LGBTI Employment

Employment issues for LGBTI in Turkey

Experiences of LGBTI individuals in the workplace: “Get out right now”

LGBTI individuals in Turkey have to hide their identity for fear of losing their jobs, having a difficult time finding a job, or facing discrimination. Practises during the recent state of emergency (OHAL) have worsened the problems for “disregarded” LGBTI individuals.

Source: LGBTIs in business life: “Get out right now” (İş hayatında LGBTİ’ler: “Derhal terk edin burayı”) Burcu Karakaş, Deutsche Welle, December 14, 2018, https://www.dw.com/tr/i%C5%9F-hayat%C4%B1nda-lgbtiler-derhal-terk-edin-buray%C4%B1/a-46733048

“I couldn’t reach the status of a white collar worker. I have never been able to find a job. I came to a point where I was going to commit suicide because I couldn’t find a job.”

Trans woman Pınar started sharing her story to us by telling how she had faced discrimination during university education before beginning to work. While she was studying at the Department of Communication at Marmara University, the head of the department asked her “to dress properly”. “I was 20 years old then. I was suspended from school because I didn’t fit the model they asked for.” Pınar who shared her experiences with DW Türkçe has always returned empty-handed from the dozens of job applications she has made till today. Pınar is only one of the LGBTI people in Turkey who face discrimination in their work life  because of their gender identity.

The results of the questionnaire “LGBTI+ in employment” which was issued by Prof. Mary Lou O’Neil, Dr Reyda Ergün, Selma Değirmenci, Doğancan Erkengel in cooperation with Kaos GL Association and Kadir Has University and edited by Murat Köylü reveal discrimination LGBTI individuals are exposed to in their work life in Turkey.

The questionnaire that was filled out by 198 private sector and 89 public sector employees, involve senior executives, mid-level managers, specialists, labourers, and researchers. The questionnaire’s results show that LGBTI employees take some precautions, hide their gender identities and sexual orientations, as well as changing their style of speaking and body language. This starts when job seeking and continues during employment because they think they will definitely be subjected to discrimination. In the evaluation of the questionnaire’s results evaluated, it is stated that “the experience of having to walk on thin ice all the time becomes an ongoing discrimination and can cause severe psychological effects on LGBTI employees.”

“There is discrimination; but what can you do about it, I have to earn my living.”

58% of the private sector employees who attended the study were subjected to discrimination in the place of work or had to hid their identities to prevent it. Only 32 of the 198 people were plain-dealing with their gender identities during the job application, while 89 hid their identity entirely. A gay person working as personnel in the field of the law says that “I cannot be open about it; because they would not definitely employ me. This is a small town; the employers are somewhat conservative.” A gay person working as a service personnel at the entertainment business states that “I am always exposed to discrimination by the customers; but what can you do about it, I have to earn my living”, while a trans woman working as a mid-level manager at an advertisement business says that “being a trans person has isolated me.”

8 of the private sector participants express that they are directly exposed to discrimination during interviews and tests during the hiring process. A gay individual working as a specialist in the information sector shares discrimination he faced and says “During the interview, I was asked why I am exempted from serving in the military. I told them the truth. The woman who was interviewing me sent me away, saying ‘get out right now’.” When they were asked whether or not there is any institutional prevention mechanism against discrimination in the private sector, 94% of the participants answer that there is no such mechanism or they don’t know anything about it

Pınar: They changed their mind when they saw the blue identity card

Trans woman Pınar who shares her story with DW Turkish says that she is a private school graduate. Pınar can speak French and English. Despite the fact that her university education is left half-finished, she thought she could find a job because she was sure about herself due to her previous education; however, it didn’t work out. She states that the employers who had said “there is no problem, you can work here” changed their minds when they saw the blue identity card; “I didn’t have the operation. When I gave my identity card, they would get baffled. The people who told me that I could work with them would send me away when they saw the blue identity card.”

Pınar came to the brink of suicide when she couldn’t find a job after having to quit her education at the Faculty of Communication. One day, while she was walking back to her home with rat poison, she saw an advert saying “toilet cleaner wanted” on the window of a third-class pub. She entered inside right away: “The man felt sorry for me and I started working there as a toilet cleaner. Six months later, my boss said to me that “Pınar, you need to work as at the bar” and my life became totally different.

The effect of the state of emergency on business life

The experiences of the public officers who participated in the study are not so different from those of the private sector employees. To the question “Do you think you can be open about your gender identity at the place of work?”, 36% of the public sector employees answered that “I completely hide it”, 39% say they are partially open, and 7% tell that they are “completely open”. Moreover, to the question of whether or not they face direct or subtle discrimination, 43% of the participants stated that “I don’t face discrimination because I hid my identity”. According to the public sector participants, practises during the recent state of emergency (OHAL) have made the problems in the workplace worse for LGBTI individuals. To the question “Do you think if you experience any change regarding your working conditions at the institution during the state of emergency?”, 36% of the participants indicate that the conditions have gotten worse. The public employees point out that the pressure has increased during the state of emergency and therefore, the conditions for LGBTI employees in the public sector have become more difficult.”

