Law & Politics

Judicial and political environment in Turkey on LGBTI issues

LISTAG marks its 10th year with the book “Stories from the Rainbow”

LİSTAG GH7

LISTAG, founded by parents with LGBTI+ children in 2008, celebrated its 10th year on December 10 World Human Rights Day in Istanbul.  A reader’s theatre was organized by the LGBTI+ Parents and Relatives Group (LISTAG) in the Dutch Consulate, where passages from the book titled “Stories from Rainbow” were read.

LISTAG marked its 10th anniversary on World Human Rights Day by a reader’s theatre based on their new publication, “Stories from the Rainbow”. “Stories from the Rainbow” is a book compiled of the real life stories of families of LGBTI+ individuals from various cities of Turkey.

LISTAG was founded by several parents who had come together to support their children and to show that they are neither sick nor alone. Within ten years, the platform’s reputation has crossed borders through their work and the documentary “My Child”, which tells the story of these parents. This year, the group organized story telling trainings with the support of the Human Rights Fund from the Dutch Embassy and compiled the real life stories of people with LGBTI+ relatives or kin. The group held a book launch on December 10 World Human Rights Day at the Istanbul Dutch Consulate. The reader’s theatre was performed by the artists Ayta Sözeri, Ayça Damgacı, Haydar Köyel, Melis Öz and Seyhan Arman and was met with great acclaim.

Yasemin Zeynep Başaran, one of the co-editors of the book, made the opening speech of the 10th anniversary gathering. Başaran underlined that they wish for the book to reach wider audiences, not just LGBTI+ families and said: “Stories from the Rainbow illustrates the journey of parents who know that loving your child means understanding them and having the courage to travel the arduous and long journey of understanding through transcending prejudices of their own and of others”.

Families from LISTAG invited everyone to organize reading theatres for these stories of LGBTI+ families, as they believe that “A story changes a person, a person can change all of us”.

You can obtain a copy of “Stories from the Rainbow” by sending an e-mail to  <info@listag.org> and you can watch the videos through LISTAG accounts stated below. (The book is in Turkish)

LİSTAG

www.listag.org

https://www.facebook.com/listaggrubu

https://twitter.com/lgbttailegrubu

https://www.instagram.com/listagfamilygroup/

 

BENİM ÇOCUĞUM (“My Child” Documentary)

www.benimcocugumbelgeseli.com

https://www.facebook.com/mychildbenimcocugum/

https://twitter.com/listagfilm

 

*This article is a summary translation of the LISTAG press release.

“When you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere”

Bianet’s reporter on LGBTI+ issues Çiçek Tahaoğlu interviews non-binary trans student Evren about their identity and education life.

Source: “When you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere” (“İnsan Kendi Bedenine Ait Hissetmeyince, Hiçbir Yere Ait Olamıyormuş”), Çiçek Tahaoğlu, bianet, November 17,2018 http://bianet.org/biamag/lgbti/202668-insan-kendi-bedenine-ait-hissetmeyince-hicbir-yere-ait-olamiyormus

 

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Evren is 20 years old and studying physics at Boğaziçi University. They define themself as a “trans non-binary” individual. The concept of “non-binary” is used for identities which define themselves outside of the binary gender regime between male and female.

Evren says “People often assign a trans male identity to me” but in actuality they define themself neither as a trans woman nor a trans man.

I met Evren in the Southern campus of Boğaziçi University. We talked about their questioning of the gender issue, the state of being exempt from the binary gender, their academic life, the dreams of becoming a researcher at an institute, breast dysphoria and the hormonal process.

Can you tell us about yourself?

My name is Evren, I’m 20 years old. I study Physics at Boğaziçi University, it’s my first year. I was studying Engineering at İstanbul Technical University and I transferred to this department.

I’ve been on testosterone for almost 5 months. I’m a trans non-binary individual.

So you don’t identify as trans woman or trans man?

Non-binary means outside of binary gender system. It’s in fact the “or” in the phrase “female or male”.  

How long did you study at İstanbul Technical University?

I finished the prep and the first year. I thought I’d be happier at Boğaziçi. And I am.

