LGBTI Refugees

The issues Syrian, Iranian, and Iraqi LGBTI refugees face in Turkey

Syrian Trans Refugee Mişa: Trans Guesthouse has become a home for me

Discussions on trans refugees were held as part of the trans pride week. Mişa, a Syrian trans refugee woman, lamented “I imagined that I would be happy in Istanbul. Apparently, I was wrong.”

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Suriyeli Trans Mülteci Mişa: Trans Misafirhanesi evim gibi oldu” (“Syrian Trans Refugee Mişa: Trans Guesthouse has become a home for me”). Kaos GL, 20 June 2015, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19661

Organized by the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association, 6th Trans Pride Week continues. As part of the various panels and workshops taking place during the week, a discussion on trans refugees was held. Problems of trans refugees seeking shelter and various solutions to their problems including the trans guesthouse were presented.

transmultecipanel (1)

The panel, held at the İsmail Beşikçi Foundation, was moderated by Deniz Tunç. The speakers were Mişa, a trans refugee woman and occupant of the trans guesthouse; Zeynep Kıvılcım of the Istanbul University Political Sciences Faculty, Cansu Alözkan of the Refugees and Immigrants Solidarity Association and Selin Berghan of the Pink Life Association.

Trans Guesthouse provided shelter for 50 people

In her opening speech, Deniz Tunç provided updates on the Trans Guesthouse.  According to Tunç, the trans guesthouse provided shelter to almost 50 people. “We have hosted as many as 20 LGBTI refugees from war and we will continue to accommodate them as long as our resources allow us. It is, however, time to stand in solidarity with the guesthouse.” Tunç continued.

“I imagined that I would be happy in Istanbul, Apparently I was wrong”

First panelist Mişa, a Syrian trans refugee woman, talked about the hardships of being an asylum seeker and what she went through in Istanbul.

“When I first got here, I imagined that I would be very happy here and that I would have a good future. I thought people would be open-minded and respectful but apparently I was wrong. I escaped Syria because it is a homophobic country and I was not respected there. In Istanbul though, every day is a different adventure. I do not have a job. Istanbul is an expensive city. I do not have an ID card. I have no income to speak of. The only place I can live in is the Taksim area and it is very expensive here. I have thought about returning to Syria after going through all of these problems. I risked going back, even though my life was in danger there. That is when some people told me about the Trans guesthouse and that I could stay there. I met the people in the organization and they told me that I could stay with them until I get my life in order. Later, I registered with the United Nations as a refugee. If it were not for the Trans Guesthouse, I would be on the streets now.”

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Psychological, legal, and social support for Trans Guesthouse

Istanbul LGBTT is launching the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project to provide psychological, legal, and social support for the residents of the Trans Guesthouse. [To contribute to the Trans Guesthouse, please contact the Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association.]

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Trans Misafirhanesi’ne psikolojik, hukuki ve sosyal destek sağlanacak” (“Psychological, legal, and social support for trans guesthouse”), KaosGL, 26 May 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=19500

Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association is launching the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project to address the psychological, legal, and social support needs of the Trans Guesthouse. Supported by the Netherlands, the project will provide vocational training programs as well as psychological support for trans residents on a regular basis.

The residents of both the Çingene Gül Guesthouse, which was initiated some years ago by Istanbul LGBTI, and of the Eylül Cansın Guesthouse, which is being developed through Trans Angels’ support, will now be able to receive legal counselling, attend accessory design workshops, and produce and sell handmade accessories.

All proceeds from the accessory design workshop will go to the guesthouse

In our conversation about the Association’s new project, Deniz Tunç noted that the Eylül Cansın Transhouse Project will greatly contribute to the institutionalization of the guesthouse. Tunç remarked that so far the guesthouse has survived through solidarity:

“Till now, the basic needs of the guesthouse were being met by the visitors. This project will enable the trans women who reside here to have their basic needs met. The end results of the accessory design workshop will be displayed for sale on 20 November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance; as part of the week’s activities, we will hold a charity sale and exhibition for the accessories. All proceeds will go to the guesthouse.”

