Together We Will Beat Homophobia in Sports

“Violence Stories from Turkey” is a project by Intercultural Research Association that aims to archive and document the phenomenon of violence in Turkey; to prevent events of violence and their victims from “becoming ordinary” and “turning into statistics”; to investigate the conditions of violence in order to make future projections; and to bring together NGOs, civil society, and advocates for the defense of victims’ rights. The project publishes photographs and interviews with victims or witnesses in a simple and flexible format that allows the interviewees to express themselves.

Source: Doğu Eroğlu, “Sporda Homofobiyi Beraber Yeneceğiz,” (Together We Will Beat Homophobia in Sports,”) Türkiye’den Şiddet Hikayeleri, 5 May 2013, http://www.siddethikayeleri.com/sporda-homofobiyi-birlikte-yenecegiz/

Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ, exempt from military service because of his homosexuality, could not continue his job as a referee due to one item on the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) Directive, which states: “People exempt from military service because of medical problems cannot work as referees.”

I played football for 10 years, I was a referee for 14 years, and I hosted radio and television shows for years. The events that put me in the public eye and prevented me from working as a referee started with the mandatory military service. Ever since I was a child, I always had question marks about the military service. I questioned why such a practice exists, why all these young people are forced to wear those uniforms and waste their times. People are taken for the service at an age when they decide what to do with their lives and all their dreams are shattered. In brief, I would not have served in the military even if I were heterosexual.

How did you experience the process of mandatory military service?

I was living in Trabzon, I was not running away but I had not taken any steps regarding the military service. The trouble started in 2007 when I received a document stating that I have to report to service. I started searching for ways to get a report that states that I am ineligible for military service. I went to the recruitment office, got examined, and told the doctor that my sexual orientation was different. I was sent to Erzincan Military Hospital but the doctors there said: “We cannot give you a report. You have to go to service and get examined in the hospital of your platoon.” Approximately one year later, in October 2008, I decided to go to the military service.

Did you know that people who wanted to get a report were being put through a chain of systematical discouragement procedures?

There are homosexuals in Trabzon but I could not consult anyone because they were also hiding their sexual orientations. So I did not know the things that I might go through when I was going to boot camp in Sivas. During the first examination in the infirmary, I informed the doctor about my situation and I told him that I could not stay at the quarters. I said: ”If something bad happens to me you will be responsible.” I had to stay for a night in the dormitory anyway. I was taken to the hospital the next day and during the 10-day period I stayed there I got severely depressed. But the doctor I was seeing was very good-natured; he told me that he believed me, the report he was going to give me could be rejected and he would send me to Ankara Gülhane Military Medical Academy (GATA) . Also he gave me military leave for a month. When I went to GATA they told me that I had to get a battalion survey form document from my legion. Apparently my captain was to observe me and give his assessment as a report. But the captain did not even know me- I was at the legion just for one day.

Do they demand a document like that from everyone or was it an arbitrary bureaucratic obstacle created just for you?

They make different difficulties for everyone. My doctor in Sivas told me that a document like that was not necessary. So I wrote a petition of complaint to the Chief Command and went back to Trabzon. After my time on leave was up, I was considered a fugitive. At that point they called me from GATA and said that as long as I brought the battalion survey form from my legion in Sivas, they would help me. I went back to Sivas and spent a week in the company of a sergeant and two corporals who were in charge of me. I stayed in the hospital for 10 days as I was waiting for the battalion survey form. Then the commander’s report arrived; according to that report there was no impediment to my service in the military. After that the doctor invited the commander and told him that I was a homosexual, that I could not stay at the quarters, and that he should change his report. After the report was changed I went to GATA again. The doctors that I handed the report to said: “We cannot give you a report with these documents, the hospital in Sivas will give you a report.”

How did these intimidation politics affect you?