Why?

I didn’t really have any bad experiences there. But I always feel that in general Boğaziçi embraces LGBTI+ individuals more.

For instance I wanted to stay at the dorms this semester but unfortunately the dorms are now under MEB [Ministry of National Education]’s control. But Boğaziçi [employees] did everything they could to arrange a room for me. Still, I had to rent a room later and it is financially hard to maintain.

Where were you staying while you were in Istanbul Technical?

I was staying at the girls’ dorm. I hadn’t started the hormones yet, so it wasn’t much of a problem. But sometimes when I was going to my room, female students warned me saying “Sorry but you can’t go up there”.

Did it affect you, staying at the female dorm?

I was getting nervous each time the dorm manager called for me. I was worried that there might be a complaint about me being a trans. Thankfully no such thing happened. I generally did not like staying at the dorm. I was staying in a tiny room for four people. It was challenging.

Is your family in Istanbul?

I live with my mom. My mom is in Fethiye.

I guess you and your mom get along.

We do now.

Would you like to tell us about your coming out?

Actally when I was growing up I wasn’t aware of gender difference. This was a wonderful experience for me. I saw kids as kids, not as girls or boys. I saw myself as a kid too.

The problem started when by breasts started growing. I liked girls and I was feeling guilty. When I started senior high school, I started playing charades. I changed three schools, Aydın Science Highschool, İstanbul Atatürk Science Highschool and Kabataş Highschool…

Why did you change three highschools?

Because when you don’t feel at home with your body, you can’t belong anywhere, that’s what I realized.

At the schools I was enrolled in, people got along with me but something didn’t click, I didn’t feel I belonged. Especially at the first highschool I went, I was in a game of charades. I was trying to perform all the roles society dictated. My hair was long, I didn’t get a haircut. When I got my period, I thought it brought me closer to the performance of femininity which I was very clumsy at, and I was extremely happy.

In time, I realized that I like women but it didn’t feel OK to define myself as a lesbian. I spent the last years of highschool saying “I don’t have any gender, don’t call me anything”.

In 12th grade, when I found out that I have the opportunity to start testosterone and get my breasts removed, I thought that maybe I was a trans man. Because all those who experienced bodily dysphoria like me were trans men. This put me in a different model. I had just been saved from the female role that society imposed on me. This time I started getting in the trans man mold.  

Were you learning about all of these by reading things online? Or were you talking to doctors or people who went through similar experiences?

Yes, I researched on my own. I was feeling alone as I never met anyone like me.

It was terrible, trying to fit in the trans male model, I was swearing , sitting with my legs wide open, I was not smiling…I was trying to perform “masculinity” after all. For instance I was observing the men on the subway. I was trying to stand like they do but I couldn’t stand upright as I was bothered by my breasts, I was getting into all sorts of shapes.

When did you start  to use the name Evren?

On my prep year at Istanbul Technical University. But I couldn’t insist on it with my friends. Then I met someone who stood by me to this day, they were the first to ask me “Would you like me to call you Evren?”. From that moment onwards they always called me Evren and scolded anyone who didn’t. This gave me strength. It helped me get out of performing trans masculinity.

It was hard. I was getting out of one mold into another. Then I started to ask “What am I?”.

Then I came across a term: “Non-binary”, meaning “genderqueer”. Living as a queer gendered person…I was this way as a child, it was the same in highschool, it is the same now. I could really be me, when I thought of myself as independent of gender. In fact, the discomfort I have of my body has nothing to do with my gender. That’s why I don’t like the terms like the “gender transitioning process”, “gender confirmation process”. Because, what am I transitioning from, to what? What am I changing?

People often assign the trans male gender identity to me, trans activists do it sometimes too. When I discovered that the dominant hormone in the body, whether from birth or by treatment, has nothing to do with gender, I was really liberated.

When you came out to your mom with your identity, how did she take it?

I came out to her in highschool about being attracted to women, I had no problem with this. But when I came out to her saying “I don’t feel like a women, I don’t feel like anything”, it felt distant to her.

This is what I think: Just as I went through painful times, she too has gone through similar times herself. I am proud of her. And I think that she refrained from reflecting her troubles on me.

