Turkey’s first guesthouse for trans people

Source: Çağla Ağırgöl, ”Türkiye’nin İlk Trans Misafirhanesi,” (“Turkey’s First Guesthouse for Trans People,”) Birgün, 23 October 2013, http://birgun.net/haber/turkiyenin–ilk-trans-misafirhanesi-5616.html

Turkey’s first guest house for trans people opened in Dolapdere, İstanbul. Its founders say, “we have to maintain this guest house because we have no other choice but to live together.”

Melisa Karam (33) is a make-up artist from Lebanon. She ran away from the internal disorder of her country and from transphobic violence and took refuge in Turkey. Melisa Karam, who has been living in Turkey for the past 9 months, applied to the UN for asylum in order to go to Canada. Karam who stayed in a hotel for 6 months and in the streets when she ran out of money does not have a work permit so she asked for İstanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association’s help. She is the first immigrant at the recently founded trans women’s guest house. Karam stated that she was not accepted to hotels when she first came to Turkey and she had problems because of her male identification cards. Karam, “I have been staying in the Trans Women Guesthouse for three months. The guest house is a two-room apartment in Dolapdere. There are three of us and I am comfortable. The rent, electric and water bills of the house are paid for. We have to pay for some necessities such as food. I cannot work because I do not have a work permit and because I am trans nobody hires me. I cannot eat or even get out of the house because I do not have any money, that is why I do not even have a social life. I have to go to Kumkapı Foreigners Police Station to give my signature on foot because I do not have money to take the bus.”

“The UN discriminates”

Karam states that her permit to stay in the country will expire in four months. She also states that the UN and other organizations do not help her; the only establishment that supports her is İstanbul LGBTT. “The UN has a lot of money but they do not help. They also discriminate. While they are supporting other immigrants financially I cannot get any money because of my trans identity. They show me the streets in order for me to make money. They tell me to be a sex-worker. I do not accept that.”

“LGBT associations gave their support”

One of the founders of İstanbul LGBTT, Ebru Kırancı, stated that a friend of theirs named Gülşah who was 52 and working as a sex worker was really sick. “She had serious health problems because she had nowhere to stay, she was living in the streets or sleeping in front of the association’s door. When we opened in the morning she would come inside, have something warm to drink and sleep there. Because she was homeless and had serious problems concerning her health we decided to establish the guest house.” She also stated that the guesthouse was supported by a lot of different LGBT organizations and that they were able to maintain it because of the help they receive. She talked about the creation process of the house:

“The trans guesthouse in Dolapdere, which we rent for 800 TL, is maintained thanks to charities. We have furnished the guest house with things like sofas, fridges, etc that came from many different people. We can afford the electricity, water bills and the rent. Our friends who are staying in the house provide the other basic needs. The guesthouse has been in service since January and there are three trans friends staying there. A guest house for trans people is needed in other cities as well but because of financial impossibilities they cannot be established. The trans guesthouse we have established in Dolapdere is a first in Turkey and I guess it is a first in the world also. Because visitors from foreign countries state that there is no such establishment in Europe. This idea of establishing a trans guesthouse existed for a long time. However, when we were looking for houses to rent, people did not rent their houses to us at all or gave higher prices when they heard the word “trans.” Never mind renting, they do not even sell us houses because of our trans identity. Discrimination against us happens everywhere. We encounter transphobia as soon as we step out. On streets, in markets; people’s stares and behaviors disturb us.“

“We are getting fined”

One of the founders of the association, İlker Çakmak, mentioned that trans people’s lives are getting harder in every field and said, “The state does not do anything even for healthy LGBT people so it is pointless to expect them to do anything for sick, old and immigrant LGBTs. Our lives are hard in every way. When we go out, go to the grocery store, the police fine us 83 TL under the terms of the Misdemeanor Law and if we do not pay we are sentenced to imprisonment. In fact, lots of our friends are imprisoned because they did not pay the fine. This implementation started with Hüseyin Çapkın in 2009. It is easier for the police to fine trans people rather than chasing thieves. They earn money by collecting bonus points and when they are promoted it is according to these points.”

“We have to maintain the guesthouse”

Çakmak states that a lot of trans people come to Turkey from Syria and the Middle East and he adds, “Refugees who take shelter in Turkey because of the problems in their country, and the violence they are subjected to because of their trans identities, go to other countries from Turkey. Also trans people coming from Syria are told to go to the refugee camps. They already have problems with people from their country. Living with Syrians in those tiny camps would bring along lots of problems.”

“Nobody raises their voices against deaths”

Çîrûsk, another one of the founders of the İstanbul LGBTT, said that they do not have any expectations from the state and added, “Our friends who stay in the guesthouse leave when they get themselves together. We host trans people who are really sick, old, unable to work and who are immigrants.” Çîrûsk said that a succession of massacres have taken place in this land creating “others” who in turn draw the social opposition movements to their side, protecting themselves and creating a fighting space. In this country, there are opposition movements concerning various minorities, ethnicities, identities. However, in this country, about 20 LGBT people are slaughtered each year. These are not ordinary deaths. We receive bodies that are stabbed 40-50 times or bodies with their throats cut. Social opposition movements including the socialists do not raise their voices against these murders.

The trans guesthouse has a particular importance against this opposition movement and against these social conditions: we are not alone, deserted or unattended. A mechanism to protect an LGBT individual when they are imprisoned, slaughtered, or when they get old does not exist. And we cannot demand that from the state, from the opposition movement or from an NGO- when we do, we do not get any response. We are planning to transform our guesthouse to an institutional nursing home that stands on firm ground. In order for trans people to not have to stay on the streets, we want to increase the capacity and build a mechanism to provide sociologists, attorneys, cooks and medical care. This will be a great source of confidence for LGBT people; many of us have concerns regarding our future. The guesthouse stands at an important point for LGBTs. We have to maintain this guesthouse; therefore we are waiting for help.”

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