Trans Angels, a solidarity group among trans women in Turkey, took action following the death of two trans women in last two weeks. Hande Öncü, who left Turkey for Vienna because of transphobia, was killed in a hate crime on January 19. Another trans woman, Madonna, lost her life due to ill-health in the western city of Izmir on February 5. Öykü Ay, the leading figure of Trans Angels, told kaosGL.org how they claimed the funerals and stood together.
Source: Ömer Akpınar, “İki aile, iki cenaze: “Yaralarımızı kendi ellerimizle sarmayı öğrendik”,” (“Two families, two funerals: We learned to heal our own wounds,”) KaosGL.org, 10 February 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=18696
Öykü Ay became a well-known figure among trans women after she organized Turkey’s first trans fashion show in November to raise up money for a trans shelter in Istanbul named the Trans Guesthouse, which was founded by Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association. Based upon the free health care support provided by the Beşiktaş Municipality to the shelter, she has all the reasons to feel proud of her work.
Her Facebook videos, which always start with “Hello friends, my name is Öykü Ay”, is an inspiring example of how social media can be used to mobilize a vulnerable community. Ay, who was awarded the Prize for Fighting Hate Crimes by Ankara-based Pink Life Association during a series of events to mark Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) in November, feels bewildered by the differing reactions to the death of their trans child.
“Two different cultures, two different funerals, two different worlds…” are the first words that come out of Öykü Ay’s mouth. Having attended two funerals the last two consecutive Fridays, she is full of emotions.
The family did not accept the body of their trans kid
“Hande Öncü escaped from the transphobic violence in Turkey and settled in Vienna, which she thought a safe place in Europe. There she was murdered. While from an educated family – Ay told kaosGL.org that her father is a police commissioner, her brother and aunt are lawyers – the family did not accept Öncü’s body. Additionally, they did not give permission to facilitate the transfer of her body back to Turkey.
Despite this, Trans Angels rolled up their sleeves and collected the necessary amount of money to bring the body to Izmir for an Islamic funeral instead of cremation, the usual process for unclaimed bodies of asylum-seekers in Austria.
“We wrote to the Turkish Embassy and the Religious Affairs Foundation. They made a discount for us. [The transfer] costs 2,600 Euros but we got all things done for 2,000 Euros. A dear friend of ours in Vienna, Janet, helped us and we used a company. They brought the body to us.”
Ay said due to Öncü’s gender identity that the family chose to watch from a distance rather than go to the funeral, which was attended by approximately 100 trans women.
“Only her brother joined for the prayer, he performed his prayer and went away.”
Madonna’s family embraced trans women
A week after, Öykü Ay was in Izmir again. This time for the funeral of Madonna, leaving her amazed by an unexpected embrace.
“Madonna was a very important person for the trans community in Izmir, making her mark in the city. Her family lives in a rural area, practicing their religious duties – a simple and ordinary family. They took about 100 trans women under their wings from the mosque to the funeral. I was shocked. That was a milestone for me. Imagine, all her brothers and sisters and nephews. Not only the family but the whole neighborhood, embracing about 100 trans women. And no one even cared [that they are trans].”
Ay appreciates the family’s hospitality who served their guests tea, halva, ayran and pita as part of a well-established funeral tradition in Turkey.
“We have to heal our wounds ourselves”
One feels obliged to ask “how is it possible to organize that kind of a support in a very quick time?”
“This is a matter of credibility, it did not happen overnight”, Ay explains. “We learned that no one would help us. Now we are well aware that we have to heal our wounds ourselves. We have no friends but ourselves, just like we have no enemies but ourselves. We all know the difficulties we face. We are aware of the importance of solidarity. Therefore, everyone takes on responsibility willingly.
A trans shelter will be opened in Izmir
Ay also announced the good news that the remaining amount of money collected for Öncü’s body will be used for a trans shelter to be opened after Öncü’s name:
“Thank Allah, we collected about 12,000 Turkish Lira (about 4,250 Euros) in 2 hours for the funeral. The remaining amount will be used to improve the [trans women’s] graves. After that, a trans guesthouse will be founded in Izmir. The work for that has already started. We are now searching for a house. The soul of solidarity, the soul of Trans Angels should be kept alive.”
Öykü Ay ends her words with her motto: “May Allah be our lover and guide.”
Edit: Hande Öncü’s date of the murder was corrected from January 26 to January 19. We apologize for this error.