What would you like to do when the school is over? What’s your dream?

I want to be a physicist, like working at Max Planck Institute. I want to do research. Maybe I can do it at a university, but I would like to experience the institutional environment.

On our chat we had before the interview, I noticed that you are interested in social work. You said that you participated in the training for gender instructors organized by TOG (Community Volunteers) . What else do you do?

I started dancing this semester; Lindy Hop and solo jazz. It’s the first time I’m dancing and I noticed that I never communicated with my body until now. It is really liberating.

How did the gender instructor training go?

You know I’m already into gender issues (laughs).

This training was illuminating for me, I sometimes had a hard time explaining simple things to people before the training. I thought I could turn this into activism. Now I’m sharing my own process over Instagram.

As far as I know, you would like to have a surgery, right?

I would like to have an operation for my upper body, I’m not thinking of getting a lower body surgery.  It’s a very difficult surgery and I don’t find it necessary either. The biggest part of my dysphoria is due to my breasts, when I get rid of them I will be free from a great burden.

Actually there is a chance that the state can pay for my surgery, but not only does it take a long time but also I have to change my ID as a condition. As long as I don’t have to change my ID, I don’t care if my ID is blue or pink*. If it won’t be a great problem in state bureaucracy, which hasn’t been so far. It’s only a problem on busses with the whole “women side-men side”. **

Will you change your name on your ID? Do you feel uncomfortable when people call you with your ID name?

I do actually. But I won’t change my name, I will only add a name.

My ID name is actually not gendered. I can share it with you as I’m not particularly bothered by it: Pınara. Pınara is the name of an ancient city and thus has no gender. The problem is, it sounds like the female name “Pınar” therefore it assigns female gender automatically. It started bothering me as people take it as a female name, therefore I can actually make peace with the name. I mean I had no problems with it growing up, but people turned it into a problem. I’m happy with Evren for now.

So can we sum it up as: You define yourself as non-binary and you don’t want to deal with the color of your ID. You just want to get rid of your breasts because of the bodily dysphoria and move on. You think people are happy as they are and can decide it all on their own. Did I get it right?

Yes (laughs).

First thing I will do after the surgery is to wrap a towel around my waist and not my breast. The second thing is to spend a night at the library, because I can only stay until 2 a.m, afterwards I get short of breath. I feel the urge to go home and take off my binder and be alone. And then I also want to run in the mornings. Because I like doing sports but the binder makes it very difficult to run, it suffocates me.

My binder is physically challenging to walk around with. When you wear it for 12-14 hours it starts to hurt and it really exhausts me. It comes right over your stomach and presses there, that’s why it gets hard to wear a binder after I have a meal.

How long have you been using Binder?

For around 2 years, since 12th grade.

When we were chatting you said “people don’t understand what sort of thing dysphoria is”, would you like to talk more about that?

Some days, dysphoria makes me feel like I can’t get out of the bed or out the house. It’s a feeling you carry around at all times. On many days, especially when I have serious things to attend to, it makes me think that I can’t leave home today and so I stay in.

Breast dysphoria or penis dysphoria are visible dysphorias. But then there are others, such as that of shoe size and height. Even if you are aware of these, it won’t reduce your dysphoria, at least that’s what happened to me.

I don’t think you need to experience dysphoria to identify as a trans individual, I have a clash of opinions with many trans individuals on this subject. I can define myself as a woman or a man without being uncomfortable with my own body. We say that the body does not dictate gender, then why would dysphoria dictate being trans?

When you went to the doctor to initiate the hormone procedure, how did you tell them about the non-binary issue?

Frankly I didn’t try to tell them. I started it as a trans man.

In one of our sessions a psychiatrist asked me “Do you see yourself as a trans man or as a man?”. I said “what’s the difference”. Now I understand what they meant to ask. They meant to ask “are you happy with your trans identity”.

For instance there is this trans male Youtuber. He has many problematic statements like “If you don’t hate being trans then you’re not a trans individual”, “You’re not trans unless you have dysphoria”. I don’t like generalizations and I think that this puts you in a mold when you’re fresh out of a mold dictated by the society. We use labels in the LGBTI+ movement to make things easier for us, to make us feel better; not to replace the old molds with new ones.