“LGBTIs are neglected”

To the question “How do the problems they face because of their gender identities affect their productivity at the place of work”, a gay police officer answered that “I see everyone as a potential threat. I am disgusted by my job and the environment that I am in”, while a gay gardener states that “I  am cautious in case someone finds out and blacklists me. When a person implies something, I start to think he or she learned it and to get cold feet about it; because I could lose my job.”

A bisexual woman working as a sociologist in the public sector states that she hasn’t faced discrimination at the institution but not because of the positive attitude towards LGBTI people but because LGBTI individuals are ignored.

When both private and public sector employees were asked what they would recommend for the fight against discrimination the answers which stand out are: social awareness campaigns, prohibition of discrimination in national regulations, inter-corporate training as well as organized solidarity and discrimination resistance networks. Additionally, the report highlights that the state should fulfill its duty for protection and support.

Photo credit: Peter Hershey

 

An expelled police officer: If I can’t have a private life, what am I living for?

A police officer in Van was expelled from his job as a result of his homosexual relationship. Telling his story to DW, the police officer, who had been working for 12 years, states that he faces discrimination and cannot find a job because of his private life.

Source: An expelled police officer: “If I can’t have a private life, what am I living for?” (İhraç edilen polis: “Özel hayatım olamayacaksa niye yaşıyorum?”) Burcu Karakaş, Deutsche Welle, March 13, 2019, https://www.dw.com/tr/ihra%C3%A7-edilen-polis-%C3%B6zel-hayat%C4%B1m-olamayacaksa-niye-ya%C5%9F%C4%B1yorum/a-47883571

The report “The Situation of LGBTI Public Sector Employees in Turkey — the Research from 2018,” which was issued by the Kaos GL Association in cooperation with Kadir Has University points out that the working conditions of LGBTI individuals (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex) working in the public sector has become tougher and that these people are afraid of being in the line of fire, because of the increased pressure during the period of the recent state of emergency (OHAL) in Turkey. On the other hand, LGBTI individuals who works in law enforcement live on pins and needles all the time, independent of the political environment. Due to an article in the legal code, it only takes a matter of time for them to be expelled from their jobs. Metin is one such individuals who was fired from his job because of his homosexual relationship.

“When it happened my gut told me that ‘I had lost my job.’”

Metin, whose name we changed for security reasons, was a police officer working in Van. He spent some time with a man, whom he liked, at a hotel room two years ago and had a sexual relationship with him. At the time, Metin’s sexual orientation was not known to those around him. One day he went to drink tea with his friend at the police guesthouse, when the police commissioner called Metin had to leave the location for half an hour. When he returned, he saw that his friend was about to be taken to the police station because he had panicked and claimed to be a police officer and when asked for identification his lie had been exposed.

Although Metin described him as “a friend,” when brought to the police station the man filed a complaint against Metin claiming, “Metin had forced himself on me without my consent.” In spite of the fact that the friend said later that he had given this statement because he was afraid, Metin was arrested for the crime of “a major sexual assault.” Metin remembers that day as follows:

“When it happened my gut told me that ‘I had lost my job.’ You get so sad at that moment, but more than being sad, you think ‘What am I going to do now?’ I was thinking about what to say to my superiors, more than being afraid of losing my job, I was afraid of being humiliated.”

Reason: “Unnatural intercourse with a person”

Metin’s friend didn’t know yet that Metin had been arrested because he had left Van and returned to the city where he lived. He withdrew his complaint after hearing about Metin’s arrest. Metin was released after being held for 8 days. He was suspended from his duty; however, he eventually returned to his job after a decision stating there was no need to prosecute him. Though at this time he was appointed to Zonguldak. None of his friends would talk to him while he was leaving Van.

He continued working as a police officer in Zonguldak for a year and a half. However, he was expelled for the second time on November 2017 by a decision of the High Disciplinary Board of the Security General Directorate, due to “having unnatural intercourse with a person” which is listed among the acts that cause expulsion from one’s job in the Law on the Disciplinary Provisions for General Law Enforcement Forces.

In his written defence, Metin stated that he didn’t want to be expelled from his job and he had no criminal history. He had researched and read all the decisions for the cases opened in relation to sexual orientation, especially those given by the Council of State.

The police officer who was expelled is now unemployed. He has a house in Istanbul and he is planning to sell it. He has applied to many job announcements; however, he has not received any answer from them. He is upset about the reason for the expulsion:

“I said to my superior’s face: this is my private life, there was no problem about my job. If I can’t have a private life, what am I living for? If someone else will decide what happens in my private life, what am I living for?”

“Sexual orientation is an important part of private life”

Metin filed a lawsuit at Zonguldak Administrative Court through his lawyer Fırat Söyle in order to stop the prosecution and end the expulsion. Lawyer Fırat Söyle stated that the reason used to fire his client is contrary to the rule of law. Calling attention to the decision of the  Turkish Constitutional Court, Söyle said that “according to the Constitutional Court, the notion of private life protects facts such as ‘person’s sexual orientation and sexual life’ and ensures people can live their lives without being exposed to any external intervention. Whether or not a person is heterosexual or homosexual, sexual orientation is an important part of private life.”

