Source: Aydil Durgun, “Başbakan indirin o bayrağı deseydi tabii usta derdik” (“If the Prime Minister said lower that flag, we would have said yes, chief”), Milliyet, 10 August 2014, http://www.milliyet.com.tr/-basbakan-indirin-o-bayragi/pazar/haberdetay/10.08.2014/1923353/default.htm
A lot has been said about the AK LGBT group that opened a flag in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Istanbul rally. We got together with its founder Melih and member Ali. Even though they claimed that “We are not blindly attached to the AK Party”, they also said, “If Erdoğan had said “lower that flag”, we would have said “okay chief.”
The AK LGBT group was the most talked about issue this week. They opened an LGBT flag in Presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Istanbul rally, and right in the front! People said they are trolls, and asked who would recognize the LGBT flag in the rally and how can there be gays who are AK Party supporters. So I got together with AK LGBT founder Melih (28) and member Ali (26) with similar questions in mind. Kadir (40) from the Conservative Gay Community (MEŞCİT) that observes the AK LGBT also came to the interview. Even though his thoughts are completely opposite of the AK LGBT, he had lots to contribute as well.
They met at common ground as conservative gays at some points. A long conversation that was interrupted by a telephone that plays the call to prayer. None of the three wanted to give their names or have their faces visible.
Being Muslim and gay are two things that are not thought together. Homosexuality is a sin in Islam. What do you think about this?
Melih: Yes, it is contrary according to Islam. But alcohol and slander are also sins in Islam. We commit zina [unlawful sexual intercourse] knowingly. I think that something given by birth cannot be considered a sin by Islam. If you are born gay but do not commit zina, that’s not a sin. If you commit zina and homosexuality, then that is a sin. Being gay does not necessarily mean having sexual intercourse. In terms of sin, we are sinners but we are not kicked out of the religion.
Ali: Being gay and being Muslim are two separate things… My homosexuality is not a barrier to me praying or fasting. No one can say “don’t pray” to someone who drinks alcohol. That would be speaking for God in a way. God says “I forgive the one who drinks alcohol but I don’t forgive you because you speak for me”. Homosexuality is like that as well. God may say “He is a homosexual but I will forgive him because he has done a good deed.” Homosexuality in Islam is based on Lot. In Lot, it is not intercourse with men, I mean homosexual intercourse. It is also incestious relations, claiming equality with God, defaming the prophet, corrupting society…
Erdoğan or the AK Party’s attitude towards homosexuality is clear. Minister Aliye Kavaf said “homosexuality is a sickness.” How can you vote for AK Party when you know this?
Melih: I think the AK Party is ignorant about homosexuality. I think they are being misled. I would think that he is being misled if Erdoğan also says homosexuality is a sickness. There are many LGBT people among the AK Party voters. They are LGBT people who put their identity to the background and who seem heterosexual. We criticize the AK Party’s LGBT policies. We do not say the AK Party is perfect.
Ali: There is a value that we believe in and we are trying to prove it to the party. Ours is not a blind attachment to the party. It’s not “We love Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we are in love with him, everything he says is correct.” We want him to know us.
“The prime minister sees LGBT people as Gezi supporters”
Maybe he does not know how much support he has from LGBT people…
Melih: The prime minister sees LGBT people as Gezi supporters and looks at them approvingly. Gezi is a story of 1.5 years but the LGBT movement in Turkey has been around for 20 years but…
Ali: We wish they could have raised as much noise as we did.
Melih: We want to gather and talk with all the LGBT associations after the elections. For 20 years, LGBT people have been in a rights struggle but it has not made a lot of noise. There may have been some wins but there have been no legal gains for LGBT people.
Will you also make demands on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the constitution, hate crimes, and marriage?
Melih: Of course.
Ali: Marriage is an extreme point.
Melih: For today’s Turkey yes. The rights to employment, life, and housing must take priority. First society must be made aware of this. How does the new generation view homosexuality? The intolerant are our fathers, grandfathers.
Ali: Sometimes I talk to the madrasa teacher where I live and say “I am gay.” He says, “May God forgive you. Who am I to criticize you when I have my own sins?”
Does your family and your community know?
Melih: My identity is known but they pretend to not know. Sometimes there are jokes, for example my aunt jokes “Look, I brought you pink glasses.”
