Opinion

Opinion pieces on LGBTI issues in Turkey

Kemal Ördek: ’Dying By The Sword,’ Rape, and A Question for Minister Islam

Every sex worker and transsexual who was kidnapped and raped has ended up in deep loneliness. This has never changed. Don’t be fooled by the few strong voices that reacted to the attack I suffered.

Source: Kemal Ördek, “Su Testisi Tecavüz ve Bakan İslam’a Bir Soru” (“’Dying By The Sword,’ Rape, and A Question for Minister İslam”), bianet.org, 17 July 2015, http://m.bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/166083-su-testisi-tecavuz-ve-bakan-islam-a-bir-soru

I’m writing as a rape victim.

I’m writing as a theft, threat, and insult victim.

I’m writing as a trans and as a sex worker.

I’m writing as a rights activist.

I’m writing as someone who now thinks twice before going out.

I break out in a cold sweat; I tense up. I can’t do a thing without someone by me. For the last twelve days, it is as if I’ve been under house arrest. Just yesterday, I saw one of my attackers when I was out with my friends; I simply ran back home. It is as if they are everywhere. I try to stay away from people, but they are out and about. This is what they call justice.

Özgecan comes to my mind. Everyone cried for her and mourned her loss. They took Özgecan away from us, just like with all the other women they took away from us. An otherwise silent Turkey stood up for her, took to the streets, ached, trembled. We trembled.

With Özgecan, we relived a familiar story. We remembered all the sex workers and trans people who have been raped and killed for all these years.

Just yesterday, the entire country was startled when Münevver Karabulut was murdered by decapitation. Only a week later, when a trans sex worker was found in a trash can with her head cut off, everyone who had stood up for Münevver disappeared. Trans women and sex workers were left alone in a country of murders by decapitation.

Every sex worker and transsexual who was kidnapped and raped has ended up in deep loneliness. This has never changed. Don’t be fooled by the few strong voices that reacted to the attack I suffered. In all likelihood, there would not be any reaction if I weren’t a well-known rights activist.

Trans people, sex workers, the other women, the anonymous women whose lives are tested by violence, rape, and murder are also raped by silence. In the back streets, in invisible streets, in those “deserved” lives, rape occur every night. Because those women live the lives they “deserve.” Because those who “live by the sword, die by the sword.” Because they deserve rape and death is written in their fate.

We have a Minister of Family and Social Policies, whose faint voice we hear after every case of rape and death. She is someone who disappears, becomes quiet, and shrugs when the issue is trans women and sex workers. She is someone who is complicit in the silence that rapes us…

I have a question for Minister İslam:

Dear Minister: I’m a trans and a sex worker, and I was raped. I was robbed, threatened, and insulted. I was mistreated when I called the police for protection from the violence that I suffered. One of your officers told me, “but you weren’t raped.” Another one lamented that, “this Tribe of Lot isn’t extinct yet.”

I am thankful that I am alive. What I do can’t be called living, but still. My friends advise me to look on the bright side and be thankful that I am alive.

Dear Minister: you are everybody’s minister, is that right? This “everybody” includes trans people and sex workers too, right? If your answer is yes, I ask, why are you silent about what happened to me? The investigations are ongoing and you’re still silent. If a lawsuit begins, are you going to stand by me? Are you going to get involved in it? Are you going to stand by a trans, sex worker, rights activist who was raped and brutalized?

Or am I, are we, going to be considered as people who “deserve” what happens to them? When one of us is killed tomorrow, will there be only 2-3 people to say a final goodbye? Are we, the members of the Tribe of Lot as some of you say, going to continue to be “disciplined” by violence, rape, and murder?

Dear Minister, is your silence fair? We may not be women in your eyes; we may be “immoral.” But are we not human either? Are your “conservatism” and your “religious and human values” silent in the face of violence?

I, your citizen, a trans, a sex worker, a rights activist, a victim… When were we made to be so lonely?