For Söyle, the legal article “having unnatural intercourse with a person,” which was employed in this case, is contrary to Constitutional Law Article 10 that regulates equality. Drawing attention to the fact that public police officers who are homosexual are exposed to discriminatory legal action due to the stated article, Söyle stated that “This legal arrangement means that the police officers who have different sexual orientations will be extracted from the state apparatus.”

For the lawyer, who emphasises the fact that the perception of “approving” sexual relations between opposite sexes and defines homosexual relations as “unnatural,” the state is discriminating against people through this definition.

“The criminal record of Turkey is getting worse”

Mustafa Sarıyılmaz who is the general coordinator of the Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD), which is located in Istanbul, emphasizes that discrimination based on people’s gender identities and sexual orientations is forbidden in democratic states.

“In the majority of the documents of the Council of Europe and the United Nations that Turkey is a party to, this prohibition is clearly stated,” says Sarıyılmaz, and he adds that protecting people from discrimination based on their gender identities and sexual orientations in public institutions and the private sector is one of the responsibilities of the state.

“However, we, unfortunately, see that Turkey’s criminal record, which is already not very clean, is getting worse when we look at the current implementation and the statements of the politicians.”

 

Second expulsion for police officer Osman: It hurts…

Osman was fired from his job as a police officer, filed a claim against it, and won the case. However, the Council of State overturned this decision after he had worked as a police officer for 3 another years. “I took the exam with the people whom I had been drafted together at the same time; then I won the exam, met the requirements for the state of health, and became a police officer in this country. I don’t ask for a favour, I want my right.” said the police officer. Osman is bound and determined to fight in order to resume his job.

Source: Second expulsion for police officer Osman: It hurts… (Polis Osman’a ikinci ihraç: İnsanı yaralıyor…) Çiçek Tahaoğlu, Gazete Duvar, February 20, 2019, https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/turkiye/2019/02/20/polis-osmana-ikinci-ihrac-insani-yaraliyor/


DUVAR – Osman, whose real name is hidden by us upon his request, is one of the police officers who were expelled from their jobs due to homosexuality in Turkey. Years ago, his sexual orientation was found out as a result of unlawful wiretaps and he was referred to a disciplinary committee after being interrogated at midnight under insults and cuss words. Then, he was expelled from his job by the Ministry of Interior in 2013 due to his sexual orientation, after being told that “he had committed a disgraceful offence.”

Police officer Osman who did not accept the definition of this offence, filed a lawsuit at the Administrative Court in order to stop the execution of the decision regarding the expulsion and won the case. He was working as a police officer for the last 3 years; however, the Council of State reversed the district court’s decision by referring to the Article of the Law on Public Officers “doing something ungraceful and shameful at a degree which cannot be proper while holding a public officer title (Article 125/E-g of the Law no.657)”.  At the decision of the Council of State, it was also stated that the previous statement of police officer Osman “has the characteristics of a sincere confession” and his behavior is not proper for a public officer.

BY THE DECREE LAW NO.682, HOMOSEXUALITY IS BANNED FOR SECURITY, GENDARMERIE, AND COAST GUARD OFFICERS

Lawyer Fırat Söyle, who commented on the decision, highlighted that there is not a clear nor implicit statement referring to homosexuality in the Law on Public Officers and said that “despite the fact that offences as stealing, bribery etc are disgraceful offences, the administrators are trying to define homosexuality as a part of this category and work accordingly.”

Stating that police officer Osman had been expelled before the state of emergency after the July 15th coup attempt and the legal procedure had been conducted according to the Law on Police Officers. Osman’s lawyer, Söyle said that as a result of the Decree-Law no.682 which was published in January 2017, a “homosexuality ban” was put on all Security, Gendarmerie, and Coastguard Officers. As a consequence Söyle made a claim to cancel this ban: “Until now, only the Military Penal Code has had a  statement as ‘unnatural intercourse with a person’, but this statement has been expanded by including all the Security, Gendarmerie, and Coastguard personnel. After this Decree-Law became a Law, homosexuality was put into a definition as ‘unnatural situation’. Now, homosexual people are punished and dismissed from their jobs, and the personnel who are expelled from Security General Directorate, Gendarmerie General Command, or Coast Guard Command are not employed at other state institutions / establishments. We made a claim to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that this Article (8/6-cc of Law no.7068) is contrary to Articles 2, 10, 13, and 20 of the Constitution and Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Now, Osman started the legal struggle in order to resume his job for the second time. With his lawyers, he requested the revision of the decision from the Council of State. The decision will be made within the coming days.  When we met for this interview, Osman said that “I am announcing to the public the cruelty that I have faced, the rest depends on the opinion of the people.” After indicating that his performance grades are high, he has a report stating “there is no inconvenience for him to work as a police officer”, and those who started the disciplinary proceeding about him and decided his expulsion in 2013 are under arrest now due to accusations as being involved in FETÖ (Fetullahçı Terör Örgütü – Fetullahist Terrorist Organisation), he added “Why cannot the people who love their country and nation work at the public institutions just because of their sexual orientations? I hope they will correct their mistake soon and allow me to resume my job which I love a lot.”

Now, let’s hear Osman’s words.

When and how did you hear that you were expelled?

A couple of months ago, I went to my job. We have a system called the Personnel Information System. I entered into this system, saw that I was expelled from my job as a result of a court decision, and was devastated.