Yearlong psychological counseling

Tunç noted that group therapy and one-on-one counseling will be made available to trans residents: “Trans people are discriminated against in every domain of life. The trans people who come to the guesthouse are usually people who have been excluded from social life and who experience extreme isolation. Many trans women don’t even want to go outside. They have been getting counseling from volunteer psychologists, but we’ll systematize that service.”

Legal support for LGBTI war victims

The project includes services for LGBTI refugees as well. Istanbul LGBTI will provide legal support for LGBTI war victims’ applications to the UN. Legal support will not be limited to refugees. The new transhouse website will provide both online and face-to-face consultancy to trans residents.

The utilities of the guesthouse are being paid through the proceeds of the fashion show held by Trans Angels on 20 November 2014 and other charity events. However, the guesthouse needs contributions.

To contribute to the Trans Guesthouse, please contact the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association.

A young gay Syrian’s story – from Syria to Turkey

This is the story of Maher, who had to escape and migrate from Syria to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Turkey. A life wrapped in the war in Syria and dual discrimination both as a Syrian and as a gay man in Turkey. 

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Suriye’den İstanbul’a eşcinsel bir gencin hikayesi” (“A young gay’s story from Syria to Turkey”). Kaos GL, 24 October 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=17785

Millions of Syrians were forced out of their homeland as a result of the war in Syria and ISIS assaults. Some headed over to Europe; many lost their relatives during as their travels was well as the war.

Maher  Daoud, who we interviewed in a coffee shop in Kurtuluş, Istanbul, was  among the millions who had to leave their homeland. He had to leave Latakia in the 23rd year of his life which began in the city. Maher tells  the story of migration from Latakia [al-Lādhiqīyah]  to Lebanon, then to Sudan, and finally to Istanbul. He speaks fast, telling his story at once, as if someone were following us.

“Art is like breathing”

Maher,  who is now 24, is a young gay artist. He studied architecture in Syria.  However, he was forced to leave before being able to graduate. He also draws aquarelle and acrylic illustrations. Maher says that, in each of  his drawings, a gay story is hidden. To Maher, to make art is to breathe.  Because Syria does not have a “gay life,” art is the only space within which he can breathe.

I ask about the situation in Latakia. Maher says that life in Latakia is horrible:

“Latakia is Bashar al-Assad’s city. As such, the pressure was always intensive.  To speak, to do something was almost impossible. It was so in art too. I  had to put a lot of effort to be able to open my second art exhibit.  You have to get signatures from a lot of places. I had to deal with  almost every police officer in the police station. They examine each and every painting, find some to be “appropriate” and some “inappropriate.”  They kept asking why I was making such paintings. They were trying to judge whether I was against Bashar al-Assad.”

maherdaoud

Maher dislikes talking about politics. This also has to do with the notion that “it is a sin to speak politics in Syria.” He thinks that politics changes nothing. He desires more art.[1]

Things became even tougher with war. He says that the war between Bashar al-Assad, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)  made things much more difficult in Syria. To Maher, the rebellion for “freedom” was initially beautiful. However, everything changed when Assad began the massacres and when those opposing Assad began using the same methods [sic].

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Interview with Zeugmadi LGBTI: “Captain, the queers are conducting a peace demonstration; what shall we do?”

Yıldız Tar, “Amirim, LGBT’ler barış eylemi yapıyor ne yapalım?” (“Captain, the queers are conducting a peace demonstration; what shall we do?”) Kaos GL, 06 September 2014, http://www.kaosgl.com/sayfa.php?id=17470

We discussed Zeugmadi LGBTI’s first year with Cemre: “We are organizing in the neighborhoods referred to as slums. With Zeugmadi, I feel that I am becoming free. Wherever there are LGBTI people, that is where we too must be. It is not just an LGBTI issue; hatred of Syrians is our issue as well.”

The September 1st, 2014 World Peace Day demonstration

Quite some time has passed since Kaos GL began to organize activities in a number of cities, calling them “Local Steps Against Homophobia”. Beginning with a few cities, the activities have spread all over Turkey. The slogan “We don’t want the ghettos, we want the whole city” has begun to be realized.

