Sedef Çakmak (33) is the first municipal assembly member in Turkey who has disclosed her lesbian identity. She graduated from Galatasaray University, Faculty of Sociology. She worked at Lambda Istanbul (LGBTI Solidarity Association) and she took part in the establishment of SPoD (Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association). Following the local elections in 2014, she started to act as consultant for the Mayor of Beşiktaş, Murat Hazinedar, and last Monday she was elected as a municipal assembly member. We discussed her battle for LGBTI individuals’ rights in Turkish politics with Sedef Çakmak and Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) LGBTI expansion with Murat Hazinedar.
Source: Elvan Yarma, “Türkiye’de LGBTİ hakları değil, kadın hakları geriliyor” (“It is the women’s rights that regress in Turkey, not LGBTI rights”), Hurriyet, 10 March 2015, http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/28414054.asp?
When did you realise that you are lesbian?
Coming out to myself happened when I joined Lambda Istanbul in 2004. I was studying sociology and I joined in with a sociological curiosity concerning gay and trans individuals’ way of living. Then, I started thinking about this and I discovered myself.
Could you tell your family when you realised it?
Of course not! But, I told my family that I had been in an association defending gay and trans individuals’ rights since 2004. At first they had a hard time accepting it. Following the moment a member of the parliament from CHP mentioned LGBTI rights, my mother had an enlightening experience. Since then, she has openly supported me.
What kind of difficulties have you experienced as a lesbian? More precisely, have you experienced any difficulties?
I could not find a job for 6 years. It was stated in my CV that I worked at Lambda Istanbul. They said “Oh, well, we will call you at a later time”. One day, I revised and censored my CV. They reverted back instantly by saying “You are the exact person that we are looking for”. When I told them in the interview that I was lesbian, again the same response: “We will call you”.
Given that a politician does not feel the necessity to say “I am heterosexual” when he/she enters politics, why do you feel the need to disclose that you are lesbian?
Just as politicians state their Alevi, female or other oppressed identities, it is the same for being an LGBTI individual. However, as there are people who hide their gender identities in politics, we do not consider it strange when a politician says that they are Alevi but we are baffled when they say they are gay.
Will we be able to see others disclose that they are LGBTI individuals in other municipalities in Turkey?
There are already others. We have friends who are candidates for nomination for parliament. We have a friend, Boysan [Yakar], who is openly gay and works as an advisor to the mayor of the Şişli Municipality.
WILL THEY GATHER US UP FROM THE STREETS AFTER THE ELECTIONS?
While a dominant approach in politics is throwing women a bone, what happens when lesbianism comes into the equation?
There is already an invisibility of women in politics, and lesbian and bisexual women are affected by this as well. Politicians’ statements on women, ranging from their clothes to how they should behave, are increasing every day. The mentality ignoring the woman’s intellect and will constitutes significant pressure on us. Let me illustrate with an example; before the local elections, I was the only non-trans [cis] woman among the candidates for municipal assembly membership. We also had 5 trans women who were candidates. Unfortunately, I was the only one who was elected. Trans individuals do not have any chance of being elected in the short term.
Will you take affirmative action towards LGBTIs in politics?
Rather than affirmative action, my priority is finding solutions for preventing illegal discrimination, exclusion of and pressure on LGBTIs.
And if we chronologically evaluate the 90s, 2000s and 2010s, does this pressure increase with every year that passes?
If you are talking about LGBTIs, there has not been a significant difference. In the 90s, we used to deal with the newspapers printing headlines like “transvestite terror”, and we fought for the rights of our trans women friends who were subject to torture. Ironically, there is not a regression of LGBTI rights, but there is an obvious decline in women’s rights.
Are you saying that there are no any distressing developments?