Can you tell us about the job you had after winning the first reemployment case?

I was working with a team in the field. You know, we get police announcements, go to the location, solve the problem of citizens, and continue our duty again. I was working in İstanbul. I had a really nice work environment. I was getting along with my co-workers. I was the team leader.

Did the other officers at the police station know that you were reemployed after being expelled?

They knew it, but they didn’t know the reason for the expulsion. They were saying with puzzled eyes that “how come this could happen to a person like you?” Then, I mean, a couple of months ago, my co-workers called me when I was expelled again and they told me that “We are always here for you. You are always our team leader. We live in the 2000s and it is so cruel that a person is expelled because of a reason like this.”

So, they heard about the reason for the expulsion this time, didn’t they?

Yes, they heard the reason, as well. Someone told them at the police station.

You hid your sexual orientation at the police station where you started working after being expelled the first time. When you were expelled for the second time, it led you to come out to your co-workers, didn’t it?

Yes. After hearing the decision, they called and told me that they wanted to gather some money from among themselves and send it to me, and they wanted to meet with me. They did their best for me, to make me feel that I am not alone. I still meet with them, all of them are waiting for a positive decision to be given and for me to continue working with them. Moreover, a friend of mine told me that “I just got married. If my child in the future is a homosexual and wants to be a soldier or police officer, they cannot work in these jobs, can they?”

It seems the things you have faced have changed the police officers at the police station you worked.

Yes. I mean, the world has changed now, so we need to keep up with the changes. They see us as immoral people. Whose morals are these, what are they?

How does sexual orientation affect the job as a police officer?

It doesn’t affect it. Let me explain it like this: We are given performance grades annually at the end of each year. During the three years that I worked after gaining my right to be re-employed, the grades that I received was “excellent” which is the highest. You can see from this whether or not I let my sexual orientation be involved in my job. Actually, there is nothing to be involved, we are not from the outer space. We are the people of this country, too; we love our homeland and the people of our country. I wore that uniform with pride and I will again. I will win this case, too.

When we met 5 years and a half ago, when you were expelled the first time, you were so determined and won the case. What did you do till the time the re-employment decision was made? How did you pay your living expenses?

I worked. I found some jobs in the private sector. I stood on my own feet. There is always bread for a person who works. Each of us has just one stomach to fill.

You seem to love your job a lot. Have you always wanted to be a police officer?

I like helping people. I have always been a solution-oriented person. Who asks for help from a police officer? People who have trouble. I have been working as a police officer since I was 20. To me, the importance of solving a person’s problem and seeing the happiness on their face cannot be compared with anything.

How does being expelled from a job you work with passion feel like?

I can’t accept it, sometimes I can’t sleep because I am thinking about it. Because I’m in a situation that cannot really be accepted. The state makes me othered. I wish there was a machine which could compare my devotion to our country and my work ethic with those of the people who made this decision about me. Am I clear?

But you cannot work at the job you love because of a discriminatory law which bans homosexual people.

Yes, I have been exposed to discrimination, I have been unjustly treated, but I was on the streets during the night of the 15th of July for my country. If it were today, I would do the same. There was a coup attempt. I went out to protect our country and republic on that night, as every citizen should do.

Were you working as a police officer during it?

Yes. We received a message from the communication office, saying “go to the units you are located”. And I went to the closest police station, then I came to Vatan. We had a one-on-one fight that night. Why can’t people who love their homeland and nation in this country work in public institutions just because of their sexual orientation? Recently we see in the news cases of bribery, rape in a police car, police officers who cooperate with drug dealers. I didn’t do any of this. I just acted with my human feelings, I liked a person and I was judged because of it. President Erdoğan said yesterday that all citizens live their rights and freedoms in the broadest sense and that no one has the authority to intervene.

Now, you are fighting against the expulsion from the job the second time. How does it feel?

It hurts because I love my job a lot. I am always ready to die for this country. I do not have another homeland to go. I took the exam with the people whom I had been drafted together at the same time; then I passed the exam, met the requirements for the state of health, and became a police officer in this country. However, I face discrimination now, despite the principle of equality at the Constitution. If there was a situation preventing me from being able to work as a police officer, then I would say OK. But I went to Bakirköy Psychiatric Hospital twice and I got the report stating “there is no inconvenience for him to work as a police officer” on both times. I have excellent performance grades, but you see the decision of the court. I am tired of being a victim from this sort of thing. Can they destroy me? No, they cannot, I am a strong guy.

The Osman I met 5 years ago was different. Now, I see a self-confident, fighter, resistant Osman. Do you feel the same?


If the things you face make you stronger, that means you are on the right path. One of the reasons for this interview is that: Yes, we are a couple of people; however, there is a quote from His Holiness Umar “if there is nothing you can do against cruelty, announce it to the people.” I made it my priority. I am announcing to the public the cruelty that I have faced, the rest depends on the opinion of the people. I hope they will correct their mistake soon and allow me to resume my job which I love a lot. Actually, this is not asking a favour, I will not die until I get my right back.

During the first time you were expelled, you didn’t have any relation with activism nor the civil society. But in the meanwhile you met with LGBTI organisations. Can we say that this period made you an activist?

