“Hopefully, one day, we will have a gay prime minister”

Source: Aydil Durgun, “Umarım bir gün eşcinsel bir başbakanımız olacak,” (“Hopefully, one day, we will have a gay prime minister,”) Milliyet, 20 October 2013, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/-umarim-bir-gun-escinsel-bir/pazar/haberdetay/20.10.2013/1779011/default.htm

Asya Özgür from the newly founded LGBT Political Representation and Participation Platform (LGBT Siyasi Temsil ve Katılım Platformu): “We want to see an LGBT who is out in the parliament. Hopefully, one day, we will have a gay prime minister.”

As the local elections approach, mayoral and council candidates are finalizing their preparations and of course Istanbul is in the news. Several LGBT organizations and associations in Istanbul explained, “We decided that this can not happen without us!” and founded the LGBT Political Representation and Participation Platform. We heard the details about the platform from its members Sezen Yalçın, Boysan Yakar, Asya Özgür and Deniz Şapka.

How did this platform emerge?

Sezen Yalçın: Right after Gezi, we came together and talked about what we wanted to do; it emerged from that. The LGBT movement has always been involved in the political sphere. There was a great deal of interest in our first meeting. This excited all of us and we kept organizing the meetings. We thought about what we could do to make it possible for one of us to run as a candidate and what we would demand from the locals. After we saw the local reaction at Gezi, we thought we can make our voices heard.

“We are examining the current climate”

What are you planning to do?

Sezen: There are a number of social obstacles for LGBT people who want to enter politics. We want to do something about this. We are putting pressure on political parties and politicians for LGBT representation to be considered at the decision making stage. At all the meetings we say, “LGBT people are now political agents, they are potential votes but more importantly, they are a political voting block. Therefore you have to recognize us.” We will try to support LGBT people who want to be candidates as independents or within a political party. Instead of declaring a candidate by the Platform, we thought about how we can open the path for the candidates in political parties where LGBT people are already active. There are people among us who want to be independent candidates, members of the city or district councils. When we meet with political parties, we are starting to hold them responsible for their homophobic or transphobic statements. We are trying to make them understand what it means to sit down with LGBT people.

Does it make any difference that there is a political platform? Are you taken more seriously when you have a meeting with parties, for example?

Boysan Yakar: Actually these political ties have existed for many years. Especially in 2007, with the lawsuit intended to close the association Lambda, the political relations with parties were established. A lot of parliamentarians realized the human rights violations the associations were exposed to because of closure cases based on vague concepts such as public morality and Turkish family structure. But only recently have we started to get support from parties. There are parties that have included LGBT rights and the ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation within their own regulations: the Greens and the Leftist Party of the Future and the People’s Democratic Party.  We also get support from parliamentarians from the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Binnaz Toprak, Sebahat Tuncel, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, and Melda Onur constantly bring up these issues in the parliament but now we are trying to create an examination of the current climate to see if someone among us can exist in politics.

“We are being harassed at neighborhood markets”

Asya Özgür: In Istanbul, for the first time, we had a meeting where we talked about our local election demands as trans people. There were very good demands. A friend wanted the right to adopt an orphaned child. Municipality workers scorn and tease us- we want them to get disciplinary punishment. Many friends cannot even go to neighborhood markets. We get verbally attacked and harassed. For example, last week while I was shopping at the market, one of the sellers said to me, “Come over to the back, let’s do a little something something.” I wanted to curl up and die because of the shame. I am an ordinary citizen; I went there to shop. That is why supervisory authority must be given to the civil police so we can make complaints.

“The LGBT movement does not exist only for itself, it exists for everyone.”

Why do you want to represent yourself instead of being represented by the parliamentarians you mentioned who are already in the parliament and already in a party? Wouldn’t it be easier to achieve concrete results with their representation?

Boysan: I think for every politician, their political party’s policy and agenda is primary. From the moment we become political agents, we plan a future where our policies and the defense of rights will be our primary goals. It is wrong to say that we will work only on LGBT issues. All of the LGBT organizations in Istanbul are anti-military, anti-apartheid; they fight against sexism and are mostly feminist and anti-capitalist organizations. We are already a political factor. The only thing lacking in this representation is an environment where we can represent ourselves on our own behalf.

Sezen: Also there is another thing: the people we mentioned are being isolated within their own parties. For example, we heard Binnaz Toprak was isolated in the CHP when she made a motion to investigate LGBT issues. This motion was signed by only 59 people.

Asya: Recently, as LGBT activists we had a meeting with Sebahat Tuncel. I liked one thing she said very much: “If you do not exist, your rights do not exist either.” If I am not in the political platforms or the National Assembly, nobody can defend my rights as much as I can. As trans people, we say this in all of our meetings: “We want a friend who has an open LGBT identity and who will snap at the parliament as a transvestite when it is necessary.” A feminine gay will not give up wearing nail polish or high heels just because he is in the National Assembly. He will exist as himself. As trans people we want a candidate like that. In our meetings before, some of our friends used to say that even if this does not happen, at least there should be an LGBT friendly candidate. Later, at the constitutional discussions, the first thing they gave up was our demands. With that, it became clear that we trans people were right all along. I would not have let that commission walk out of that door before they accepted those demands. Hopefully we will have a gay parliamentarian. Hopefully, in the future, the prime minister of this country will be a homosexual. The LGBT movement does not exist only for itself, it exists for everyone.

“We cannot wait for society to be ready; we are ready.”

Why was this platform founded now?

Asya: LGBT people were so active in the Gezi Resistance, everyone saw us and felt sympathetic to us… I believe it is the best time for us to say that we are in politics, too. Before political parties used to say, “Society is not ready for you.” But people embraced us fully during Gezi; 60-70,000 people walked with us at the LGBT Pride March after Gezi. And a maximum of 20,000 people in that group were LGBT people. Families came to march with us; fathers, mothers and children… In fact, society is ready for us.

Deniz Şapka: Besides, we can never wait for society to be ready. If we wait for that, we have to wait for many years. But I can say that we are ready and we want to join politics. There are politicians who do work to defend our rights. We do not know if they are gay or not, because they are not out. Now it is necessary that gay people are out and visible. Only we can make ourselves understood.

What will the existence of an LGBT person in the Parliament provide society?

Deniz: As LGBT people our participation in politics will be a start not only for us but also for heterosexuals. We will enable them to talk about certain things. Heterosexuals have some taboos; they do not talk about sexuality. With us, all these problems will come to light and it will be possible to talk about them. We think we will encourage people.

Asya: We will try to resolve the problems of Kurdish, Armenian, and Turkish people, workers, women, and the proletariat.

Boysan: We know very well what discrimination is. We are sure that our existence will provide big advantages in the parliament and in the district parliaments. All in all, the friends of the Kurdish movement, feminists, Alevis and Armenians will be there. The feelings of discrimination are felt the same by all of these groups.

Sezen: I do not believe that any LGBT person would be stuck in this crude identity politics. All abortion conflicts and the acquittal of rapists interest LGBT people, along with the policies of subcontracting, unemployment, domestic violence, the violence of fathers, male violence, the violence that exists in the streets…

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