With the establishment of LGBTI organizations in a number of cities, especially in recent years, the perception that the fight against heterosexism is confined to Beyoğlu has been demolished. One of these organizations, called Zeugmadi, began about one year ago in the southeastern city of Gaziantep. Using in its logos the emblem of Antep, a Gypsy girl whose sex is barely perceptible, Zeugmadi LGBTI has said throughout the year: “We’re in Antep, buddy.”

Painting Antep’s streets with the colors of the rainbow, Zeugmadi LGBTI hosted a series of activities in honor of its first year. The culmination of these activities, however, was its participation in a September 1st World Peace Day gathering, on the anniversary of Antep’s LGBTI organizations’ coming out on the street.

While the LGBTI community, on the one hand, were marching to their slogan “Homosexuals will not be silent”, the police walkie-talkies were not silent at all. We heard police say, through their walkie-talkies as they were standing just beyond the journalists who were following the story, the question “Captain, these queers are conducting a peace demonstration. What shall we do?”  Zeugmadi LGBTI was not the only one organizing the demonstration. Nevertheless, one of the gathering’s most enthusiastic and sizable groups was the LGBTI participants.

After the demonstration, upon a invitation by İlkyaz Şikayetçileri (“Spring Malcontents”), the stairways of Yeşilsu were painted with the colors of the rainbow. At one point, the shopkeepers nearby joined in the painting effort. A one-year organized effort has carried the freedom march one step forward.

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LGBT Asylum Seekers and Refugees Face Double Pressure!

Source: “Mülteci ve Sığınmacı LGBT’lere Çifte Baskı!” (“LGBT Asylum Seekers and Refugees Face Double Pressure!”), Kaos GL, 28 March 2013, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=13859

Lawyer Hayriye Kara, Kaos GL’s Refugee Rights Coordinator, talks about the troubles LGBT asylum seekers and refugees face in Turkey.

LGBT asylum seekers and refugees, who are mostly from Iran, enter Turkey to escape torture, bad treatment, and danger to their lives because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Once they enter Turkey, they are placed in satellite cities and are doubly discriminated against because they are refugees and LGBTs. LGBTs face homophobia, physical and psychological harassment and violence from the police and the local population. Lawyer Hayriye Kara, Kaos GL’s Refugee Rights Coordinator, stated that they have been assisting refugees since 2007 and said, “LGBT refugees are located in small satellite cities where they are forced to become visible. Because of this, LGBTs face violence from the local population as well as the other refugees. We have submitted a joint letter to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey; it is still being discussed.”

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Human Rights vs. LGBT Rights

Source: Çiçek Tahaoğlu, “İnsan Hakları vs LGBT Hakları,” (“Human Rights vs. LGBT Rights,”) Bianet, 28 December 2013, http://www.bianet.org/biamag/lgbtt/152398-insan-hayati-vs-lgbt-haklari

Among the thousands of Syrians staying in Turkey, there are certainly many LGBTIs.

What they say to Syrian LGBTs in Syria and in the countries where they seek asylum is “Human life is priority, not gay rights.”

Naturally they then ask: “Ours is not “human” life?”

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LGBTI Immigrant and Refugee Helpline

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Lambdaistanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association has been working for LGBTI rights and freedoms in Turkey since 1993. With our Helpline, founded in 2004, we have been working to offer solutions to problems LGBTI people face.
Turkey is a crossroad for refugees. We are aware of the problems that LGBTI immigrants and refugees encounter in Turkey as these problems are becoming more visible. Thus; Lambdaistanbul has founded an LGBTI Immigrant and Refugee Helpline which serves in Azeri, Persian, English and Turkish to help people and contribute solutions to the problems they encounter.
If you are an LGBTI immigrant or refugee residing in Turkey and if you have any questions regarding the issues below:
– If you do not know where to apply to get legal and medical help
– If you need information on institutions and the services they offer
– If you want to share and talk about the problems you face due to your LGBTI identity
– If you need a counselor or a psychologist
Call us at +90 (553) 544 29 75 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 6:30 and 8:00 PM EEST.