Yes, I realized the importance of organisations. Two heads are better than one. Maybe it seems like I am fighting alone, but there are lots of activist people who support me.

Before 2013, I mean, before the first expulsion, did you as a police officer have any prejudice against activists?

Police officers and activist people generally stand on opposite sides. But you stand at some kind of junction. It is correct, if you are a police officer, you have to obey the orders when a superior gives them, as long as these orders comply with the laws.

Orders may not always comply with the laws. I couldn’t go on without saying this when I find a police officer who answers my questions.

Then, you ask for a written order and fulfil the duty. No unlawful order can be given. If so, it is not fulfilled.

Regarding the topic, we can understand from their glances and body languages that police officers dislike or even hate activists and journalists.

Yes, because we have become polarised.

The thing that I am trying to understand here is that, did your thoughts about civil society and social movements change during your fight after the expulsion?

They definitely changed. I look at the case now as a human being. Nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc are not really important. A person is a human being. Now, I don’t have any relation with politics, I stand apolitical.  

 

Court nullified the termination of a contract due to a “homosexual relationship”

Source: “Court nullified the termination of a contract due to a “homosexual relationship” (Mahkeme “eşcinsel ilişki” gerekçesiyle sözleşme feshini iptal etti) Kaos GL, 30 January 2019, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=27479

The 34th Labor Court of İstanbul enforced the re-employment of R.S. whom Kağıthane Municipality fired without any severance pay upon discovery of a “homosexual relationship”.

The lawsuit filed against Kağıthane Municipality by garbage truck driver R.S. whom the Municipality fired without severance pay as a consequence of being in a “homosexual relationship” has been concluded. The court accepted the re-employment lawsuit of R.S. and nullified the termination of the contract.

According to the news piece by Dinçer Gökçe from the newspaper Hürriyet, the lawsuit was heard at the 34th Labor Court of İstanbul, where R.S.’s lawyer Mehmet Benan Ülgen demanded that the re-employment lawsuit be accepted, and stated that his client had no grounds to be fired.

Kağıthane Municipality’s lawyer Nebi Karaca stated as the defense that the lawsuit was not filed within the trial time limit and asserted that “we have rightful and valid reasons for the termination”.

After hearing the claims of both parties, the court decided to accept the lawsuit and invalidated the termination of the employment contract. As a result of this decision, R.S. can go back to their job.

The lawsuit of the other garbage truck driver A.S. who also filed a lawsuit will be heard in February.

What happened?

In July, the newspaper Hürriyet published the news with the headline “the homosexual relationship of garbage truck drivers caused trouble in the Municipality” and announced that the Municipality “fired 3 garbage truck drivers for having intercourse with the garbage collector laborer who works with them”. The newspaper used a discriminatory language regarding the violation against the right of privacy and the right to work.

Kağıthane Municipality said to the newspaper that the event which it describes as “improper” didn’t take place during the work hours and “as a result of the internal investigation carried out at once, the required procedure was conducted and the relevant people was fired immediately”.

The newspaper published these events as news and stated that “Kağıthane Municipality is shaken by the news of a homosexual relationship between 4 laborers who work in garbage collection for the district.”

4th Mediterranean Symposium Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia

 

Source: “4th Mediterranean Symposium Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia”, (4. Homofobi, Bifobi, Transfobi Karşıtı Akdeniz Sempozyumu Nasıl Geçti), kaosgl.org, January 25, 2019, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=27450

 

Yağmur Arıcan of Mersin’s 7 Colors Association spoke with kaosgl.org about the 4th Mediterranean Symposium Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

The 4th Mediterranean Symposium Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia was held on January 18-20 at the Mersin Kültürhane and the Atlıhan Hotel.

In the three-day event, mental health professionals, counselors, attorneys, labor unions and professional organizations discussed LGBTI+ rights. Yağmur Arıcan of the Mersin based 7 Colors Association spoke with kaosgl.org about the symposium events.

Arıcan said that this year they centered the symposium on mental healthcare, legal and labor rights, and organized it in collaboration with the Mersin Bar Association: “We prepared the program in collaboration with the Mersin Bar Association and throughout the planning process, we took local dynamics into consideration. On the first day of the symposium, we hosted psychologists and social workers, on the second day, attorneys and on the last day, labor unions and trade associations.”

Arıcan said that on the first day of the symposium, after Dr. Seven Kaptan’s presentation on the myths and facts about sexuality, psychologist Fahriye Cengiz of Mersin’s 7 Colors Association spoke about what needs be taken into consideration in LGBTI+ mental healthcare: “Apart from mental health professionals, families of LGBTI+ individuals also participated in this session. What emerged from these sessions was the decision to create a web for mental healthcare consultancy services. The session also helped raise the awareness of families of LGBTI+ individuals.”

