LGBTI students

A Review of Pride Across Turkey: Defiance and Resilience

The horizon looks bright in some regions of Turkey for future LGBTI+ Pride weeks and marches. New opportunities have emerged for Turkish LGBTI+ rights associations and activists to gain concessions from the police and the judiciary. This year’s pride events highlighted the strength, capacity and resilience of rights defenders, even in a hostile political environment. 

LGBTI+ Pride weeks took place across Turkey, despite state repression and bans on public gatherings. From Istanbul to Mersin, LGBTI+ rights organisations and individual activists marked Pride across the country with defiance in celebration of their identities. Chants echoed across the country with the cries, “we are here, we are queer” and “where are you my love? / I am here my love”.

In many cities across Turkey activists and lawyers were able to win concessions from the police and judiciary making some of this year’s pride events the largest in years. However, in Gaziantep, a city in southeastern Turkey, no improvements were seen in recent years for LGBTI+ rights activists and the situation has even deteriorated since the official lifting of the State of Emergency.

In this article we will look at many of the Pride celebrations across Turkey, reporting the challenges as well as the successes of this year. Looking at the accomplishments of activists can open up new opportunities for Prides in the future. 

Istanbul

The theme of this year’s Pride, EKONOMİ NE AYOL? (‘Economy? What’s that?’), focused on rising inflation in Turkey and the vulnerable position of LGBTI+ individuals in an economic crisis.

Between June 24-30 art exhibitions, picnics, film screenings, workshops and parties took place in 29 venues across the city. The variety of events set an inclusive atmosphere for people of all identities, with an emphasis on inclusion and peace building. 

Early in the week Istanbul Pride Week Committee met with the Governor, who declined their request to hold Pride Walk in Taksim and stated that the LGBTI+ community was regarded as a “socially dubious group”. The Governor also declined a petition to have the Pride march celebrated in Bakırköy, another part of the city designated for demonstrations but less politically symbolic than Taksim.

On Sunday, June 30 without state permission, people were to meet in Taksim for the Pride Walk. Heavy police presence around Taksim and along Istiklal Avenue prevented people meeting on Taksim Square. However, the police consented to negotiate with some of the organisers, allowing the Pride to take place until 17:30 on Mis Sokak, a street near Taksim famous for its LGBTI+ friendly bars. A press statement was read there to sounds of hundreds of people cheering. One quote from the press statement was,

“We do not give up our lives, our solidarity, nor our organized struggle! We are here, get used to it, we are not going.”

At almost exactly 17:30 the police marched down Mis Sokak spraying the few people who remained with tear gas, rubber bullets and chasing them with dogs. A bar on Mis Sokak where people were continuing to celebrate was also sprayed with tear gas. Before the police attack, people were able to meet in security for over an hour. The police did not use water cannons as they had in previous years and some people taking part in the celebrations described the police as more restrained than in previous years. 

As the Pride march was chased from Mis Sokak activists kept meeting in various neighborhoods of the central district of Beyoğlu, reading press statements and celebrating before eventually being dispersed again by the police. The defiance of the continual celebrations was in line with  the message of Pride: we are here, we are everywhere.

Metehan Ozkan from LISTAG, an association which works with the parents of LGBTI+ individuals described this year’s Pride: “We had parents from Ankara, Izmir and Antalya parents groups, we had new members who had a chance to experience Pride for the first time with their children. Though the Pride was ‘limited’ it was very emotional for them.”

Mustafa Sarıyılmaz from SPoD, an Istanbul-based association focusing on social and psychological support for LGBTI+ individuals, said:

“Police was less brutal than last year. I might easily comment that what we had this year was a small gathering that we all missed and longed for a very long time. And, we now have our hope that we might be able to have our parade back in two year’s time. Because, these are all the signs that the movement in Turkey is getting stronger day by day. We have developed a huge solidarity between us now, which wasn’t the case before.”

That night two parties closed the Istanbul Pride, one was put on by Gzone Mag magazine involving trans and drag performers, the other event was hosted by local LGBTI+ DJs. 

During the Istanbul Pride, six people were detained by police.

SECKER_Bradley-Pride 2019-Istanbul-Turkey-1.jpg

Ankara

An indefinite blanket ban against all LGBTI+ events was declared in the capital Ankara under the state of emergency on November 2017. Kaos GL made an appeal which the 12th Administrative Court used to re-examine the ban and ruled that the city governor did not have the legal power to issue bans of that kind. Although the ban was officially lifted, in practice it continued to be in effect.

On May 10, students at the Middle Eastern Technical University staged a Pride celebration despite the rectorate forbidding it. The celebrations were also dispersed by the police using tear gas and rubber bullets. Twenty-five people were detained including an academic working at the university. In reaction students released a press statement calling for “a ban on the bans”. A party was also held afterwards by the students involving drag performances, with the names of those arrested read aloud and applauded.

Some of these arrested students have subsequently had their student loans and assistance revoked on the recommendation of the Security Directorate to the Credits and Dorms Authority. 

