Beşiktaş Municipal Assembly member from CHP and human rights and LGBT activist Sedef Çakmak has evaluated hate speech in media for us. During the municipality elections, Çakmak became a target of hate speech in various media outlets as an openly gay woman. We’ve discussed the difficulties she has faced during the electoral process and in her personal life.
Source: Mehmet Efe Altay, “Nefes alıyorsun, daha ne istiyorsun” (“Aren’t you breathing? What else do you want?”), KaosGL.org, 9 April 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19145
What was hate speech in media like in the past?
I got into activism in 2004. At the time, we would see news headlines in mainstream media like “Transvestites wreaked havoc,” “The transvestite terror.” We would see pictures with one trans woman surrounded by thirty men. Of course, she has to defend herself against so many aggressors, but the media would still support its hate speech with pictures. Nothing positive would appear in the news. The situation has started changing with the LGBT movement becoming more visible. For instance, in 2006 we were 150 people participating in Pride; in 2007, we were a thousand. This was enormous for us. Our march didn’t make the news, but, interestingly enough, the Pride in Brazil did.
How do you see the present situation in media?
We see much more positive news these days. We’ve become much more visible; there are trainings now about how to write news about us. In 2004, the headlines were only negative, now we see objective news as well.
Can you give an example of positive news?
For instance, last year a lynch attempt occurred against our trans friends in Avcılar’s Meis complex. The news articles that appeared at the time were pretty positive. Of course, there is a couple of newspapers that engage in hate speech. These newspapers target everyone, not only LGBT individuals. We honestly don’t know how to deal with them.
“Freedom of speech is still not clear in our country”
What are your thoughts on freedom of speech?
The subjects of freedom of speech and freedom of media are still not clear in our country. We don’t know the line between freedom of speech and insult. Of course, this has to do with the newly passed laws.
Have you contributed to the hate crimes bill?
During the drafting of the bill, we, as associations, worked on multiple platforms. We especially highlighted the importance of criminal action against framing and inciting to violence in media. But hate crimes related to sexual orientation and gender identity were taken out of the bill at the last minute. This means that LGBTs are still targets of hate speech. This is indeed the case in the media. You can’t say something Islamophobic, but you can engage in hate speech about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Does hate speech lead to hate crimes?
That’s the worst part. I know that from my life as a gay person. People in positions of power can make life difficult for you very easily. We’ve heard many instances of families trying to seek bogus treatments for their children because a minister has pronounced homosexuality a disease. This is a situation that creates horrible traumas for individuals. On top of intensifying hate speech, it feeds into the prejudices in society. It produces unhappy individuals.
“So what if I killed a transvestite?”
We’ve seen hate speech in media turn into hate crimes as well.
Yes, we’ve heard murderers utter statements like “So what if I killed a transvestite?” We’re seeing the same process in the case of Hrant Dink. We should be carefully analyzing all forms of such language. This isn’t just the problem of LGBT people. I see this as one of the pangs of our democracy. Today, you have complete freedom of speech if you’re part of the majority. But you’re expected to fit in society if you’re part of the minority.
Both Beşiktaş Municipal Assembly member Sedef Çakmak and the advisor of Şişli’s mayor Boysan Yakar have been subjected to hate speech as a result of their gay identities. News headlines included, “Mayor’s advisor turned out to be a ‘softie’” and “CHP’s big guns” [literally “heavy balls” in Turkish: “ball” is a slur in Turkish for “gay”].
You’ve become a municipal assembly member as an openly gay person. Was it a gay person taking over a management position that made you the target of so much hate speech?
There are a lot of reasons behind it. Those kinds of newspapers have been attacking LGBT associations for years. The hate speech has a lot to do with me being a CHP candidate. Their views on homosexuality made things worse. We were prepared for all of this when we entered the elections.
Have you brought the case to the court?
No, we haven’t. Associations have released condemnation letters. The mayor of Şişli stood by Boysan Yakar. He expressed how satisfied he was with Boysan’s work. That was an amazing example. That was exactly what we had striven for.
We haven’t reacted more than that, because we really don’t have the energy. There is a lot of work we would like to do. It’s really not possible to communicate with a group foaming at the mouth.
To put aside media for a second, you’ve entered a patriarchal scene as an anti-heterosexist activist. Are you experiencing any discomfort?
I’ve been involved in different work areas since 2007. At the time, we were hearing people say things like, “I don’t understand homosexuality; I don’t think transvestites should exist; I don’t accept Bülent Ersoy as a woman.” At the time, these things could be said easily. Those people knew that they wouldn’t be condemned. People’s approaches have changed since and it’s become shameful to say things like that.
Of course I experience situations like that every now and then. People don’t say much to my face because of my position, but I have heard things being said behind my back.
Could you give an example?
I’ve heard someone say that my homosexuality was not in line with religious beliefs. More interestingly, I’ve heard someone say that the World Health Organization does not consider homosexuality to be a disease, but that they don’t have to listen to that.
Does that mean they consider your homosexuality as a disease?
That’s what they think. I accept that there will always be people like that as long as they don’t disseminate this with hate crimes and carry out discriminatory acts against LGBT people.
“They asked how I have sex with my girlfriend”
Don’t you find these instances humiliating when you’re the target?
I’ve gotten so used to this. For instance, the other day someone asked me how I have sex with my girlfriend. My straight friend got more upset than me. I chose to explain instead of getting upset. I’m used to this because I’ve been an activist. I had it in mind when I started at the municipality. My goal is to correct wrong views. I would find it humiliating if I hadn’t chosen to be an activist, but I’d started my journey precisely to fight this behavior anyway.
“Aren’t you breathing? What else do you want?”
We see columnists engage in hate speech as well. What are your thoughts on that?
There’s a columnist who, years ago, had said that homosexuality was not acceptable from an Islamic standpoint, but that we would have to find a way to live together. Last year’s Pride coincided with Ramadan. This columnist wrote an article discussing how democratic the AKP government was: “AKP is so democratic that it’s not intervening in a gay march in Ramadan.” This is a kind of discourse that we’re familiar with. “Aren’t you breathing? What else do you want?”
This kind of columns can easily mislead people. That’s what really worries me. This columnist made it sound like gays can’t have any concern beyond organizing a march. But we face so many issues from hate crimes to discrimination in healthcare.
What about the positive language that prominent officials and columnists use – does that affect your personal life?
As I said, I’ve been in this area for a long time and I discuss this subject with my family. For a very long time, they thought I was a humanist; they didn’t accept my homosexuality. They only started accepting it when an MP came out to say, “let’s start a commission on LGBT issues.” I got upset and said, “You take the word of your party’s MP and not your own daughter?” It’s very important for politicians to stand by us.
Do you have projects at the municipality?
Of course. We have a lot of projects. Recently, we went to the municipality’s daycare and asked the female director there if they would consider introducing games that promote gender equality. They were very happy to hear this. We couldn’t have imagined this just two years ago.