“Attorney Bilgin Yeşilboğaz of the Mersin Bar Association gave the opening speech on the second day of the symposium. Yeşilboğaz talked about LGBTI+ rights. Afterwards, attorney Neşe Öztürk of the Hatay Bar Association talked about the legal procedures for transgender transition processes. Attorney Ahmet Çevik of the Antalya Bar Association talked about the legislation regarding sex work; Attorney Ezgi Özkan of the Mersin Bar Association talked about LGBTI+ client and attorney relations, and the last speaker, Attorney Hatice Karaca of the Ankara Bar Association talked about refugee LGBTI+ individuals’ access to law. After this session, attendees in Ahmet Toksöz’s workshop, split into groups of three and transformed a given case into a strategic case. This workshop was limited to only 45 attorney participants, but due to a high level of interest, we ended up having 60 participants. I think the most important outcome of this session was the decision for the bar association to create a web for legal consultancy services which has mostly been dependent on personal relations.”

Arıcan explained that the theme for the third day of the symposium was “labor”, focusing on LGBTI+ individuals’ relations with labor unions and trade associations. “The first speaker, Remzi Altunpolat of Kaos GL Association, talked about how the fight for rights could be made into a common pursuit. Özge Göncü, branch chair of Mersin Health and Social Services Labor Union (SES) talked about LGBTI+ visibility. The last speaker, Ayşe Jini Güneş of Mersin Chamber of Physicians talked about the healthcare breaches LGBTI+ individuals experience. The symposium ended with the screening of the film “Pride”.”

 

December 1 World AIDS Day Events in Turkey

gazete-ilanlari1-aralik

 

The LGBTI+ Community in Turkey marks World AIDS Day 2018 with engaging activities . Despite the restraining political environment in Turkey, LGBTI+ activism has been growing stronger and one field where it has consolidated its efforts is in raising awareness on testing for HIV and focus on the lives of HIV+ individuals. In this article, we introduce organizations working for HIV awareness and events that will mark the day this year.

 

Pozitifiz (We are Positive) is a non-governmental organization that approaches the HIV issue from a human rights perspective, seeking to increase access to better healthcare for HIV+ individuals and abolish prejudices against them and their families to provide better living conditions. Most of the founders are HIV+ individuals who have been active in the field for many years.

 

Red Ribbon Istanbul is another civil society organization which strives to expand the channels of information for HIV awareness. They aim to “communicate scientifically-grounded HIV-related information to all parts of society, using clear and easy-to-understand language.”  Red Ribbon Istanbul also works to foster collaboration of private sector, civil society and state actors in order to increase opportunities for safe and anonymous testing, diagnosis and treatment.

 

Red Ribbon Istanbul and Pozitifiz joined forces for their #hivcokdegisti campaign, which says “HIV has changed, have we?”. The campaign circulates statements aiming to rid the public sphere from prejudices about HIV+ individuals and HIV+ living, reminding all of us that “HIV is not only a matter for those who live with HIV, but also for everybody else”. You can read their joint statement for World AIDS Day 2018 on this link.

 

This year, Pozitifiz also participated in the meeting for GSK (GlaxoSmithKline)’s World AIDS Day 2018 Campaign , titled “Kendin İçin 1 Aralık” (December 1 For Yourself) which introduces the stories of HIV+ individuals through their own narratives, inviting everyone to share their own support messages with the #dokun (#touch) hashtag, in an effort to overcome the barriers of fear and prejudice. The campaign also urges everyone to get an HIV test and to learn more about AIDS.

 

Hevi LGBTI Association and Boysan’ın Evi (Boysan’s House) marks the day with a panel titled “HIV/AIDS and Isolation on the basis of gender: Women Tell Their Stories”. The panel is to take place on December 2, 17:00-19:00 at Boysan’s House with the participation of panelists Çiğdem Şimşek and Müzeyyen Araç. Hevi LGBTI has also published multilingual pamhplets and is organizing two more panels on December 1, titled “HIV through Letters” and “AIDS in Turkey- Recent Medical Methods and Studies”.

 

Dramaqueer Art Collective which has recently opened its art base in Tarlabaşı will host a talk titled “M.Paniği” (“M. Panic”) on the first known and sensationalized AIDS case in Turkey. Murteza Elgin, a successful vocalist and manager, became the target of a media circus, finding out about his own HIV+ condition through the very news that stigmatized him. Serdar Soydan will introduce M’s story and the struggle against fear and prejudice in this talk.

 

On World AIDS Day 2018 there will also be an exhibition opening at Operation Room at American Hospital, titled “Positive Space”. The exhibition invitation states that it “opens discussions about themes, directly related to HIV/AIDS, such as visibility and stigma, victimhood and guilt, pleasure and disease as well as subjective bodies recording, separating, accepting and rejecting, infecting and spreading in opposition to ideological and medical bodies. Even though the exhibition affirms ‘positivity,’ it reserves the right to see AIDS as a metaphor. The unrepressed HIV does not destroy the cell, it attacks and emaciates it, just like masculine domination or bio-power practices do. “Positive Space” looks for new contamination technologies against these practices.” Read more about it in this link.

 

To make the World AIDS Day more visible, Kaos GL and Pozitifiz Association has published ads on two dailies (Evrensel and Birgün) with Aslı Alpar’s illustrations with the title “End Stigmatization and Discrimination”.