Izmir

The 7th İzmir Pride Week planned for June 17-23 was banned on June 14 by the Governorship of Izmir. However, an appeal by the association Genç LGBTİ+ (LGBTI+ Youth) repealed the ban allowing many of the planned events to take place. In the decision to prevent a ban on some of the Pride activities, one judge voted in favor of enforcing the ban and two votes were for the bans repeal. One of those two votes repealing the ban, commented that this decision should be applied to all Pride activities in İzmir.

However, the ban was not fully lifted for the Pride march nor for two events entitled “Bondage Workshop” and “Sex Toy Workshop”. Activists persisted in marching and negotiated with the police, winning the concession to read a press statement on Kıbrıs Şehitleri Avenue in the center of Izmir. However, after the press statement 17 activists were detained. 

Gaziantep 

In Gaziantep  a blanket ban for 20 days on LGBTI+ events prevented Pride events from taking place. During Pride week activists were prevented from putting up a Pride rainbow flag in Çınarlı Park and police prevented activists reading a press statement at Yeşilsu Square. Instead, the Human Rights Association, IHD (Insan Hakları Derneği) hosted a Pride event to read the Pride’s press release:

“As long as you view our existence as a threat, we continue to say, ‘Every step of ours is a Pride March.’

“If it is your tradition to declare those who strive for an honorable and just life immoral and terrorists to cover up your “sins,” it is our tradition to not stop speaking, not stop and not obey.

“We know that what fuels your aggression is our power. We know in our struggle since the 1980s that you are trying to exploit the beauty of our togetherness.”

ZeugMadi Lgbt, an Antep based LGBTI+ Rights association told LGBTI+ News Turkey that for them there was no improvement in how Prides were experienced in previous years. 

“In fact, the State of Emergency is still not over in Turkey. As LGBTI+ individuals we are still under martial law. Both socially and by the law. Harassment, incidents of rape, sexism, homophobia, transphobic rhetorics have all increased after the formal ending of the State of Emergency.”

Mersin

Despite a blanket ban on LGBTI+ events put into effect on June 25, the Mersin Pride still took place. Activists met in workshops and marched in small group unveiling Trans and LGBTI+ Pride flags in a few select spots across the city. Again, the defiance and determination of activists meant that few a short time in different parts of the city, LGBTI+ individuals were more visible. 

Municipalities’ Official Support

From across Turkey, municipalities controlled by the main opposition party, CHP sent out greetings and support to Pride over social media. This occurred in the past but a larger number of municipalities sent out posts  this year. 

On this topic Mustafa Sarıyılmaz from SPoD reported to LGBTI+ News Turkey that 

“Thirty-five municipalities around the country celebrated Pride over Twitter, it seems the visibility of queer community in Turkey has grown, in a positive way. Well, on the other hand, …. the director of religious affairs made all imams around Turkey curse LGBTI+’s in Friday prayers. Yet, we’re hopeful.”

 

Words by George Winter

Photos by Bradley Secker in the İstanbul Pride 

29/07/2019 Correction: The article had previously stated that a Pride after party was put on by GQ magazine, this was incorrect. Gzone Mag put the party on.

The Turkish Grand National Assembly discussed KYK cutting loans of students arrested during METU Pride March

The Grand National Assembly of Turkey Discussed the Credit and Dormitories Institution (KYK) Cutting the Financial Aid of Students who Were Arrested During METU Pride March.

Dilşat Canbaz, a HDP (The People’s Democratic Party) member of parliament for İstanbul asked the Minister of Youth and Sport why KYK cut the loans of the students arrested during the METU Pride March.

 Source: The grand national assembly of Turkey discuss the Credit and Dormitories Institution (KYK) cutting the loans of the students who were arrested during METU Pride March (KYK’nın ODTÜ Onur Yürüyüşü’nde gözaltına alınan öğrencilerin kredilerini kesmesi Meclis gündeminde) Yıldız Tar, Kaos GL, July 5, 2019,

https://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=28480&fbclid=IwAR1JcbY4m_cQUfz7dK62mfaYTIynceNRpLhXt056JrhvnCXI3sXqxLAGJFY

 HDP İstanbul member of parliament Dilşat Canbaz asked the Minister of Youth and Sports Mehmet Muharrem Kasapoğlu about KYK’s discriminatory policy in a series of questions written by KaosGL.org. 

 Canbaz asked Kasaoğlu the following questions regarding why the KYK cut the scholarships and loans of the students who were arrested during METU LGBTI+ Pride March on May 10:

 *What is the reason for cutting the financial aid of these students?

 *How many students’ scholarships and loans were cut on the grounds that they attended the aforementioned march? Among these students, are there any students who were dismissed from the dormitories of KYK?

 *Has cutting the financial aid been done upon the request of the General Directorate of Security?

 *How many students were denied their KYK rights within the last 3 years? What are the reasons for this?

 *Is there any particular policy being applied to the students who exercised their democratic rights guaranteed by the constitution and participated in the protest march?