All these continued for 3 months and I became a nervous wreck. I could not go back to Sivas because all the soldiers knew my situation. Years ago a friend of mine was raped by 7 people in the quarters when it was understood that he was a homosexual. It made me uneasy to think that the same thing could happen to me. I am a brave person but what can I do if 10-20 people come at me- I would only be a casualty. In GATA I started crying because I had a nervous breakdown. When I was leaving there I told the officials; “I will reveal everything to my family in a letter and then I will commit suicide. You are responsible for this.” They got scared and did not sign my release document. They sent me to the dean. Following my conversation with the dean I was admitted to the psychiatric ward.

Turkish Armed Forces’ (TSK) psychiatric clinics are generally the last link of the intimidation chain. What did you experience in GATA?

There were two sections at the psychiatric ward; the first one was in the hospital, and the other one was the one with iron bars where severely ill patients were housed. I stayed in the second section for 10 days without ever getting out. Days passed, grieving with another friend who was also there to get a report. In the night, we would set up barricades from closets in case schizophrenics and other dangerous patients would attack. The officials think: “We are going to give this report but we will make a lasting impression, make them go nuts.” If I had stayed two more days at the ward in GATA, I could have lost my mental balance. The doctors were not so judgmental. Most of them asked questions like: “How do you feel? How long have you felt like this?” Nobody used snub expressions apart from one high ranked doctor who said: “This is what you get when you do that!” After a grueling process, they gave me a report that stated I was not eligible for military service due to psychosexual disorder.

Why were you prevented from being a referee even though there was no longer an attachment between you and the military?

I worked as a referee for about one and a half months at the amateur league following my return to Trabzon after getting the report. There was an age limit of 33 to work as a referee in the high classification and that year was my last chance at becoming a professional. Unless I passed the exam and became a professional, I would have to stay at the amateur league. When I applied for the exam, they asked for a document that stated I was no longer attached to the military service. After a while they called me from Trabzon City Referee Council and said: “Because of that report you can no longer work as a referee. The 25th item of the Turkish Football Federation’s directive states that people who are exempted from military service due to medical problems can not work as referees.” Even when I explained that being homosexual was not a medical problem, they settled it once and for all by saying: “You did not complete your military service, you cannot be a referee.” They consulted with a doctor upon my persistence. Though the doctor reported “He does not have a medical problem. He can work as a referee,” they did not assign a duty to me for one and a half months. They told me that they were corresponding with the Central Referee Council (MHK) and they were waiting for a response.

What was MHK’s response?

Referees take exams every year in order to renew their visas. I learned about MHK’s response when I went to take the exam. They did not let me take the exam because MHK’s response was: “He cannot work as a referee.” After that, I filed a petition to Turkish Football Federation on 11 May 2009, asking that my rights as a referee to be restored. I attached the report that states I have no attachments left with the military and the transcript that had come from MHK. The issue was publicized after Hakan Can’s news on the newspaper Fanatik on 13 May 2009, which stated, “the homosexual referee wants his whistle back.”

Did TFF inform the media without your consent?

Yes. When the event got out to the media, I called Murat Söylemez, who is a lawyer and the general secretary of the Turkish Active Football Referees and Supervisors Association. I told him that I would file a lawsuit against TFF regarding their actions in the disclosure of my personal life. Oğuz Sarvan who was the president of MHK at the time, denied the claim that TFF had informed the media and argued that my lawyer was the informant. But before August 14th, I did not know Murat Söylemez and I did not have a lawyer.

On the first news your name remained anonymous. How did the press find you?

They had my petition and of course it had my name and my phone number. The entire sports media was looking for me. Due to their suffocating behavior, I had to make a statement that said, “I am not that person.” However when Fatih Altaylı wrote “homosexual referee H.İ.D from Trabzon” I was immediately outed. Upon that, in order to prevent the situation from getting out of hand even more, I decided to appear on TV. It was the hardest decision of my life. I talked to Serhat Ulueren and Ahmet Çakar on the show named Telegol and I explained everything.

Did people close to you know about your sexual orientation?

