Şişli Municipality Mayor’s Advisor Boysan Yakar has been accepted to an exchange program with two LGBTI organizations in the USA. Yakar talked to kaosGL.org about the exchange program, his work in the municipality, and the place of LGBTIs in politics.
Source: Ömer Akpınar, “Şişli Belediye Başkanı Danışmanı ABD’de LGBTİ örgütlerinde çalışacak”, (“Advisor to the Şişli Mayor to Work with LGBTI organizations in the USA”), kaosGL.org, 27 April 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19269
Boysan Yakar, Advisor to the Şişli Municipality Mayor, has been accepted to the Professional Fellows Program with a scholarship to observe the legislative process in the US. Throughout the month of May, Yakar will work with two LGBTI organizations that operate on a national and international level. He will also participate in a candidacy training program for LGBTIs who are considering participating in politics.
“It is important to adopt these efforts for our own local conditions through the Şişli Municipality.”
Q: You will work with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the Victory Institute for two weeks each as part of the exchange program. The HRC is known for its work on marriage equality, while the Victory Institute works for the emergence of LGBT leaders. What excites you about working with these two institutions?
The LGBTI rights movement has made significant and irreversible gains with the Obama administration in particular. The HRC works for LGBTIs’ right to marry and for the right to equal services in municipalities on both the federal and state levels. The Victory Institute campaigns for LGBTI and allied representatives in several state elections. It is important to hear about their experiences as part of this process and to discover ways to exert pressure.
I aim to learn about their past campaigns while I am in the US. I also want to work on figuring out what kind of alliances we can build with Turkey’s LGBTI movement. What excites me the most is the chance to observe districts and municipalities in Washington D.C. that work for LGBTIs, immigrants, women, and other minorities. It is important to adopt these efforts for our own local conditions through the Şişli Municipality.
I have seen the importance of SPoD LGBTI’s “LGBTI-Friendly Municipality” Campaign, where I was also a candidate for the local elections in 2014. It was an important experience to positively use the election atmosphere and the gains of the LGBTI movement with Istanbul’s municipalities. It is clear that the “LGBTI in the Parliament” Campaign will yield even more positive results this year.
“We will implement training programs for all units in Şişli Municipality”
Q: You will participate in the program as a representative of the Şişli Municipality, currently affiliated with the CHP [currently the main opposition party in Turkey], which is the first municipality to provide free health services for LGBTIs. What can we expect to see in the near future?
Since last year, our campaign for equal health services has been with great interest both by LGBTI organizations in the city and by citizens residing in Şişli. We have also opened up our cultural institutions to programs and events prepared by LGBTI citizens and associations, and saw over 1200 people participating in these. For the next period, our main goal will be to continue our new personnel training program, spanning both executive and general staff. We will also implement training programs for all agencies employed by both internal and external stakeholders of the Şişli Municipality.
We are planning joint projects with non-profit organizations working with our municipality. Moreover, we will accelerate our work on equality in collaboration with SPoD LGBTI, Lambdaistanbul, Listag, and our Social Work Directorate to make lasting and sustainable policies for every group, including LGBTI citizens, which is suffering from discrimination.
In September, we will start a substantial project in 25 neighborhoods of Şişli concerning LGBTI visibility. This project will be the first to set an example in Turkey of how to generate important data for the collective memory of the LGBTI movement in Turkey. It will also contribute to the improvement and preservation of the city’s common life. We also have a few other projects in progress for Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week 2015. You will hear about them as they become ready.
“Political parties expect us to create our own political field”
Q: During your visit in the US, you will participate in a three-day training program for LGBTI individuals considering standing for political office. It has been stated that the LGBTI candidates have not been placed on election lists in ways that can increase their chances of being elected. As someone who was nominated as a candidate in the 2014 local elections, what kind of difficulties stand out to you with regards to LGBTI political participation and representation?
I think that we are in a period in which the LGBTI movement is trying to open up political space for itself and to occupy a place in Turkey’s contemporary politics. I think that the nomination processes that began with the Freedom and Solidarity Party [ÖDP] and continued in the wake of The Gezi Resistance with Republican People’s Party [CHP] and Peoples’ Democracy Party [HDP] have above all been valuable in securing a lasting place for the LGBTI community in the political arena.
We may think of entering parliament as a gain, but even opening up this field for ourselves is valuable in itself. Society has only just started to encounter gay and trans candidates, and these encounters are very valuable. As candidates, many of us were able to voice the fact that we are indispensable urban subjects and in the struggle for democracy. I think that political parties expect us to create our own political fields.
It is important to note that the well deserved space which we have created within civil society in recent years is included in the stated goals of the two political parties currently represented in the parliament, as is evident in their election manifestos. We are in this struggle to ensure that when the time comes, a majority of the votes in the parliament will be for LGBTI rights. We are still not a priority in the constitutional drafting process, the local elections or the upcoming general elections. As a result, we must continue to work with as much strength as possible for LGBTI rights to gain a more prominent place in public opinion.