filed the defendants make use of the unjust provocation reduction. There are many examples of this like the case of Baki Koşar. These decisions legitimize the violence against LGBT individuals. There is no unity in judgment on this subject. To provide this, judges and prosecutors should be educated. But when the state does not consider the murders of LGBT individuals a crime, change is very difficult.
-Are there any moments when you fell into despair and wanted to quit fighting?
There have been moments that I fell into despair and wanted to give up on life but not the fight. My life may not yield results but the fight does everyday. However, LGBT organizations consist of people who are so different from each other and people who are subjected to violence constantly. Sometimes it is not possible for us to even understand each. I wandered off a little when communication became impossible but even then I did not give up.
“I cannot describe the fear of marching as a homosexual on the 1st of May”
-When did the organized struggle of LGBT come into life in Turkey? And can you tell us about the point you have reached?
We can say that the LGBT struggle started sprouting in the late 80’s and transformed into an organized movement in early 90’s. When I joined Kaos GL back in 1995, there were a few magazines they had published. We were not even 20 people.
We used to meet in cafes when Kaos GL was first founded, there would be the pressure of people sitting at other tables. Then there was a foundation that gave us a room for a couple of hours once a week. It was heaven for us. In 2001, Kaos GL received a donation from a fund and the first cultural center was established with that money. That same year, we joined our first May 1 march as LGBT. I cannot describe the fear of marching amongst everyone and stating that you are a homosexual. I walked in front of the Kaos GL banner rather than behind it out of fear. That way, I would be able to contradict it if someone familiar saw me. We were not even 20 people on that march. Tens of thousands of people attended Pride this year, CHP minister Binnaz Toprak gave a motion of investigation to the Parliament asking for a study of LGBT individuals’ problems, LGBT people were discussed in the Parliament. Kaos GL magazine is being distributed all across Turkey for years. All these things were not even a dream for me in 1995. The LGBT movement went beyond our dreams socially.
However, this does not change the fact that LGBT individuals are relatively safe in just some parts of big cities, and lynching is still a big threat. But we have more space to breathe and at least the LGBT struggle is accepted as a struggle for human rights.
“Burhan Kuzu responded to our demands of a change in the Constitution: Maybe in the 22nd Century”
-You demand “changes in the constitution and passing a law against discrimination.” How far have you come along on that?
Unfortunately, the relative awareness and alteration that we accomplished socially has not made any progress legally. The government has not answered positively to any of our demands on this issue. Even when clauses on the prevention of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are added to some draft bills, these items are been cut out in the following stages.
As an answer to our demand of a change in the Constitution, the President of Constitutional Commission Burhan Kuzu said: “Society is not ready for this! Maybe in the 22nd Century.” And as you remember, the former State Minister of Family and Social Policies, Aliye Kavaf declared LGBT individuals to be “sick(!)”
Saying that “society is not ready” is an obvious declaration that LGBT individuals are not being accepted in society and that the political will is choosing to collaborate with society in this discrimination. That statement also exposes the fact that the political will stands with the majority against groups that are being subjected to discrimination by the majority, that it will not show any volition to ensure the security of the rights of othered groups, and that it is refrains from representing the ones being subjected to discrimination.
“I did not come out to anyone in my work place of 10 years”
-You are a homosexual as well, have you ever been subjected to discrimination in your field of work because of your sexual preference?
When I started working, I came out to my employer once and I did not encounter any negativity. In my following work places, I came out to some of my colleagues but there was never a place where I was out to my employer or every single person. You can tell how someone will react more or less, because that is a constant in your life. I did not come out to my employer or to my colleagues in my work place of the last 10 years. I am not afraid of losing my job by coming out but I do not want to be exposed to people’s ridiculous questions or attitudes. This is already a never-ending torture. The way you are treated as a homosexual as if you just exist sexually. My co-workers probably think that I am a homosexual from time to time or they might have read about it somewhere. Sometimes they imply it but nobody asks me directly. I would not deny it if they asked but I think it is none of anybody’s business. I am not curious about the bedrooms of others. Knowing that they will not treat me the same after coming out and knowing that, to put it lightly, I will be subjected to inappropriate jokes, is discrimination itself.
“We want to have our own lives”
-What kind of sexual freedom does the LGBT demand? Is it possible to make it happen in Turkey?
LGBT individuals do not demand anything extraordinary like others think. Even if there are fantastical demands, the line is long. LGBT individuals want equality, they do not want to be discriminated against, and they do not want to get violated. They just want to live as themselves. They want to be able to see their partners if they are imprisoned, they want to be the person who is spoken to when their partners are hospitalized, they want to make use of inheritance rights. But above all, they want the elimination of the dominance on the body and sexuality. This demand is pretty revolutionary. Even in countries that give LGBT individuals full legal status, these individuals have problems. But they have assurances. I do not know if this assurance will ever be provided to LGBT individuals in Turkey. I do not say it will not. Who would believe something like Gezi protests would happen before it happened? Anything is possible at anytime. Right now the majority of Turkey is not secure. Because of the election system, we are going through a time, in which the minority disregards pluralistic values and imposes themselves. Either we are going to advocate these pluralistic values and disrupt that blockade that has been forced on us or we are going to succumb to fascism as we always have. Whatever the public chooses to do, that is going to happen to them. The choice of the LGBT movement is clear. An ecological, anti-violence, anti-capitalist, anti-nationalist and anti-militarist world. In a world that does not have these values, we will be thrown into the air from one side to the other. We want to have our own lives. This country will have the thing that is chooses. We will all see together.