 *Is your ministry conducting a project relating to the social exclusion that LGBTI+ students?

 

The statement of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity Group on the bans for the 9th METU Pride March

The statement of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity on the METU Administration’s decision to ban the 9th METU Pride March:

Source: The statement of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity on the METU Administration’s decision to ban the 9th METU Pride March (ODTÜ Lgbti+ Dayanışması’nın Onur Yürüyüşüne yasak kararına ilişkin açıklaması), Lubunya Dayanışma Ağı / Lubunya Solidarity Network https://www.facebook.com/lubunyadayanismagi/photos/a.1731041177022948/2032498373543892/?type=3&theater, 7 May 2019

The METU Rectorate has sent an e-mail to all students, graduates, and academics of the university today around at 14:00. In the e-mail, the rectorate announced that the 9th METU Pride March, which is allegedly organized by “various non-governmental organizations”, shall not be permitted since it is an LGBTI+ event and there is, the rectorate claims, still a ban against the march, and it shall be met with police violence if any event is organized. In an environment where there is no such a ban, the METU Administration is trying to manipulate the situation by acting as if such a ban still exists.

It should be noted that METU LGBTI+ Solidarity which has been targeted by the police for years, would organize the 9th METU Price March on May 10. METU LGBTI+ Solidarity has made great efforts to secure gender equality, fight against LGBTI+ phobia, and ensure that the campus is a safe place for the past 23 years and shall continue doing so. Throughout the e-mail, METU Administration discriminates against METU LGBTI+ Solidarity and the LGBTI+ students pointing them out as a target, just as it has been doing for many years. This is a violation of basic human rights as well as METU’s tradition and culture. Besides, the METU Administration is in violation of international human rights agreements such as the Istanbul Convention which Turkey is a signatory of and breaches the EGERA Charter for Gender Sensitive Governance and the EGERA Charter for Gender Sensitive Communication that our school is a part of.

The METU Pride March is not organized by a variety of non-governmental organizations, but by METU LGBTI+ Solidarity. Presenting the demand for permission as something marginal is absurd and irrational, just like the reason for cancelling the Spring Festival last week claiming that it is because of “LGBT, Marxist, extreme leftist, HDP groups”. It is clear that this announcement fits the pro-government media or Zaytung* better. As seen from the protests demanding the Spring Festival, the administration does not represent METU traditions and thought that it could ban the march, threatening the whole METU community with police violence.

The most saddening part is that the METU Administration aspires to be a one-man regime fitting this country’s mentality of lawlessness. The bans against LGBTI+ events, imposed  both during and after the state of emergency, has been lifted by the court after stating that no ban of this extent can be introduced even during the state of emergency. In addition, CİMER (Presidential Communication Centre) has confirmed that there is no such general ban and each event shall be evaluated on its own. All the detailed statements in relation to the legal status are available as attached.

We call out to all METU people as well as those who want to protect freedoms; to the people who are against LGBTI+ phobia, sexism, discrimination, and patriarchy. Come here and let’s defend life in spite those who are full of hatred. Let’s spread our peaceful parade and rainbow celebration with marches and events for the whole of METU on May 10.

You can find detailed information relating to the legal status below:

https://tinyurl.com/lgbtiyasakkarar

METU LGBTI+ SOLIDARITY

We invite you to support with the hashtag #ODTUyeRenkVer

*Translator’s note: Zaytung is an online satirical magazine based in Turkey

Also see our article on the lifting of the LGBTI Activitities ban in Ankara and the protests on the METU campus in support of the spring festival.

Cyprus Pride March – Out and Proud 2019 

“We are at school, home, parliament, street; everywhere!

Pride Marches started with the initiative of Queer Cyprus Association for the first time in 2014, have been organized by the 17th May Organizing Committee with multi-stakeholders since 2016 and growing stronger every year. 17th of May draws attention to the rights and freedoms of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI +) on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in order to emphasize the importance of working together and combating; We celebrate the day of action against physical, psychological, economic violence against sexual orientation and gender identity with various activities every year.
When the subject comes to the rights and freedoms, we are opposed with an excuse that “Society is not ready.”, we walked with the slogan “We are READY”. As heteronormativity among the society is counted as normal and our loves toward the same gender are ignored, we rebelled with the “Should We Love and turn in to Stone”. In order to honor our ever-growing and getting more colorful combat, we said: “Neither our Combat is finished nor Love”. This year, we have been organizing a series of diverse events over a period of two weeks with the theme of “Out and Proud”. We have been organizing to remind you that we are here.

The foundations of the pressure on gender identity and sexual orientation are the same as the patriarchal system that creates wars and violence. Therefore, we remind that all combats involve LGBTI + struggle as well.

We stand up for that our problems can be visible as long as we are organized while keeping in mind that no one can be forced to come out. For the recognition of our rights in front of the law, we come out to the public sphere against discrimination in the workplace and we say “We are Here” with all our colors and diversity against the heterosexist binary gender repression.