 

* Translator’s note: Old Turkish ID cards are color-coded according to gender. The new IDs are gender neutral in color, however not all citizens have changed their old IDs.

 

**Translator’s note: On Turkish intercity busses when one’s buying tickets, women are assigned seats next to women if they’re travelling alone. Therefore one has to fill in the gender slot so that the bus company can arrange the seating accordingly.

 

Trans Students not accepted at the Dormitory despite their Entitlement to KYK Housing

SPoD (Social Policies, Gender  Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association)’s hotline has been responding to many calls from trans students, complaining about not being allowed at the dorms they are entitled to, despite being awarded accomodation at KYK dorms.

Source: “Trans Students not Accepted at the Dormitory Despite their Entitlement to KYK (Credits and Dormitories Institution) Housing” (“KYK yurtlarını kazanan trans öğrenciler yurda alınmıyor”), Aslı Alpar, KaosGL.org, November 12, 2018, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=27017.

CRAIGANDKARL

Illustration: Craig and Karl

Trans students calling SPoD’s hotline are saying that they are barred from using the dorms by dorm management and ask what they can do in this situation.

KaosGL.org asked the association’s lawyer Hatice Demir about the discrimination against trans students in KYK dorms and its legal dimensions. In this interview, Lawyer Demir explains the rights that trans students have against these discriminatory practices and the consequences of the arbitrary practice at KYK dorms. Demir suggests that many of the students barred from using KYK dorms are also barred from their right to education and that even when trans students are allowed in they are being isolated.

When they call the hotline, what do the trans students say about the discrimination at the dorms?

The list of students awarded accomodation at KYK dorms was published at the beginning of the semester, yet additional placements continue. Trans students who have not completed their legal process were awarded housing by KYK dorms, but called the SPoD hotline saying that they were not allowed in and asked what legal measures they can take against this treatment. The callers reported:  ‘I’m entitled to the use of dorms, I carried out all the necessary procedures, but the management will not let me in as they can not decide if they should place me at the female or male dorm’.

So how does the dorm management respond to these students?

Trans students are generally told “It’s your problem. Nobody else is experiencing these issues. Go handle it elsewhere”. The callers also report that they are often insulted by the dorm authorities and that the dorm guard will not let them enter.

On certain occasions, dormitory staff allocate an empty room to the student, which means they live in isolation. When single occupancy rooms are given to trans students, the dorm authorities use the excuse of “security”, stating: “we don’t put you in the same room with them to protect you”. Yet, the same dorm management do not do anything  to rid discrimination against trans students in the dorms. Moreover, they consolidate discrimination with such isolation.

Isolation at the dorms remind one of the isolation witnessed in prisons, because whenever trans individuals are put in the custody of the state, the state is clueless about where to put them. This is due to the fact that the state ignore the existence of  trans people. Such an oblivious attitude corresponds to the state isolating or excluding the individuals using the excuse of “security”.

Similar conditions apply for trans inmates. The prison placement is done on the basis of the color of the ID* and the assigned gender on the ID. Therefore, in a similar vein to what happens to trans students, trans inmates too, are sent to the prisons allocated for the gender written on their IDs and yet again are isolated when the administration says “we can’t provide your safety”.

What does the student do when not allowed in the dorm?

Those who get enough financial aid from their families or from their scholarships can rent a flat or a room. Yet those without such means go back to their hometowns. This means that they are barred from exercising their right to education.

Is there a regulation which supports such discriminatory attitude?

Of course not. Higher Education Credits and Dormitories Institution Dorm Administration and Management Regulation do not state anything regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that there are no legal grounds for these arbitrary discriminatory and practices, yet it also means that LGBTI+ students are ignored and that the regulation is prepared based on a binary gender regime.

What can the trans students do if they are subjected to such discrimination?