Of course there are. In Izmir, a penitentiary exclusively for LGBTI individuals is being established. This terrifies me. The Ministry of Justice says “LGBTIs are being subject to a great deal of discrimination in penitentiaries, that is why we are opening one for them”. If they are subject to discrimination, please take the trouble to change the Constitution. A penitentiary which greatly exceeds the capacity is being established here. In the atmosphere where the domestic safety law is fervently discussed, I can not help but wonder: “Are they going to gather us all up from the streets and associations following the elections?”
Who were the ones from CHP who provided you with the greatest support?
We especially received Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s, the women’s and youth branches’, Istanbul Provincial Presidency’s and the party’s many parliamentarians’ support. Zelda Onur and Binnaz Toprak put up a big fight in LGBTI expansion. Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Mahmut Tanal, Gürsel Tekin… Protection of LGBTI by these people happened thanks to Melda Onur.
“I DO NOT HAVE A HUSBAND, I HAVE A GIRLFRIEND”
During the period of the local elections, someone asking me who I was and so on asked at one point: “What is the profession of your husband?”. I said: “I do not have a husband, I have a girlfriend”. He was shocked. Then, when I started at the municipality, a gay friend of ours who has been working in Beşiktaş Municipality for thirteen years hiding his identity, found the courage and revealed his LGBTI identity. These are important breaking points for us.
“WE DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO HAVE A SAY ON LGBTI PEOPLE’S LIVES”
Murat Hazinedar, the Mayor of Beşiktaş, explained the LGBTI opening with these words:
If we begin by painting the picture of LGBTI in Turkey, what is the outcome?
It is not only the LGBTIs who are the disadvantaged groups anymore. Women also started to be included in the disadvantaged groups. I am afraid that murders of women will increase each and every day.
Is not there any rupture in this picture?
Of course there is. For example, the government’s most important implementation which must be supported is the monetary assistance concerning the disabled. It is of utmost importance that women, including kerchiefed women, are included into the social and economic life.
As a Muslim, I want to state this; we have always assessed secularism in the wrong way too. Secularism requires freedom of all beliefs. We do not have the right to have a say on LGBTI individuals’ lives.
IF A PARLIAMENTARIAN SAYS “I AM GAY”, THEY WILL RIP HIM TO SHREDS
If a parliamentarian says “I am gay”, how do you think this would be considered in Turkish politics?
It would receive severe criticism. They will rip that person to shreds.
As self-criticism, are there any matters for which you say “It would be better if we did it that way” in CHP with regard to LGBTI individuals’ rights?
I will confess something to you, the issue regarding LGBTI law is introduced into my agenda very recently. It came into light with my candidacy for mayorship. I am conducting a self-criticism in the LGBTI expansion, as a person who supported the kerchiefed girls’ manifestations in Beyazıt Square to be let into the faculty of law in the 1990s; as I left the mosque after Friday prayer; as a person who stood against the mentality formed with 28 February.
Why were not you in this fight before?
I did not have any LGBTI individuals around me. To be honest, they are approaching us very slowly and with fear, too.
What are they afraid of?
LGBTI individuals have the imprinted feeling of not being able to receive sufficient response. They think that their requests will not be taken seriously.
LGBTIs were complaining at the Hormone-fed Tomatoes Awards granted during Pride Week that homophobia in politics still constituted a very serious problem, both in right and left wing positions. What will you say about it?
Homophobia is not corporately present in CHP. It may be present for the people and entities who still have not personally understood the meaning of social democracy, but as to the shortcomings of practice, it may be present and can exist both in us and in other municipalities of CHP. This means that if you are right-handed, come on and use your left hand for a change. This must be strung out to a process.
During a meeting between Kılıçdaroğlu and the authors of Ekşi Sözlük, when they asked “Would you nominate a gay candidate in the local elections?” Kılıçdaroğlu’s response was “No, the society is not ready for it”. Do you agree?
If someone works very hard and endears himself/herself to society, it is possible, but we will not nominate somebody for mayor who did not put any effort just because he/she claims to be an LGBTI individual.