Nobody knew. My family heard about it from TV. When I got the report that stated I was no longer attached to the military, I told my family “There were friends, I arranged it somehow” and they did not question it further. When my family heard about what I had been through, they were really upset but they also attended to me. I did not have any problems in my circle; I did not care about anyone else as long as my family supported me.

When you went back to Trabzon, did you encounter any negative responses or threats?

I would have been lynched if all these had happened in the 90s but Trabzon has also changed. A lot of people supported me by saying that I was right and that I should seek justice. Of course there were a few threats and insults. Internet campaigns were organized for me to leave the city; my lawyer and I received threat calls and texts. In fact the mafia from the area declared a death sentence on me but later on they decided to make my life harder instead. Indeed, 150 of my job applications in Istanbul since 2009 were turned down, in part due to their threats.

What were the reactions in your job interviews?

All the places that I went to hosted me nicely and sent me off nicely as well. Most of them said stuff like “Sir, customers would react badly, It would not be appropriate for us to work with you.” When I was working with a friend, 3-4 people blocked my way one night and said: “How many times do we have to tell you that you can not work, there is no life for you in Turkey.” And I said “Go ahead, do whatever you want, kill me if you please. I am going to keep fighting in this country and I am going to win.” I left the place that I worked so that no harm would be done to them. I got offers from a media establishment and a textile firm but they have made “indecent proposals.” When homosexuality is mentioned, a greedy perception of sexuality comes to mind; as if a homosexual person is someone who desires to sleep with anyone or thinks about sex all the time. Did they assume that I would just say: “Are you going to give me a job? Ok then, let’s have intercourse!”

Has your dialog with TFF changed after the event gained visibility in the media?

There was a lot of correspondence between us, we stated that we wanted to solve the case without going to court but none of the Özgener, Aydınlar or Demirören managements gave us the time of the day. So we have filed a lawsuit against TFF on the violation of private life and asked for material and mental compensation.

How did TFF defend themselves?

They claimed that my lawyer leaked the information to the press and that I was not given games because of my performance, not because I am homosexual. But the truth behind these claims was revealed when we presented the observer reports on the matches I refereed for 14 years and my point average. TFF is confused, when we were suing them for the violation of private life, they show up to court and argue that my performance as a referee was inadequate. They do not even know how to justify themselves.

What stage is the judiciary process on?

Our 8th trial is on 21st of May and a final decision may be given if the expert report arrives. My application to the Human Rights Commission Of Istanbul was examined and the resulting report states that I have experienced “a series of colossal violations of human rights.” The court added this report to the case file. Since the first trial, an army of journalists has been following the case and the judge is a reasonable person. I hope that he will take all the evidence into consideration and make a final decision according to that.

What is the significance of this case in the context of the struggle against discrimination?

If we win, it will be a very important verdict not only for the community of referees but also for all people who have been subjected to injustice. A taekwondo instructor with a headscarf and a homosexual bodybuilding trainer, who could not get their certificates from their federations, solved their cases thanks to my case. The federations involved were scared of the possibility that the events would echo in the media and get bigger like mine did. We are perpetuating this fight in order to encourage people who have been discriminated against to seek justice.

Are you going to be able to work as a referee again?

I gave the petition, in which I demanded that my rights as a referee to be restored, to TFF on 21 February. They were obligated to respond positively or negatively until 21 April but they have not. So we are going to file a lawsuit for restoration to work at the business courts. If necessary we are going to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, to FIFA or to UEFA. The rightful one always wins but not without a fight.

Has this fight you have started contributed to the prevention of homophobia in sports?

Football fan groups in Turkey supported me by releasing press statements. We attended various activities against homophobia in sports with fan groups. The fan groups of Bayern Munich, Schalke 04, St. Pauli teams showed their support by unfurling banners in stadiums. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Sports Club’s fan group Boz Baykuşlar (Grey Owls) wanted to unfurl a banner that said: “his whistle, his call” but the police did not allow it. LGBT organizations and human rights associations are already supporting me but fan groups standing by my side is so important. Together, we will save this sport that is identified with male-dominance and machismo and beat homophobia in all other sports.

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