We stand against ignoring policies based on rising violence against women in our country, rising xenophobia, gender identity, and sexual orientation, we are once again reminded that our combat is not separate from our love and once again, we are organizing with our political parties, non-governmental organizations and independent activists from all over our geography and carrying our struggle to the street. This year, we are beginning our series of events with “Out and Proud Party Vol 1” on Saturday, May 4 at Famagusta Old Arcade. and the next day continuing with a picnic and thematic discussion named “Protestainment and Genus Talks” at Çamlık, Famagusta.
On Tuesday, 7th of May, the “Three Generation” film will be screened at Nicosia Party Headquarters by Social Democracy Party. On Tuesday, 8th of May, “Avenue Q” musical, which, is born in Broadway, will meet with the audience at METU Northern Cyprus Campus.

LGBTI + and Class Struggle” discussion organized by Baraka Cultural Center on Thursday, May 9 will be held in Nicosia Arabahmet Culture and Art House with Kaos GL activist Remzi Altunpolat.

Community Party – Gender Equality Committee will organize an Exhibition named “Dramaqueer” on Friday, May 10 and it will be held in Nicosia Arabahmet Culture and Art House. On the same day, the 2nd party will be taken place with Drag Theme Shows at Nicosia Papa Bar.

On Saturday, 11th of May, Slogans, and banners that going to be used on Pride March will be prepared at Queer Cyprus Association.
This year, as in the previous year, the European Mediterranean Art Association (EMAA)’s “Queer Art Exhibition” will be opened on Monday, May 13th.
“KuirFest Cyprus Film Festival”, will be organized by Queer Cyprus Association and Pink Life Association for the first time this year and Festival will start with the opening cocktail and “Night, Angel and Our Children” movie screening on Tuesday, 14th of May and continue till 17th of May, Friday. 16th of May, Movie Screening will be held on Famagusta Old City Arcade and rest of the days, the event will be held in Nicosia Arabahmet Culture and Art House with Turkish and English subtitles.

The Pride March will start in front of Dereboyu Suitex on Saturday, 18th of May and end at Lefkeliler Inn. Right after the Pride March, we will have fun and dance until late with music. We invite everyone to our activities and march to combat against all forms of discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

17th May Organizing Committee:
Queer Cyprus Association, Independence Way, Baraka Cultural Centre, CTP Youth Organization, HP-TCEK, Collective for Woman Education, Socialist Democracy Party TOCEK and Youth Organization, European Mediterranean Art Association (EMAA), Mesarya Women Initiative, MAGEM, NEDA, and independent activists.”

 

The statement for Cyprus Pride March is taken from the event page.

A Cardboard Tractor Model with Rainbows in METU

After the rector of the Middle East Technical University cancelled the 33rd International Spring Festival, METU Student Clubs gathered together in front of the Rectorate building yesterday [on April 16, 2019].

Source: A Cardboard Tractor Model with Rainbows in METU (ODTÜ’de gökkuşaklı traktör maketi) Özgür Gür, Kaos GL, April 17, 2019, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=28080

METU Student Clubs, including METU LGBTI+ Solidarity, grouped together in front of the Rectorate building yesterday (April 16), after the rector cancelled the 33rd International Spring Festival.

Over 2 thousand students protested throughout the day against the cancellation of the traditional spring festival which has been organized in METU since 1987. At the press statement made during the protest, it was highlighted that the festival should continue to be celebrated in METU Revolution Stadium.

Rector discriminates against the students

During the statement, it was announced that the rector Versan Kök, who cancelled the festival using discriminatory language with the claim that “the student clubs decided to waive their demands for the festival after meeting with several LGBTI, Marxist, Extreme Leftist, and HDP supporter groups”, which points out the students as the target. During the protest, it was emphasised that all the METU Clubs stand together against all discriminatory acts. As the clubs that signed the statement were being announced the METU Media Club and the METU LGBTI+ Solidarity were applauded for quite some time .

“LGBTI, Marxist, Extreme Leftist, HDP supporter” tractor in METU

One of the spotlights during the protest was a cardboard tractor model. The tractor was covered with a rainbow flag and designed with the colours of the transgender flag.

The tractor with a plate written “06 Extreme Leftist” was dedicated to the rector’s words “they even wanted a tractor”.

How marginal can you get? On discrimination and how METU students stood their ground

Middle East Technical University in Ankara is famous for two things: academic success and a tradition of resistance to political power. Whether it is in reaction to the overnight decisions to bulldoze the forest in the campus or the attempts at changing the stadium’s name  (“Revolution”, as anointed by the legendary revolutionary student leader Deniz Gezmiş and his friends), students have always stood their ground and claimed their space collectively. The tradition remains untarnished, as students’ protests forced the rector to revert his decision to first cancel and then to move the annual spring festival from Revolution Stadium. Despite the rector’s attempts to marginalize LGBTI+ and leftist constituents of the student collectives, the students successfully stood their ground through their solidarity.

