Source: Çiçek Tahaoğlu, “Homofobi Hem İçeride Hem Dışarıda,” (“Homophobia is both Inside and Outside,”) bianet, 17 May 2012, http://bit.ly/Jxu8M4
LGBT people face homophobia/transphobia all the time in the outside world and they must fight inside as well. They are fighting discrimination, the prison management, and prison guards; they demand their rights to health care and access to treatment, the right to a fair trial and the right to live humanely.
Activist Aras Güngör who works with LGBT people in prisons spoke about LGBT inmates and their living conditions “inside.”
3 prisons have trans wards
We do not know the number of LGBT people in prison because the probability of problems during trial and in prison is very high when sexual orientation and gender identity are expressed.
Güngör states that the inability to express sexual orientation and gender identity because of social exclusion and discrimination in the outside world exists in prison as well. This also explains the lack of data on the number of LGBT people in prison. Still, he remarks that it is not possible to keep gender identities hidden from inmates in the same wards.
The situation gets a bit more complicated for transgender people. Güngör states that the treatment of trans people- who are visible by nature- differs according to the attitudes of prison administrations.
In Turkey, there are currently three prison wards arranged for trans women: Sincan, Maltepe and Çorum Prisons. Güngör states that there are approximately 70 trans women in these prisons.
In other prisons, trans women who have had reassignment surgeries and new identity cards are placed in women’s wards. Or if there is an empty ward, they are placed by themselves. Güngör explains that because of the high number of inmates in these prisons, transfers are not possible.
“Everyone wants to be transferred to another prison, but the prison administration state that their capacities are not enough. Three prisons are definitely not enough.”
This means that prisons need to have wards intended for LGBT people as they do for women, men, and children.
“You cannot socialize for your own ‘safety’”
Güngör lists some of the problems that trans women face in prison:
“The main problems are the limited number of wards and body searches that violate gender identity upon entry to prison. Using their “safety” as an excuse, transgender people are not given access to social opportunities such as open-air areas, sports activities, vocational training workshops, and libraries.
Güngör explains that trans women who are not allowed to benefit from the prison’s limited opportunities to earn a small sum of money, teach each other crafts and try to make ends meet by selling them through LGBT organizations.
Another problem is the question of visitors. “Partners and friends cannot visit LGBT people who often have severed links with people who have the same surnames, in other words, first-degree relatives.”
Problems do not end there. Trans individuals need hormone treatments and hospital visits on a regular basis. Of course this is not really possible. Güngör explains:
“Trans individuals have to use hormones every 20 to 25 days and their treatments must continue. However, they get to go to hospitals once or twice a year at most. One of the reasons for this is that correspondences proceed very slowly. For example, a petition to the prison administration gets answered two months later.
“Of course, there are also other obstacles. For example, one of our friends was put in a prison transport vehicle and was taken to the door of the hospital. But the driver and prison guard did not even allow our friend to get out of the vehicle; they just smoked their cigarettes and took her back to prison. But they noted in the records that she was taken to the hospital.
“So not only are the person’s rights seen as additional requests, but the demand to access these rights are met with discriminatory practices.”
Discrimination in the wards
What about trans men? Güngör says that trans men stay in women’s wards because of rape and abuse. “But here, they have to fight the discrimination in the women’s wards instead of rape. Ultimately everyone experiences psychological trauma in prison. They will stay there for 20 to 30 years. But at least we know that women’s wards are safer than men’s wards.”
Trans men are not only ones facing discrimination from their ward mates. Güngör explains: “Trans women are also having trouble in the wards. Imagine a woman who killed her husband or her daughter for “honor”. Now she is in prison and a sex worker lies next to her. Do you understand the violence?
“Trans women are also excluded from the solidarity in the wards. For example, because she does not have access to epilation, she needs to shave. But because they cannot even get a razor, her beard grows. I know people who use detergent to wash their hair.”
The issues described here are only parts of what LGBT people experience in prison; these are the ones that have trickled out and reached us.
LGBT activist Aras Güngör communicates with them through letters. He reminds us that letters are read before they leave prison and it is very difficult to take information outside.
“The solution is not to reach LGBT people in prison. A legal arrangement on prisons must be accomplished. The physical conditions of prisons need to change and accommodate children, refugees, LGBT people, or anyone who is different.”