“When LGBT individuals are not safe, people who think they are safe need to think about it”
- Recently, the French National Assembly passed the bill that makes marriage between homosexual couples and adoption possible. Do you think the passing of such a bill is just a dream in Turkey?
As I said before nothing is just a dream. But in my opinion, the issue is not marriage or adoption rights. It is living equally and being secure. When LGBT individuals are not safe, people who think they are safe need to think about it.
“Our politicians grew up in heterosexual families. What good came out of that?”
-You know that a Turkish child named Yunus was adopted by two homosexual women in the Netherlands, which got a negative reaction from Ankara and echoed in Europe as well. Do you not think that a homosexual couple can raise a healthy child?
I think children should not grow up in an abusive environment where they are subjected to violence, sexual harassment or rape. We see the world that came out of children who are raised by heterosexual couples who neglect their child’s individuality. If being heterosexual was enough to raise a child then where is all this evil and darkness coming from? The important thing is that the child be cared for, not whether a heterosexual or a homosexual couple raises the child. Why would a child be unhealthy if a homosexual couple is capable of looking out for him/her? What did the children who grew up in this mentally ill, heterosexist society give to this world? Our politicians grew up in heterosexual families. What good came out of that?
“AKP and MHP are very ignorant about the LGBT issue”
- How is the relationship between the LGBT and the AKP government?
Though BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) and CHP (Republican People’s Party) parliamentarians have continuously brought the LGBT issue to the Parliament, the government has constantly resisted it. Perhaps we could have made some headway under a different government. But even today CHP does not say anything about the LGBT at an institutional level. It has not gone further than the good will of some CHP parliamentarians. BDP, however, has covered serious ground on this issue. Nevertheless, time is expectant of change. NGOs have a serious opposition stance. I think it would be too optimistic to expect anything from conservative structures like AKP (Justice and Development Party) and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). Forget intent, they are very ignorant about this issue. One AKP parliamentarian took a rebuttal stance in Parliament against the motion to investigate LGBT problems. Not only did she give incorrect information, she could not even put two words together. You must be informed even if it is to oppose an issue. But of course you do not need to educate yourself in a country where ignorance and petty tricks make money!
-Can you tell us a little bit about the relationship between Turkey’s feminist and LGBT organizations?
In short, the most important commonality between feminists and the LGBT is the opposition to the management and objectification of the body and sexuality. It means the total transformation of life and this is a serious imagination of freedom. In Ankara, LGBT and feminists organize together, in Istanbul they are simultaneously together and dispersed. But good will, empathy, and solidarity is dominant. There are issues when they don’t understand each other and political attitudes when they can’t stand by each other. Nevertheless, the most powerful alliance is between the feminists and the LGBT.
“If being LGBT was a choice, no one would choose this much oppression”
-I have another question from current affairs: Professor Şahika Yüksel who gave the approval report for [trans man] actor Rüzgar’s reassignment surgery stated that: “transsexuality is neither a sickness, nor a choice or a fancy.” Can we say this for all LGBT individuals?
I completely agree. If being LGBT was a choice, no one would choose this much oppression or violence, I think they would give up. I have never met anyone who fancies it and becomes LGBT and then gave up. I think the issue of fancy is an invented paranoia to manipulate the LGBT. Are they giving out medals, why would anyone fancy it?
-Şahika Yüksel also says “The majority empathizes with Rüzgar. Because in societies like ours, “rising” to the “rank of manhood,” leaving womanhood is a more understandable and possible phenomenon.” Do you agree with this?
I can say that I do agree. Being a man is something that is glorified in society, and in my opinion, it is because trans women and gay men reject this glory (!) that so much fear is created. Because women’s sexuality is, in general, not taken seriously, because it is not considered sexuality, it seems that women are ignored unless they are with a man. In a society where the phallus is considered sexuality, Mrs. Şahika’s observations are not surprising.
“Gezi’s cost was not that high, lots of tear gas, lots of water cannons!”
-So, what kind of a stance does the LGBT have regarding sex work in our country? What are the steps to be taken in this field?
This issue is without a doubt an LGBT issue precisely because trans women are pushed to sex work. We demand that sex workers have assurances. We support their plans for unionization. But I dream of a society where sex work is not a necessity. Once that necessity is gone, let anyone who wants it choose it.
-My last question: We saw LGBT individuals at the forefront in Gezi. Was the cost of Gezi high on the LGBT?
Like all other parts of society, the LGBT felt the Gezi resistance intensely. Because the LGBT was one of the groups that experienced the extent of pressure and violence. We felt a support that we had never felt before from other resisters. People became more aware; homophobic and transphobic curses diminished across the board. It is said that almost 100.000 people attended Pride, before we would only reach above 10.000. The visibility of the LGBT during Gezi prompted people to march for the LGBT.
Of course we do not know what this will evolve to in the future. During the events, 6 people were detained, 4 of them were assaulted. 3 of our friends were insulted and mentally and physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. The police forced LAMBDA Istanbul’s doors. Once the people inside told them that it’s the flat of an association, they forced the door a bit and left a bit later. But they know that they cannot enter an association without a permit. But during the resistance all things illegal were recklessly done. I think the cost of resistance was not higher for the LGBT than others, lots of tear gas, lots of water cannons.