Recently SPoD announced the launch of the “Şugariyet Awards” which will be awarded to those who have dedicated themselves to LGBTI+ activism. The announcement underlined the concern that the LGBTI+ movement did not spare time to appreciate its own accomplishments as much as it does for self-criticism, while battling intense pressures. We interviewed SPoD’s General Coordinator Mustafa Sarıyılmaz on how LGBTI+ activism can fight burn-out syndrome with all the weight on its shoulders.
How did the idea of the Şugariyet Awards come about?
Our board member Cihan Hüroğlu came up with the idea. Cihan has contributed a lot to the LGBTI+ movement, and in a meeting he said he’s been thinking about this for a while. It got us very excited and we said “let’s do it!”. The LGBTI+ movement is deeply impacted by the political context and lately people have been moving abroad, people have been distancing themselves from getting organized due to the increase in exposure and loss of safe spaces.
We all started doing a lot of madilik** for better or worse, so it got us thinking “Have we started to forget to appreciate each other?”
Are the Şugariyet Awards going to be an annual event like the GMO Tomato Awards? Have you received any funding for the event?
We definitely would like to have the Şugariyet Awards every year. Our aim is to make it regular like the GMO Tomato Awards, this time to thank those who contributed to the LGBTI+ movement and to render their efforts visible. Of course we found support and funding for the awards. We took the idea to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) Turkey Branch, they loved the idea and wanted to support it. But certainly we are always open to more support. As far as we know, Şugariyet will be the only award ceremony of its kind in this country. What we want is to do it in Turkey this year and try to make it regional and hopefully international in the future. We want to support the LGBTI+ movement in our region, to increase collaboration and communication.
The LGBTI+ movement in Turkey is standing strong against the pressures. Yet this resilience takes its toll on the psychological wellbeing of the activists, perhaps those outside the movement are not really cognizant. Can you tell us a little about how being an LGBTI+ activist can lead to burning out? How does SPoD deal with it? What is the significance of healing and reparative events for the sustainability of your activism?
I’d like to answer this question first as an individual and then as a spokesperson for the association. Being an activist in general is highly stressful in this part of the world. As someone who started working in the field of LGBTI+ issues in the issues of youth and refugees, I can say that each field has its own challenges. As people who want to be human and lead a humane life, it is quite exhausting to try to build a life and do activism in a context where this condition is not provided. Things are constantly going wrong, you receive bad news every day, perhaps moving from one city to another, such conditions can easily undermine your idealism and your motivation; therefore you are always trying to continue your activism, hoping a double edged knife will not hurt you. You try to find a way, if it works out, it works out, if not you lose your connection. You start moving away from everything that reminds you of your field of activism.
I can’t really claim that as SPoD we have a very effective way of dealing with the burn out. We are trying to learn and constantly discussing what these methods can be, how we can stand by each other. We want to learn the support methods necessary and to use them effectively. I must stress that when the people we provide help to reach us over the phone, e-mail or social media to thank us, it rekindles the fire in us. It gives us the opportunity to see the concrete outcomes of the work we do. These messages of gratitude increase our threshold of stress. The reparative and healing events allows us to rid ourselves of bad news, negativity and perhaps secondary traumas. These are in fact a great way of unwinding, which is invigorating.
What you said is right, the LGBTI+ movement in Turkey is the strongest it has been. And so is the pressure perhaps. In this context, the platforms who are the agents of the LGBTI+ movement are communicating more, appreciating each other more, collaborating more and trying to make each other more visible. After the state of emergency we started to collaborate with many more CSOs. LGBTI+ movement is expanding and growing stronger each day. This organic growth empowers me and raises my threshold for burn out.
LGBTI+ movement is as diverse as the letters in its acronym. It is imperative to have a constant dialogue within the movement, to avoid turning the diversity into separation. What do you think is the significance of events like award ceremonies and parties for staying together?
That is the case indeed. The LGBTI+ movement has a wide range of diversity. I care about diversity turning into separation. Such separation does not always take place in a dialogue. I hope that [those with] differences can find themselves a place in dialogue and we can continue our way in a truly inclusive manner, we can grow stronger. Indeed this is the idea behind the award ceremony. Parties and similar gatherings helps us unwind and catch up with each other. And surely they are cheerful happenings where we can be ourselves and move away from negativity.