Dear Minister, I invite you, your Ministry, and your government to stand by me. I keep hoping for the faint possibility. If you take a step, it will send a message to rapists.

Before we die again…

The Campaign Against Homosexuality in Turkey’s Elections

Only days before Turkey’s upcoming parliamentary elections, unknown gunmen shot at the campaign office of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the early morning hours of June 2 in Eskisehir, a city in northwest Turkey. More than 100 attacks have been carried out against election offices of the HDP, a left-wing and pro-Kurdish party, during this campaign season, according to Dicle News Agency. [1] Though no one was hurt in the Eskisehir attack, the HDP’s openly gay candidate Baris Sulu, who runs his campaign from that office, left the city over safety concerns.

Sulu has been receiving threats since he declared his candidacy for the HDP nomination in February. A seasoned activist, Sulu says he joined the HDP because the party supported rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex (LGBTI) people even at its nascent stage as the Peoples’ Democratic Congress in 2011. Sulu’s candidacy is highly notable in a conservative country where prejudice and harassment against LGBTI people is a fact of daily life. The number of threats rose in April with his official nomination but the dramatic increase came in May when pro-government media outlets started targeting him.

Pro-government Sabah and Star daily newspapers have called Sulu’s campaign “vile propaganda,” criticizing his tweets such as “recognize our sexual orientation” and for wanting “people to react normally to men kissing.” [23] The Turkish daily newspaper Yeni Akit, infamous for its attacks on LGBTI people, published blurred photographs of Sulu and his partner kissing under the title “Immoral prostitution images of the HDP’s perverted candidate revealed!” [4] The article was quickly reposted by other media outlets and social media users, which escalated the online threats.

In Turkey, media attacks often go hand-in-hand with similar statements from elected officials. President Erdogan, who has led the campaign for the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) despite the fact that his position calls for neutrality, lambasted the HDP on May 28 at a meeting in Ankara. “We don’t nominate so-called religious scholars in Diyarbakir [a pre-dominantly Kurdish city in Turkey’s southeast] and homosexuals in Eskisehir,” Erdogan said in reference to what he sees as the HDP’s pandering to opposing sensitivities of different regions of the country. [5]

Following Erdogan’s statements, two parliamentary hopefuls from the AKP, in an effort to garner votes from religiously conservative Kurds, have criticized the HDP for nominating an openly gay candidate, arguing that homosexuality cannot be reconciled with Islam.

At a campaign stop in the southeastern province of Siirt, AKP candidate Yasin Aktay criticized the HDP’s nominations and said, “You are the child of a Muslim. The Kurds are Muslim and if there are, excuse me, 3 homosexuals on the list of Muslims who defend man’s marriage to man, then I will ask you ‘who are you?’” Aktay concluded that “it is impossible for Muslim society to affirm a man’s marriage to a man.” [6]

Former Interior Minister and AKP candidate Efkan Ala expressed fear that the HDP would give gays and lesbians “all sorts of rights” such as the recognition of same-sex marriages. Speaking to his “Kurdish brothers” on a Turkish news channel, Ala said, “We are against such things that our morality and our traditions reject.” He warned his listeners “the tribe of Lot was destroyed because of this; this is the destruction of humanity,” referring to the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a trope often used against LGBT communities in the Muslim world. [7]

Sulu says that after each public speech, he has received threats on Twitter from AK trolls, supporters of the AKP who launch large-scale smear campaigns on social media. They called him a pervert “who will burn in hell.” He blocks at least 10 accounts every day, but “systematic swearing, insults, and threats continue to come to all of my social media accounts,” Sulu said.