Ali: My family knows. Few people know around me. I would shy away from my relatives, I would not want them to know.
How did you decide to go to the rally?
Ali: Before the rally we opened a flag in the opening of the high-speed train. We tested the waters.
Melih: When we did not have any problems there, we had a meeting and decided to go to the rally. We thought there would be reactions. That’s why we had a meeting to talk about what we would do if there is a reaction or if the Prime Minister says “lower that flag.” You are going among 2 million people and you are a minority. If someone there said, excuse me “The fags are here, get them,” we could be lynched by hundreds of ignorant people. At the end of the day, we did something that no one is used to–we went to a rightist rally with an LGBT flag.
“AK Party’s policy on this will change”
Really, what would you have done if the Prime Minister said “lower that flag”?
Ali: We opened the flag in a way that Prime Minister Erdoğan would see it and you can see that in the pictures. Even though he saw our flag, he didn’t say, “Get these people out, what are they doing here?” This suggests that Erdoğan showed tolerance to this and understood it and supported us. It could have been the opposite. Even if it had, we are not attached to the AK Party just because we want their LGBT policies to improve. We could have said “Whatever you want, chief,” and left the area.
The AK Party has the majority in parliament and could make improvements for LGBT people if they wanted but they do not. Why do you vote for them?
Melih: We have hope. The AK Party is a center party; the people who vote for them are not all extremely religious.There are people who vote for different reasons. Maybe there are people who vote for him based only on how he looks, how he stands straight or sympathizes with his height. AK Party’s problem with LGBT is this: the inability to go beyond some moral and cultural rules in today’s Turkey. Turkey does not know the LGBT right now. We think we can also transform AK Party’s LGBT policies. If we meet with the youth and women branches of AK Party, if we make them aware, I think things will slowly change. He brought a solution to a sensitive issue like the headscarf in ten years. LGBT is an even more sensitive issue.
“Heterosexuals are always talking about girls”
I’m curious about your daily life and your work.
Melih: I work in the textile and jewellery industries; I work in two jobs. I like nature walks and mountain climbing. I go fishing. I visit animal shelters.
What do you do with your friends?
Melih: I don’t see my heterosexual friends. I spend time with gay friends who understand me. Heterosexual conversations are always about girls and football, etc. These are far from gay people.
Where do you hang out?
Melih: I don’t really go to gay places, I used to. I come here occasionally. I like fun. I go to Taksim on the weekends sometimes.
Ali: I realized I’m gay while studying in university. I spent a lot of time on gay websites in Internet cafes. Then I had a nightlife in Taksim for a while. Now I spend more time at work and with family. My life passes working. I work as a journalist in a local newspaper that caters to certain groups.
Kadir: “We are the most oppressed as MEŞCİT”
The Conservative Gay Community (MEŞCİT) was founded about two years ago. We realized that there are people who are disturbed by homosexuality and people who are homosexuals but who want to change.
As MEŞCİT, we see homosexuality as a sickness that can be cured through therapy. Children of conservative families have bigger problems because they are gay. As MEŞCİT, we think religious leaders’ comments on homosexuality are wrong. Because of their comments, homosexuality ends up in a more depressing spot. When you say homosexuality, they think sin and Lot. When you ask “What’s the solution?” they are quiet.
We approach it scientifically. If someone wants a treatment, we think it is possible when the underlying traumas are fixed. There are people among us who used to be gay and who are now heterosexual after therapy, who are now married and have kids. I had many homosexual relations in the past. I had therapy and I no longer desire men as much as I used to, my orientation towards the opposite sex increased.
“We got threats because we said treatment is possible”
My family found out I’m gay when I was 14-15 by reading my diary. They said “Repent, touch the Quran.” As if all is fixed when you repent. I touched the Quran three times and repented.
We are the ones who are most oppressed. We are heavily pressured by both heterosexuals and homosexuals. When we said treatment is possible on social media, we got sworn at, insulted and threatened.
“We face homophobia from within”
At the rally, some people said ´´take that gay flag down,” is that true? Were there no insults or attacks?
Melih: Yes. I would also like to point out that we did not receive from conservatives even a tiny fraction of the insults that we received from leftist friends. We are fighting homophobia but experience homophobic violence from within.