As some of our readers might remember, Ankara is still under a blanket ban against all LGBTI related activities, including film screenings and panels – despite the lifting of the state of emergency last year. Although the ban has struck a blow to the public meetings and collective spaces of LGBTI+ people of Ankara, the LGBTI+ student clubs and movement is committed to continuing their social and cultural activities. Such was the case in METU’s Spring Festival, until the rector suddenly decided to cancel the festival, claiming that the students’ demand were financially burdensome, that the students even requested a “tractor” – confusing the DJing software Traktor with the farmer’s favourite, tractors. The rector said the following words, when his decision caused huge uproar:

“First of all, we haven’t cancelled the festival. On the contrary, we have agreed with students from UGT (International Youth Collective) on all matters including the concerts at Revolution Stadium. Yet this group later changed its mind, after having a meeting with LGBT, Marxist, Extreme Leftist, HDP groups [sic]. Their requests cost over a million in total. They even asked for a tractor. We have never had a prohibitory approach as an administration. We are more METU than you. For example I’ve been in METU for 35 years. I know just as well what is what.”

Of course, the rector’s attempts to wag a finger at “good” students being tempted by the evil marginals like “LGBT, Marxist and Extreme Leftist and HDP groups” fell on deaf ears. But once again the official discourse blatantly discriminated against and others the politically active students with the usual tactics: Lumping together all “others” as a united front of villainy, using identity markers and political positions as if they were adjectives to stigmatize the students, reframing the legitimate requests of students to continue their traditional festival as irrational and greedy and as a cherry on the top, claiming to be more METU than “you”. Regardless of the rector’s claims to authenticity, a university is nothing without its students, who have chosen to use the weapon of humour against the misrepresentation of their intentions. The students gathered in front of the Rectorate, carrying a handmade tractor model painted in the colours of the trans flag, garbed in a rainbow flag, a license plate that says “extreme left” and with a hammer and sickle. Indeed this act of creative resistance reverts the power-holders’ attempt at the caricaturized representation of the diversity of the students, by turning the rector’s words into a concrete object shown below.

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57578742_2268982260026443_2213044872074493952_n.jpg
Various artists have offered to play for free and supported the students. On April 16th, around a thousand students gathered in protest. On April 17th student collective UGT, in charge of the organization of the festival, had a meeting with the Rector for two hours: The festival is to be celebrated for the 33rd time, at Revolution Stadium on April 24-26. We hope to see the solidarity of students, with all their diversity of ethnicity, political opinion, gender identity and sexual orientation, continue and grow in all campuses around Turkey. Love will win!

*Photos are taken from İnadına Haber.

**This article is based on news from Gazete Duvar and sendika.org.

Interview | Trans student, Şafak Koç, was expelled from the dormitory: “The number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo the surgery and commit suicide.”

Source: Trans student, Şafak Koç, who was expelled from the dormitory: “The number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo surgery and commit suicide.” (Yurttan atılan trans erkek öğrenci Şafak Koç: “Türkiye’de cinsiyet geçişi yapanlarla, yapmayıp intihar edenlerin ve öldürülenlerin oranı eşit”) F. Çiçek Yaman & Rojhat Tunç, Gazete Hayır, April 3, 2019, http://gazetehayir.com/roportaj-yurttan-atilan-trans-erkek-ogrenci-safak-koc-turkiyede-cinsiyet-gecisi-yapanlarla-yapmayip-intihar-edenlerin-ve-oldurulenlerin-orani-esit/

On Wednesday, March 27, we made an interview with Şafak Koç who is a student at the Department of Media and Communication at Üsküdar University. Şafak was expelled from Ataşehir KYK* Dormitory for Girls where he had been staying before coming out as a trans man. We met with Şafak after this event to reveal the problems that LGBTI+ individuals have in their social life.  Şafak began his story by describing his life starting in Van and then moving to İstanbul. The interview is below.

First of all, can you tell us about realizing your gender identity?

A child discovers his/her gender identity around at the age of 3. I thought I was a boy, but I realized my body was female when I saw the penis of my male cousin at the age of 5. I didn’t talk at all until the age of 9 because of the discourses that “girls don’t do that” and  “girls don’t play with boys.” I was not able to talk with people and express myself. I didn’t even know how to walk actually. People used to tell me that “you don’t even know how to walk.” I researched about gender identity for 3 years, because everyone around me was either female or male profile and I didn’t fit among them.

 

I couldn’t act like a woman or reveal the man inside me because I was ashamed. When a person told me that “you walk like a man” I got so sad. I wondered: “is there something wrong with me?” Moreover, I had nobody to help me and I was always confused. I hadn’t shared this confusion with anybody until the age of 18. I searched for things like “the mind is male and the body is female; what does this mean?” I thought a person who is not like this would not search for this kind of information. Then, when I was 18 years old, I learned that I was a transsexual person. I became so happy because I realized I was not alone and there were people just like me. On the other hand, I was scared of what my family would say. Because the number of those who undergo gender affirmation surgery and get murdered is the same as the number of those who don’t undergo the surgery and commit suicide.

Did you have problems during your high school? High school years can be problematic.

