LGBTI high school student explains: “As LGBTI students come together and organize in schools, peer violence and other forms of discrimination decrease.” He spoke of their demands and the reasons why they will join the education boycott.
Source: Çiçek Tahaoğlu, “LGBTİ öğrenci lise hayatını anlatıyor” (“LGBTI student speaks about life in high school”), Bianet.org, 11 February 2015, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/162199-egitim-boykotundan-once-liseli-lgbti-anlatti
The High School LGBTI [Liseli LGBTI] initiative recently turned one year old. The initiative brings together LGBTI high school students and recent graduates. The initiative was established in Istanbul on 6 February 2014. It is [also] organized in Ankara and Izmir, and has undertaken activities in Mersin.
Emre Demir, one of the founders of the initiative, says there are both open and closeted LGBTIs in school life: “Here is what we observe: As LGBTI students come together and organize, peer violence and other forms of violence decrease. We see clear benefits to being together and organized.”
Can high school students experience their sexual orientation openly? If not, what kinds of problems arise? Demir responds:
“My personal observation is that closeted LGBTIs experience more difficulties, they get harassed in school. But when they say, “I’m gay and it’s no one’s business,” then the sides to the conflict become clear: people who stand by you and people who don’t. Then you can create a clean space for yourself and live more comfortably.”
The problems of LGBTI students
What kinds of problems do LGBTI students experience in Turkey?
Demir says, “The problems that LGBTIs encounter in Turkey mostly arise in schools.”
Demir comments that LGBTIs usually do not experience hardship in schools that accommodate leftist and oppositional politics, and that problems happen in schools in conservative neighborhoods, and in religious and vocational schools.
Of course, trans individuals have the hardest time. Their problems range from the dress code, to gendered restrooms, to teasing, and to discrimination.
Demir remarks that trans individuals often cannot continue formal education: “This also explains why High School LGBTI doesn’t have trans members. Our trans friends don’t attend more than a couple of our meetings. Because it is harder for them to hide their identity. Gendered restrooms and the dress code that follows existing gender roles create additional problems. If the uniforms don’t follow gender codes, our friends will be able to attend school more comfortably and there will at least be a space to breathe.”
Peer violence and discriminatory discourse in education
The other main issue that LGBTI students experience is the teachers’ approaches to sexual orientation in the classroom and peer violence.
High School LGBTI tries to overcome peer violence by organizing and educating the school community about sexual orientation and gender identity: “People are afraid of what they don’t know. Our friends at school don’t know us well. We know that there is hate towards us; we aim to confront and overcome that hate with efforts to educate.”
However, it seems more difficult to change the teachers’ points of view.
“The curriculum isn’t given much attention in class; the focus is the teacher’s own opinions. In the classroom, we often hear that sexual orientations other than heterosexuality constitute sicknesses. For instance, I remember a history teacher once saying in class, ‘They talk about homosexuality in the Ottoman Empire to denigrate the Ottomans, but there wasn’t any homosexuality among the Ottomans. Homosexuality is a disease.’”
“Violence is perpetrated against us through the curriculum even though the curriculum doesn’t have explicit headings on homosexuality. For instance, the ninth grade textbook on health contains unscientific information about AIDS being contracted from gays and animals.”
High school LGBTIs join the education boycott
The High School LGBTI will participate in the “Warning Boycott for Scientific and Secular Education” on 13 February.
Demir says: “The rally organizers’ demands are our demands as well: secular and scientific education. Of course, we also demand an end to homophobia and transphobia in education and the discrimination against underprivileged groups.”
“Homosexuality is not our only concern. We demand free education, access to education for our disabled friends, and an end to the indoctrination of militarism, speciesism, racism, and other discriminatory ideologies in schools.”