Sulu believes that Erdogan’s statement in 2002 that “homosexuals must also be given legal protection for their rights and freedoms” was only to appear sympathetic to the EU. [8] Now at the brink of losing a significant number of parliamentary seats to the HDP, “all their hidden fears, all the times they were being disingenuous, are coming out to the surface,” in the shape of homophobia. President Erdogan confirmed this at a June 3 rally in the eastern province of Bingol, when he said, “The Armenian lobby, homosexuals and those who believe in ‘Alevism without Ali’ – all these representatives of sedition are [the HDP’s] benefactors.” [9]

Sulu is last on the list of 6 HDP candidates in Eskisehir and, thus, unlikely to be elected into office. However, the nomination of an openly gay man for parliament is highly notable in Turkey, where 87 percent of respondents to Bahcesehir University’s 2012 survey, “Turkish Values Atlas,” said they do not want gay neighbors. [10] Since 2010, 47 individuals have been killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. [11] In May alone there were 5 assaults on transgender individuals in Istanbul. [12]

The HDP’s nomination of an openly gay candidate has created campaign fodder for the AKP. While singling out Sulu could prove dangerous for the candidate, he remains hopeful. “If we as LGBTIs are taken so seriously, then we must be succeeding in our twenty year rights struggle,” Sulu said.

Zeynep Bilginsoy is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. She’s also the founder and project manager of LGBTI News Turkey, an English translation resource on LGBTI issues in Turkey.

Mehtap Cansın, Suicide or “I could not do it!”

Source: Derviş A. Akkoç, “Mehtap Cansın, İntihar ya da “Yapamadım!” (“Mehtap Cansın, Suicide or “I could not do it!”” )Birikimdergisi.com, 07 January 2015, http://www.birikimdergisi.com/guncel/mehtap-cansin-intihar-ya-da-yapamadim

Trans woman Mehtap [Eylül] Cansın committed suicide by jumping off the Bosphorus Bridge on January 5, 2015. Death has become so ordinary in this society that I have no doubt this suicide will be brushed aside like the other suicides. It will be completely forgotten since the person who is dead is not one of “us” due to her sexual preference. I do not know if I should either say “what a pity!” or “such a shame!” Mehtap Cansın was only 24 years old. She recorded a video right before she committed suicide. At her last moment and with her last breath she voiced her complaint, trying to explain her situation one last time and to reach out to others:

I’m sending kisses to all of you. Today is the best of my days, I am very happy. But today will be another beautiful day for me. I thank everyone. I love everyone. Many were my friends, but apparently not. I leave everyone to their conscience, I can’t do this anymore. This is what I figured out. I do the things everyone wants, the way they would like it. I kiss all of you. 2015! I was born in 1992. I should be 24 right now, but I am ending my age at 24 instead. I kiss everyone. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do it, because people did not let me. I could not work. I wanted to do things, I couldn’t do them. Do you understand? They constantly stood in my way. They victimized me. I leave everyone to God. And right now I am going towards Bosphorus Bridge. You will hear my name on the pages of the newspapers tomorrow, it can be on the 3rd or 4th or maybe on the 1st page. I kiss all of you, may God protect you. May God protect you…

Most probably newspapers will have bigger and more important agendas tomorrow, Mehtap Cansın’s name will probably not be mentioned on the first page, but on the later pages. She knows it too: “it can be on the 3rd or 4th.” Worse is that her name may not be there at all.  People will think, “What was she worth when she was alive? What does it matter when she is dead?” If the act of suicide means the subject pronounces herself through death,  opening the existence itself to the world through death one last time, then it is that life that causes death that needs to be questioned, not the death itself. There is no doubt that this life was a living hell for Cansın. No wonder she repeats “I couldn’t do it” so many times: “I wanted to do things, I couldn’t do it, they stood in my way.” And right after she adds: “Do you understand?” Do we understand what? “Can’t do it” anymore, getting stuck at a certain point, to be held back, to have her life and soul devoured. Is it these things we are to understand? These are all results. A life depreciated, meanings and values scattered, the limit of “living another day just to spite the enemy” far passed. These are all results too.

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Gani Met on Trans Deaths: “This Piece is a Denunciation for Humanity”

Source: Gani Met,  “Bu Yazı İnsanlığa Suç Duyurusudur”, (“This Piece is a Denunciation for Humanity”), 5harfliler.com, 5 January 2015, http://www.5harfliler.com/bu-yazi-insanliga-suc-duyurusudur/

Here I am releasing a denunciation to all of humanity, over and over again: You are destroying us each day. You are massacring us systematically and politically. See this! Hear this!