Yes, of course I did. Girls had to wear skirts at our school. Wearing trousers was forbidden. I would wear it compulsorily and I couldn’t go outside of class by any means. My hair was always in an updo and I couldn’t get my hair cut. Also, girls who  had their hair cut were considered awkward in Van. Then, people started to ask me “why don’t you go out with boys?” They even thought that I was a lesbian. So, many friends of mine ended their friendship with me without even talking to me just because of this thought. Everyone around me thought I was a lesbian, because I wouldn’t go out with boys and would act like a man. But, believe me, acting like a man was not something I could avoid–I felt that way deep inside. What could I do? I started to wear trousers in 11th grade and I was given reprimand. I had reactions from my family because of it too.

How did it go after you realized your gender identity?

When I went to a psychologist for the first time in 2016, I asked: “I really wonder how many people are there like me coming here?”. The psychologist answered me that [there are] “two other people.” They were children of teachers and they came here from other cities. That means I was the only person who was born and raised in Van who had the encourage to be their self. This frightened me a lot. I left Van by changing my choices.  I wanted to come to İstanbul and study media and communication because I though I would be somewhat free if I came to İstanbul and studied here. But then, I thought and told myself “what about other people?” It makes no sense. However, my family didn’t want me to study media and communication so I enrolled in the school by myself. Besides that, I was arrived just one day before the end of the enrolment period and it was difficult. I thought I became free when I came here. Everyone had come down hard on me and were both physically and psychologically abusive. I was already so confused because I was 18 and their reactions made everything more difficult.

So, you were the first person who saw a psychologist in Van about it?

Yes. But that doesn’t mean that there are no transsexual people there. We are not visible. For example, the suicide rates in Van is really high and people don’t know the suicide reasons for the majority of deaths.

How did your gender transition process start?

When I began studying at university, I planned to start the process after I graduate and become economically independent. But I broke down psychologically this year; it is really difficult to bear. So I went to a psychologist and learned that I had to start my gender transition for my mental health and medical treatment was started.

Have you ever had a chance to talk to your family about it, do they know?

I have. They know. But they reacted really bad. I don’t blame them completely, because this is something that they have never seen before and they are shocked about it. Just think about it: the person who you think is a girl for 18 years is actually a boy. They didn’t accept it. They insulted and beat me, just because I am a transsexual individual. Why do these things happen? It is really strange. Moreover, some people think that this is something arbitrary. Who wants to live a life like that? I think people should really understand. My family cut their financial support for me when I came to İstanbul. When they did so, I moved to a KYK dormitory because I had no place to stay. I have many relatives here, but I didn’t want to go to them. I have a sister one year older than me. She lives in İstanbul. But I couldn’t call her either when I was expelled from the dormitory. She already said to me that she wouldn’t help me if something happened. She told me to be still and live my life as a woman even if I am a transsexual person. I thought everything ended when I came to İstanbul, but I felt uneasy about going outside during the first couple of months, thinking they might be around. I couldn’t talk to anyone again. If a person is scared of his/her family, yes, there will be a little fear. The fear is less than the previous year, though. Now I think that everything that will happen can happen because I’ve given up on myself.  For some reason, my fighter side came to exist. I came from there, but I still fret about what those people are doing. Some of them send me text messages. It hurts a lot. They are forced to get married and I think about being forced to get married to some guy, I would probably commit suicide. Every 6 in a thousand people are born transsexual. This is not a low rate.

Can you tell us about the period after you moved to the KYK dormitory?

When I first entered the room, I told my roommates that “I am a transsexual person”. “Keep it in mind when you dress up or undress if you feel uncomfortable about it.” There was no problem. We were 8 people in the room and one of them wouldn’t come to the room. 6 of them were supporting me. This year was the same. We slept together and were really close. I am currently staying at the house of my friend who I met at the dormitory last year. I had no problem with the students at the dormitory. Just one time, the female president of the dormitory told me “your hair is so short, you look like a man. Grow it long!” I got so angry at her and that’s why I had my hairs cut shorter the next day. And then, she laughed at it. I and the president would joke with each other. But she would often interfere with the students staying at the dormitory and ask questions like “why do you wear such revealing clothes?”.  For example, a female student was expelled from the dormitory just because she hugged her boyfriend in front of the dormitory door. When the meals were terrible and students protested demanding better quality food, all the protesters were punished. Actually, almost all KYK dormitories are the same.

What was the process which led to your expulsion from the dormitory?

This year, I have been fairly visible on Twitter. A news article about me was published and I started to become known. Almost everyone at the dormitory learned that I am a trans person. The majority supported me while only a couple of people reacted badly. I was a little scared because if a complaint about it was made to the dormitory I would directly be sent to the disciplinary board, it would be written in my records, and my scholarship would be cut. So I decided to share the situation with the dormitory administration. I had consulted with the psychologist of the dormitory a couple of months before. I had told I was a transsexual man. I had shared my concerns and worries. The psychologist had told me “don’t share it with anyone at the administration, they will immediately send you away.” But I shared it with the administration last week. I told them “If a complaint is made, you can get trouble and a woman can get uncomfortable. If she makes a complaint to somewhere else, it gets worse for me; therefore, I am sharing it with you now.” At first, they seemed to be reacting well, but I was expelled from the dormitory the next day.