It is often the case that we see the outcome of the efforts spent working in civil society in the long run, yet we have to constantly question the level of our success, I guess this is also quite exhausting. Perhaps this is why we need to hear more on the positive stories, stories of success. Sometimes good news gets lost in bad news as we are inclined to share bad news more. For instance recently the Queer Olympix was banned yet the teams still went ahead with the games and stuck together. What do you expect from media, civil society supporters, and social media users regarding this issue? What can our readers do, with regards to what the Şugariyet Awards aim for?
This is an important point. We tend to miss the positive stories and achievements as we are constantly in crisis. Or we don’t really talk about them much. It is in the nature of the LGBTI+ movement to come up with ideas like changing the events or relocating them, just like in the case of the ban against the Queer Olympix. Although we are under pressure, we are also able to produce solutions as we move one step beyond. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that these pressures have an important impact on our creativity. And our dear Queer Olympix crew showed a great example of that. Our expectation from the supporters of civil society is that they become a member of whichever association they feel close to, to support, follow and spread their work. This is how you get our work to be visible. I don’t know what to say to the media, because the typical media outlet is completely anti-LGBTI+ and hate speech is rampant. I hope they grow distant from hate speech. We expect from social media users what we expect from civil society supporters. They should follow the associations they feel close to and get in touch about things they feel they don’t understand.
Regarding the Şugariyet Awards, the readers can follow the award selection process. They can see the categories and jury is to be announced, they can check out the nominees. And for the following years, they should try and follow the LGBTI+ movement and those working for the movement. They can help us render many more people’s efforts visible with more categories for awards.
What would you like to tell our readers who like to volunteer or work for the LGBTI+ movement and civil society but have reservations? What keeps you in civil society despite its stressful aspects?
I would like to say, please do not hesitate. I would just tell them to question why they want to be a volunteer. Why do I want to become a volunteer? People become a volunteer thinking “I got upset with a hate crime I read somewhere”, “I watched ‘My Child’, I’m rediscovering myself”, “This matters to me”, but they do not last long in volunteering. When that moment of being upset or excited passes, their volunteering ends as well which is no good to them or the associations.
Those who would like to become a volunteer should apply to an association they feel close to, with the answer they found to this question. If possible, they should meet the people working at the association and check if they get along. This is crucial as you become friends and have joint responsibilities while working together. It does not work when you are trying to do good with people you don’t get along with.
I guess what keeps me going is the idealism I have. I have always been working to right wrongs since I was a child. This is the case while waiting for my turn at the hospital queue or holding a place at the water queue after the earthquake in ‘99, when I was at the age of 9-10. In my highschool years, I found myself abroad for a project, thanks to my curiosity and a bit of hard work. 6 days in total. When I came back I noticed how lucky I was because all my labour and work paid off. I got to fly in a plane for the first time in my life and I got to go abroad. Then, everything else followed. I found myself working in youth projects. I looked for ways to help young people like me to go abroad, I tried to guide them as much as I could. I tried to pass the torch, I worked with lovely people and I continue to. In sum, the reason why I started working is to help people reach the opportunities I reached. Working in civil society can be satisfying and motivating. Yes, it can be very exhausting but when someone thanks you or your association, all is resolved. And this is enough to keep me going 🙂
Let’s ask you something fun and a bit sensational 🙂 Who will be the host at the ceremony? Should we expect any surprises? Will the ceremony be aired live?
These are all going to be a surprise, the ceremony will be hosted by someone we love. And you should expect something beautiful! Save the date September 21st on your calendar, because there will be plenty of gullüm*** that night! We are working on live broadcasting, hopefully if all goes well we will be live and those who can’t be present will be able to follow it too!
Is there anything you would like to add or announce?
This is not related to the award ceremony, but I would like to remind people of our support campaign for SPoD. It still continues. If you like SPoD’s work, please become a supporter! SPoD wants to continue its work and aims to reach more people. In order to achieve that goal we need everyone’s support! You can see our call for solidarity and become a supporter through this link.
Interview by Zeynep Serinkaya
*Şugariyet: In Lubunca (queer slang spoken in Turkey), şugariyet means jewels and/or a state of overall wellness, cuteness, pleasantness
**Madilik: Lubunca for trouble, problem, ill manners or bad intentions
***Gullüm: Lubunca for entertainment, fun, party or fanfare