 

Kaos GL’s Social Services Studies Group has published a statement on World AIDS Day 2018 drawing attention to the discrimination HIV+ individuals face. Here is the statement:

 

“We are disappointed to see that discourses on December 1 World AIDS Day solely focus on the increase in the number of individuals living with HIV. We believe that it is not possible to ignore the discrimination that people living with HIV experience in many realms of life. This discrimination not only affects the psychosocial wellbeing of people living with HIV negatively, but also prevents people living with HIV from accessing social services efficiently. People living with HIV have equal rights with everyone else, from the right to healthcare to the right to work, from the right to education to the right to accomodation.

 

As the Kaos GL Social Services Studies Group we fight for the people with HIV’s access to their rights and we will continue our fight. We are conscious of the responsibility and duty that social services experts and other professionals working in the field of psychological healthcare bear.

 

HIV can be controlled. What matters is that hatred, discrimination and pressure against people living with HIV is controlled.

 

Happy December 1 World AIDS Day!”

 

Illustration: Aslı Alpar

 

Toprak: “As a trans woman and a medical student, I want to be able to easily do my job”

Toprak, a 22-year-old medical faculty student, says, “I want a world where trans people are not burned to death, but a world where they are successful.”

Source: “As a trans woman and a medical student, I want to be able to easily do my job”, (Tıp Okuyan Bir Trans Kadın Olarak Mesleğimi Rahatça Yapabilmek İstiyorum), bianet.org, July 21, 2018, http://bianet.org/biamag/toplumsal-cinsiyet/199361-tip-okuyan-bir-trans-kadin-olarak-meslegimi-rahatca-yapabilmek-istiyorum

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Toprak is a 22-year-old medical faculty student. She has two more years before she graduates. She is trying to obtain a new identity card as a woman before she graduates because she wants her diploma to belong to her and not to state a gender identity assigned to her at birth.

Toprak was born in Antep. She attained a high score in the university entrance exam and came to Istanbul five years ago to study at the Istanbul Faculty of Medicine.

Toprak needs financial support in order to have gender reassignment surgery. She started a crowdsourcing campaign to accomplish this.

When she becomes a doctor she wants to be able to proudly hang her diploma on her office wall. She is worried that she will not get appointed and be discriminated against as a civil servant because of the male gender identity marker on her ID card.

Toprak says: “I want to break down prejudices and show people what transwomen can achieve. Transgender people are studying in many different fields. As a transwoman, I want to easily be able to do my job. I need people’s support to be able to have this gender reassignment surgery. I want a world where trans people are not burned to death, but a world where they are successful.”

As a transwoman and medical student, Toprak spoke with Bianet about her university life, future plans and her gender transition process.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Toprak and I am 22 years old. I am a fifth year medical student at Istanbul Faculty of Medicine. I am a transwoman.

Have you always lived in Istanbul?

No, I was born in Gaziantep. I passed the exam and got into a science-focused high school and studied there for four years before coming to Istanbul for university. I have been living in Istanbul for the past five years.

How is university life?

The first two years were quiet because I hadn’t started my transition process yet and I wasn’t out. I was identifying myself as gay back then. A year later, being openly gay, I started experiencing difficulties, mostly with my family. These did not have much of an impact on my university life. Because of their educational and cultural backgrounds, I did not actually receive any negative reactions from professors or fellow students.

I had only one traumatic transition process experience.

We read about this on social media. A professor at Istanbul University made transphobic statements. Where you in that class? Could you tell us what happened?

Yes. A professor was teaching hypogonadism and talking about pituitary glands, endocrine hormones, testosterone, and estrogen. The topic had nothing to do with transsexuality, but I got the feeling that it was going there.

The professor brought up the topic of transsexuality and said “Men without ovaries come and say, ‘I’m going to be a woman.’ These people are psychopaths. Upon receiving them, we refer them to psychiatry.”

He took out his ID card from his wallet and said, “Here’s a blue ID card. They work so hard to get a pink ID card. There were 250 students in the lecture hall. I was sitting at the back and the professor did not know I was trans. About 70-80 students busted into laughter together with the professor.

I stood up and said, “who are you calling a psychopath? I’m a transwoman.” He was surprised because he did not expect that there would be a transwoman in the lecture hall. He turned around and continued reading from his slides.

I said he needed to explain his statement in front of everybody since he had said this in front of everybody. He said “come and see me after class and I will explain this to you.”

This person is an endocrinologist, meaning he is working in an area that concerns trans people. It really baffles me why nobody ever complained about him because he is an extremely transphobic guy.

Did anybody in the lecture hall say anything?

No. So I shared what happened. I did not expect this to get around so quickly. I assumed people in the LGBT community would hear about it and that people would know about this person.

Things took a different turn when the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) began to support me.

How did the TMA support you?

I shared the incident on Twitter. Doctors from the TMA saw my tweet. They invited me to their board meeting and were very attentive. Their support came a few days after the incident. During those four days, I experienced some negativity at school.

What happened? I’m curious to know how the administration and students responded?

Medical students have a kind of a political stance…Actually, they don’t have a political stance, and they are apolitical. They put their careers first and ignore everything else. They treat people neither positively nor negatively. They are neutral. The university has a similar stance. They choose to remove themselves from the current affairs of the country.

That is why they tried to maintain neutrality, but the feminist club at the university showed great support. They wrote a piece, collected signatures from 11 other clubs and published the statement. I did not experience bullying or any kind of verbal violence. Apart from Twitter, I received a great amount of support.