Let me tell you about these two days. On the first day, the day when I came out being a trans man to the president of the dormitory, they told me that they understood me and wouldn’t see me as a deviant. They even said that saying to someone, “you are not a deviant” is a transphobic statement. Because you cannot say it to any person when it is not true. Therefore, you cannot say it to me, as well. Then, the psychologist of the dormitory said that “We will ask you to leave tomorrow, you should stay at the house of a friend of yours temporarily”. After news started to spread, a lawyer contacted me and told me that they were trying to intimidate me and they were treating this way so that I wouldn’t cause a problem. The lawyer explained to me that the administration may had heard about it through Twitter or a newspaper article; they would try to shut the event down and thought that I may do something or that they may get affected by it. The lawyer told me to contact them if a problem occurs tomorrow, and that they could come to the dormitory right away.

The next day, I told the president that I didn’t have a place to stay and I was not dependent on anyone because the state granted me the right to stay at this dormitory. I asked for a month of time. She tried to look like she was treating me well again and told me “We need to think for ourselves. You leave the dormitory tomorrow and stay at a friend’s house, won’t you?”. Then, she gave me a paper and asked me to sign it. Afterwards, I acted as if I believed her; I told her that I wanted to go outside to call a friend in order to learn if the house was available. I called my lawyer.

After the lawyer came, the president heard about it and went mad. She locked me inside a room and didn’t allow the lawyer to come inside. She started to shout, pressed the alarm button, called someone, and asked them to come to the room immediately. 6 women came to the room; one of them was the psychologist of the dormitory and another one was an officer working at the district directorate. We started to quarrel. All of them started to shout at me. When I told them that I had the right to defend myself, they told me that they would initiate legal actions. When I answered that “Okay, you are talking about legal actions, but I am an ordinary citizen. So, I want you to negotiate it with my lawyer.”, they didn’t accept it once again and told me that they would have nothing to do with a lawyer. They asked me to direct this to a higher board. The president of the dormitory had always been like this. She didn’t even get a signature from a women she previously expelled from the dormitory. She had made up something and expelled them, but she tried to make me sign a paper because there was no reason to expel me. In the meantime, they kept telling me that they would take disciplinary action but I didn’t believe them at that time. “This is ridiculous,” I laughed at them.

During the quarrel, they often talked about my gender identity. I felt really offended. You get really offended when a person insults you just because you are a woman; it is the same, or double time worse. They acted like I was a guest of theirs and a burden to them. One of them said that “if even your family doesn’t care about you, why should we do?”. It hurt a lot. Then, I reminded them about my right to stay at the dormitory. I told them that I couldn’t stay at the dormitory for boys because my identity card is pink. Because my identity card hasn’t changed; even if I take hormones and become a man and my beards start growing, I am seen as a woman in this country as long as my identity card doesn’t change. So, they cannot expel me from the dormitory just because I underwent breast surgery. One of them told me that “you say your identity card is pink and claim you are a man. You contradict yourself. If you are a man, just leave!” When I repeated that I didn’t have a place to stay, they told me that “did you consult with us about it?”, as if it is something arbitrary. I asked them directly, “So, I am being expelled right now, just because I am a transsexual person, am I right?”. Nobody could say anything for a while. Then, one of them told me that I was being expelled not because I was a transsexual person, but because I was disrupting the moral order.  When I told them that what I was doing was not immorality, they said to me that “It is not immorality, but you are disrupting the order. Why did you reveal yourself? Why are you sharing it on Twitter? Okay, you are a transsexual person, but you should have kept it to yourself, why do you share it with people?” When I told them that the situation which I am in now is the result of the society pushing us to be invisible, they said to me that I am facing all these because I made myself visible. I understand it, they don’t know that transsexuality has a place in society; however, gender transition is one of our rights stated in law. Nethertheless, their attitude was like this.

When I told them that I didn’t think they had helped me, they got angrier and said to me that I had 3 hours to leave the dormitory. They threatened me by saying that I would be punished more and something bad would happen to me if I tried to resist.

You said that the psychologist of the dormitory was there during all the quarrel. How did she react?

When I told the president that the psychologist already knew that I was a trans man, the psychologist denied it. However, she had asked me not to tell the president about it, otherwise, she would get into trouble too. All these people in that room were afraid of each other. Think about it, even the psychologist couldn’t remain unbiased.

There are 788 students at the dormitory. Are there other LGBTI+ individuals you know there?

Yes, there are. I am sure about it. There are 4 LGBTI+ individuals that I met at the dormitory, but none of them are visible, because people are really cautious. I have a pansexual friend at the dormitory. They always protested the situation saying “Why can’t I walk by holding hand with the person I love? Why can’t I talk about it to someone? Why are people always biased about me?”