As we have no prior lawsuits filed before, we do not have exemplary verdicts. However, a lawsuit can be filed at Administrative Court. Then, if the lawsuit is not concluded at the first degree courts, I believe it can be resolved at supreme judiciary. I think that the procedures at KYK can be improved to a non-discriminatory practice through the legal appeals of trans students who have been discriminated on the basis of their gender identity and denied the rights they are entitled to.

“LGBTI+ Friendly Student Dorms” project initiated by İzmir Genç LGBTI+ Association aims to render the LGBTI+ youth’s experiences at student dorms visible.

Within the scope of the project executed in collaboration with Heinrich Böll Stiftung Association Turkey Branch, a book written by LGBTI+ students  titled “LGBTI+ Dorm Experiences” was published.

*Translator’s note: Turkish ID cards are color-coded according to biological sex. The new non-color-coded ID cards have started being issued recently, yet the older ones are still in use unless the holder changes it. In any case, the gender slot is filled in by the state based on biological sex and trans individuals have to undergo a long legal and medical bureaucratic procedure to change the identity card. 

GNATs Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights Hears the General Director of  Prisons and Detention Houses on the Status of LGBTI Individuals in Prison

According to a news report by Deniz Ayhan from Sözcü daily, at the briefing on the current status of prisons at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey’s Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights, the general director of  prisons and detention houses Şaban Yılmaz announced that “there are around 200 LGBTI [individuals] in prisons and one trans individuals reassignment surgery was completed”

Source:  Şaban Yılmaz, the general director of  prisons and detention houses has informed Grand National Assembly of Turkey Committee on the Inquiry of Human Rights: “There are around 200 LGBTI [individuals] in prisons,we have carried out one person’s surgery upon request.” (“Ceza ve Tevkif Evleri Genel Müdürü Şaban Yılmaz, TBMM İnsan Hakları İnceleme Komisyonu’na bilgilendirmede bulundu: ‘Ceza evlerinde 200 civarında LGBTİ var, talep üzerine bir kişinin ameliyatını yaptırdık.’”), Pembe Hayat, http://www.pembehayat.org/haberler/detay/1973/tbmm-insan-haklari-komisyonursquonda-mahpus-lgbtirsquoler-brifingi

“We even got one surgery done”

Yılmaz stated “LGBTI [individuals] have different preferences, so they have different demands as well. We even got one surgery done, a gender reassignment surgery. The person’s surgery took place in Istanbul Marmara University.”

According to the information given to Pink Life by Hilal Başak Demirbaş from Civil Society in Penal System (CISST), “The first gender confirmation surgery  that we know of in Turkey [for an inmate], took place in 2014 with the support of Kaos GL and CISST associations as well as the associations’ lawyers. As a result of the application an inmate ward has been opened in Bülent Ecevit and Marmara Universities.”

“Since 2014 we have received applications from many trans women and men who are in the process of gender confirmation and who are willing to get their confirmation surgery done. Although many applications were done on the basis of the exemplary surgery in 2014, we see that the process and the surgeries have not been carried out in due time. We are applying for inmate wards to be opened in hospitals where gender confirmation surgeries could take place. We know that recently a trans inmate who is doing time for political reasons has applied for a gender confirmation surgery yet the request was rejected on the grounds that ‘it’s not of crucial importance’. We also know that the trans inmate started a death strike as she was kept waiting.”

Recently, a trans inmate’s breast operation was accepted on the grounds that it was “required for the person’s psychological and physical health” by a report prepared by Kocaeli University Medical Science Forensic Medicine Department. The costs for the operation were covered by the Ministry of Health.

“It is an accomplishment of CSOs and activists working in the field that the breast operation was carried out with state support and that the state realises it is not just an “aesthetic” issue. It is also a health requirement. All trans inmates should benefit from such advancements  and the process should be carried out by the General Directorate of Prisons and Detention Houses, with the assistance of CSOs working in the field of LGBTI and human rights.”

 

Governorship of Adana bans the Pride March

The Adana Governorship has banned the first-to-be Pride March with the alleged justifications of “public safety”and “social sensitivity”.

Source: “Governorship of Adana bans the Pride March” (“Adana Valiliği, Onur Yürüyüşü’nü yasakladı”), kaosgl.org, July 6, 2018, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=26222.