How did the university administration deal with this?

Initially, they started an investigation against me.

Why did they start an investigation?

Because I had disclosed what the professor said.

Did they warn the professor?

No, they gave him no warning until the TMA stepped in. They treated the incident as if we were in elementary school. They called me in and asked, “Why did you do this? This should have stayed between us. Why did you have to tell everyone?” I felt terrible and I cried that day.

Later, my phone rang and the TMA invited me to their board meeting. Once the news reached the TMA, people in the medical community heard the professor’s transphobic statement. Then celebrities heard about it and they shared their reactions on social media. I never imagined so many people would hear about it.

How did these events impact the investigation started against you?

I found out that the investigation was dropped and that an investigation against the professor had opened instead.

I was a witness in the professor’s investigation and he also gave a statement. Honestly, it felt good to see that he was waiting at the door to explain himself.

Then they said he was penalized.

What was his penalty?

I’m not exactly sure, but they said that the professor was no longer authorized to give oral assessments for internal medicine. Internal medicine is a very important field and to give the oral assessment is considered a huge honor.

During this process, solidarity felt great. When I saw the power of solidarity, I decided to get funding for my surgery. A friend, studying architecture, said she started a campaign for herself and advised me to do the same. I decided to start a campaign because I urgently need to have my surgery.

Why is this so urgent for you?

Unfortunately, currently my ID card has the male gender marker. Surgery is a requirement to change your gender marker on your ID in Turkey.

Without having a female gender identity marker, I worry that I won’t be appointed. Over the past two years, there have been state security investigations against doctors. I worry that having a male gender identity marker on my ID card will impact my appointment. I am a fifth year medical student who will be graduating soon. That’s why I want to have my surgery before graduation.

The main problem for trans people regarding their diploma is the name written on it. It is necessary to change your name before graduating. If you change your name after you graduate, then there is no indication that the diploma belongs to you, making it almost null. I changed my name on my ID card recently. I started my transition a year ago and everything progressed quickly.

Which area do you want to specialize in?

Internal medicine or gynaecology. Fields such as psychiatry and surgery are important for LGBT people, but you need to have really good grades to be in these fields. We’ll see.

You spent this year working. What was your hospital experience like?

We spend many years studying, but after our third year we get to work and I like that we get to be in direct contact with patients and not spend much time at school.

Many of my professors and other students support me.

There is a certain perception of trans woman in society and when you do not fit that perception, they do not call you a trans woman. So far, I have not experienced any negative reactions from patients because they do not know that I am trans.

I used to shy away from patients having seen how patients’ relatives attack health workers.

The other day, one relative of a patient hit a doctor on the head with a brick. Imagine what a person might do to a trans woman…

This is why I do not disclose my trans identity to patients.

Could you tell us about what the transition process is like as both a medical student and as someone experiencing this?

You apply to psychiatry at a public hospital. In Istanbul you can apply to Çapa or Cerrahpaşa. They observe you for at least six months and first refer you to psychiatry and then to endocrinology. At endocrinology you get a hormone test and then you start taking hormones. This process takes about a year.

Social Security Insurance (SSI = public medical insurance) covers everything except hormone medications. Hormone medications cost about 150-200 TL a month. Doctors have now started to write medical reports for hormone medications. As a result, SSI covers hormone medications too.

What is the hormone therapy process like?

(For trans women) You take out testosterone from the body and take in estrogen. The hormones impact you. Your emotions change. The hormone perceived by the receptors change, in other words, the codes change.

For instance, when the lecture hall incident happened, I was feeling very vulnerable because it had been a few months that I had been taking hormones.

This continues for the first six months before your body starts adapting. I don’t feel like that anymore.

Does the surgery process start after that?

The most important thing is the surgery. At this point, transmen are luckier because mastectomy (removal of breasts) and hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) are operations covered by SSI. Because these operations include removing of a part, the procedure is the same for any doctor. But surgeries such as vaginoplasty are highly risky since they involve creating something out of nothing.

SSI does cover this operation but there are no doctors who perform the procedure under this insurance. Even if there is a doctor out there who performs the operation under this insurance, it is really difficult to trust that doctor.

Why?

 

In medical school they do not teach you anything about transgender transition processes. If the person wishes, they self educate themselves after they graduate. If that person has no training, s/he cannot do the operation.

Doctors who specialize in these surgeries must be well known in the trans community then.

Yes. Because this operation is very important, I want to go to a good doctor to have my operation. One trans woman died at an operation two years ago. She was an activist and was living in Izmir. They said she died due to a complication that had derived from her. If the doctor had made a mistake, he would have been penalized anyway.

What kinds of complications arise during an operation like this?

There are complications that are repairable and complications that are more severe. Infections and clitoris dryness are the most common complications that are repairable. One friend didn’t go to a good doctor and got infected; had the surgery again and was hospitalized for three weeks. Another friend had clitoris dryness because the nerve cells were not stitched together well; she had a second operation and was hospitalized for a month.

I do not want to go through any complications. Also, I do not want to disrupt my studies. Attendance is compulsory.

How much does gender reassignment surgery cost?

About 20-30 thousand Turkish lira(3,600-5,400 Euro).