So, did the students react against the administration?

They started to a petition to show they were standing by me. They thought they could use it as proof when a lawsuit was opened. Something like “Şafak was expelled for no reason because nobody was disturbed by Şafak.” There were so many signatures at the petition, however, they stopped because they were afraid of someone notifying the president. Then, we consulted the lawyer and they said that it would not cause a problem. They continued to collect signatures for the petition afterwards. In addition, I received so many text messages from the dormitory. The people I don’t know sent me messages saying “We were not disturbed by you, how come they expelled you, you were an honest and composed person”.

How did the students at the university react before and after the event?

I have had no problem at the university. There are already visible LGBTI+ people there, like me. The rector, the dean, and my friends know that I am a transsexual man. Some of the students have negative attitudes; despite that, I have never experienced something like that before. I am introverted because my voice is high pitched, and I sometimes don’t want to go to school.

After the event, how did the school administration react? Did they support you?

I don’t know if they know about it or met with anyone. I have no idea.

You are seeking a job in the meantime. What difficulties do you face in business life?

Generally, “It is okay for us, but the customers may feel uncomfortable,” they say. Trans women are in a more difficult situation than I am because people don’t notice trans men after the gender transition. Even before that, it is hard to notice if his voice is not high pitched. After starting to take hormones, you become like a biological male when your beards start growing. But trans women are more easily noticed. They cannot find a job under any circumstance and are forced to work as a sex worker. At first the system constrains them and forces them to do so; then people criticise them by saying “why do they work as a sex worker?”. But it is the system that forces them to do so, and I cannot understand this.

You are staying at a house of one of your friends and have recently been looking for a job. Are there any LGBTI+ individual who you know went through the same process?

I have two transsexual friends. Both of them were expelled from the dormitory. Let me share the story of the expulsion of one of them. This boy goes to his home town and meets his lover there. The lover’s brothers and father beat the boy for an hour and a half, harassing him. They threaten to rape him. The event takes places in the newspapers and the boy gets expelled from the dormitory. He was forced to leave the school; then he was expelled from the school too. I reached out to him and asked that “Why did you give up?”, but he said to me that “What else could I do?” Just think about it, I will stay quiet, not go to school, and leave the school, etc. I would never do something like that. This year, another friend of mine was expelled, too, moved to a private dormitory, and they told me the same thing. They make us ashamed of ourselves. I got so sad about all this and I had already known that it would happen to me too. I was expecting it. For a month, I told my friends that I would never stay still if I were expelled. Because, if I were the only one living all these problems, I would just go away and not care about them at all; however, -believe me- some people are not accepted to dormitories in the middle of Anatolia, just because of having a short hair. Just because they have short hair. So, I want to set off a reaction at least. In the end, I am not doing all these so I can go back to the dormitory. We need to set off a reaction to prevent anything like this. They don’t accept us to the dormitories for boys, we cannot stay there. We are expelled from the dormitories for girls. Then, they should build a dormitory for trans individuals or stop discriminating against us. If I felt guilt, did something to a woman, or stole something, they could expel me right away. But there is nothing wrong with me. Just think, you get expelled from the dormitory, because you are a woman, Çiçek. Or you, Rojhat, get expelled from dormitory because you are a man. I think this is ridiculous.

Is there something you want or plan to do for LGBTI+ individuals?

For example, I will be on the videos of the program called “Soramazsın” (You cannot dare to ask) as a transsexual man. It will be broadcasted in the third week of April. But it is not something that I do to become a celebrity. When we look at the media, trans women are known and visible, whether or not they want to be; because people cannot help but notice them from their voices. But trans men are like “I became a biological man and will continue my life like this from now on.” As it is for Rüzgar Erkoçlar. He said that “I don’t want to be mentioned as an LGBTI+ individual”. Because society really tries to make us ashamed. So, people are not trying to be visible, they try to save themselves. But I have realized that I am not the only one I need to save, after the things I saw in the east of Turkey and the people in the east who reached out to me. So, I attended the video program called Soramazsın, despite the fact that my family can see it. Other than that, there is a documentary which is planned to be broadcasted internationally. It includes my gender transition process and the event of getting expelled from the dormitory; it will be filmed for 2 years. Actually, I attend to do various projects in several places. There is also a book project and a journal at Sabancı University.

Şafak’s life, starting in Van and moving to İstanbul looks like it has two different stories from city to city but it shows us a scene where, between the cities, only the methods of pressure are changed . Şafak has highlighted many times that transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia are reproduced in social life through many ways (series, movies, education, workplaces, etc.) and one of the ways to prevent it is to be visible. He has stated that the main reason for his will to prevent it is because this problem is not only his personal problem; it is a mutual problem shared by many people recently. Lastly, despite all the physical and psychological violence, Şafak clearly declares that he will not give up fighting; he invites people sharing these problems to be “visible together” and to fight together.

Translator’s note, KYK: Higher Education Student Loans and Dormitories Institution of Turkey