The Adana Governorship has banned the Pride March that was supposed to take place tomorrow [7th of June]. The first march planned by the Adana LGBTI+ Solidarity has been banned by the Adana Governorship due to the supposed threats to public safety and social sensitivity.

The governorship in the official proclamation of the ban has stated:

“…[It was determined that ] this event which is to take place in an open space will incite hatred and hostility amongst a section of the public  with different characteristics in terms of social class, race, religion, sect or region against another part of society, that this might lead to imminent peril with regards to public security, that considering the intel regarding the terrorist groups preparing to act against opposing groups, that there may be reactions and provocations against the groups and individuals taking part in the organization due to certain social sensibilities and thus is not appropriate to take place”

There will be a press release

Adana LGBTI+ Solidarity has decided to have a press release tomorrow [7th of June] at 17.00 in the Adana Human Rights Association after the ban has been issued. The press release will cover the process regarding the ban and cancellation process of the first to be pride march of Adana with the theme “ban”.

Yeni Akit has targeted the Solidarity

Meanwhile, the Yeni Akit Gazette has targeted the Adana Pride March with their article titled “Mobil Homos are after provocation.”  After the gazette’s prior attack and call for a “ban” on the Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March, the Adana Governorship has banned the Adana Pride March.

 

Governorship of Ankara’s decision to ban the film screening of ‘Pride’

Source: Ankara Valiliği, “Yasaklama Kararına İlişkin Basın Duyurusu”, June 28, 2018, http://www.ankara.gov.tr/yasaklama-kararina-iliskin-basin-duyurusu-28062018

“Through social media, various print and visual media outlets, it has come to our attention that Komunist LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) is organizing a film screening of ‘Pride’ at Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center in Çankaya at 19:30 on June 28, 2018.

It was decided that the aforementioned social media shares might deliberately incite a certain segment of society with different characteristics of social class, race, religion, sect or region against another segment of society, that this might lead to imminent peril with regards to public security, that considering the intel regarding the terrorist groups preparing to act against opposing groups, that there may be reactions and provocations against the groups and individuals taking part in the organization due to certain social sensibilities.

Due to these circumstances, from June 28 onwards the film screening at Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center in Çankaya district, and within the scope of our city is banned by our Governorship, based on Article 11/C of the Law Of Provincial Administration, No 5442, within the scope of measures to be taken for the provision of peace, security, right to physical integrity and the public order, following Article 17 of Law No. 2911 on Assembly and Demonstration Marches and Article 11/F of Law No. 2935 on the State of Emergency.”

 

SPoD LGBTI statement after attack on office

On 26.06.2018, at around 21:30, during a volunteer meeting about training on STIs planned to take place in our office, someone knocked on our door. When our volunteers asked who it was the person behind the door replied “We know [name withheld] is in there, give them up!” Our volunteers did not open the door and told the people that there was no such person at the office and that they did not know this person, after which the people started punching the door, swearing at and threatening our volunteers. Our volunteers immediately called the police and the board members of our association.

The person behind the door insulted and threatened our volunteers saying: “I have my friends waiting downstairs, I will wait until you open up, you will come out eventually. It doesn’t matter if you call the police” and “I will catch you, all of you pimps, I will look everywhere, I know … is in there, if … comes out of there I will ruin you! I know you are keeping … in there.”

After this the attacker continued banging on the door. Meanwhile, the police arrived at the scene and started banging on the door together with the attacker. Our volunteers at the office did not open the door as they were not sure that those arriving were the police, nevertheless they asked them to take the attacker away.

At that moment, the police started shouting and asking questions outside their authority such as “What association is this! Who is there, why are you hiding?” and saying, “I will call the Directorate of Associations, aren’t you man enough to come out!”, “Are you afraid of one man?”. Our volunteer who had been communicating with the people behind the door refused to open the door saying, “Obviously you will not help us.” Despite our volunteers’ call to the police, the officers stood by the attackers who were violent and threatening. Another officer who arrived later at the scene said, “We are under state of emergency rule, we can break the door and enter!” and “Look fellas, we heard that someone is in there, I have to take the family’s complaint seriously.”

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