I don’t understand how I was able to manage this situation in the past. Not a day goes by without someone dying, someone being kicked out of their house, someone in need of care at some hospital…These pieces of news make me so sad now. My resistance decreases. I don’t know how I would be able to survive if it weren’t for the well-intentioned people around me. What kind of an arena is this where if you fall, you are shattered? What is the struggle behind this hopelessness? Why? I don’t know…

The psychology of war that we are made to experience is always with me. There are dead bodies everywhere. I used to know that one. I used to love that one. That other one was a nice girl. The latter was my friend. There are dead bodies everywhere or bad memories. I don’t know who the enemy is anymore.

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The New Domestic Security Bill and its Potential Implications for LGBTI Individuals

Source: İdil Su, “Yeni Güvenlik Yasası ve LGBTİ bireyleri için olası sonuçları”, (“The New Domestic Security Bill and Its Potential Implications for LGBTI Individuals”,) Cark, 4 December 2014, http://www.carkmag.com/yeni-guvenlik-yasasi-ve-lgbti-bireyler-icin-olasi-sonuclari/

The new legal measures are a clear sign of Turkey moving completely in the direction of a police state. This is because the authorities delegated to the police are the same ones given to security units in countries ruled by dictatorship and monarchy. There are perilous aspects that should be of concern to everyone in this new legislation. The following are the most striking regulations that would impact LGBTI individuals, particularly those who do sex work, as well as those individuals criticizing the government:

1- Police can search any vehicle and person they deem suspicious; the 24 hour detention period is being raised to 48 hours. Detainment in mass events may be increased up to four days through prosecutorial order.

In other words, the police can stop anyone on the road and detain them on the basis of “reasonable doubt” and the prosecutor can extend the detention period. This means the police can take into custody if they want a sex worker on the street or any individual out with their friends and family under “reasonable doubt” and can prolong their detention up to 48 hours.

2- The scope of crimes for asset forfeiture is expanding

They may seize our property which, in their definition, may be seen as illegally acquired. In other words, property acquired through actions legally defined as criminal can be seized by the state. But at this point, the law concerns only catalog crimes. Its scope may be expanded, though. For example, prosecutors and courts can seize the property of people who join protests if they are accused of upsetting the constitutional order through their participation in anti-government mass protests. In other words, anyone who criticizes the government can be classified as a gang member and their property seized by a court order.

3- Our homes will be searched more easily, our phones will be tapped more easily.

They will make life more difficult for sex workers. They will keep track of all our communication information. It sounds like phone records alone will constitute evidence, therefore the government will track all telephone and internet communications.

4- The law requires the notary to share with and report to the police all of our transactions.

5- Lawyers may not be able to examine their clients’ files during investigation; they may not be able to find out the charges and their bases.

In other words, prosecutors may choose not to show the files of people who will be tried while in custody to their lawyers. They will try to prolong detention.

6- Finally, the bill proposes a new crime, that of “threatening” civil servants.

This article paves the way for anyone who criticizes the government to be seen as a potential criminal. If we bear in mind that courts frequently convict people by charging them with the crime of “insult,” it is inevitable that the crime of “threat” will be used to silence oppositional voices. In other words, the government will track social media and will be able to prosecute people for threatening government. We will either have to show support for government’s every action or like in North Korea, we will all shed fake tears. It is truly very grim. Everything the government does will be seen as right. In short, we will say, “Oh Sultan, Long Live!” Or else, it is prison.

Evaluating Hate Murders based on SOGI in Turkey: Shortcomings and Proposals

Between January 2010 and November 2014, 47 individuals have been killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. These deaths are represented in the infographic below (pdf, source, license), with data collected by LGBTI News Turkey volunteers from various online news media and LGBTI associations.

LGBTI hate murders in Turkey 2010-2014

LGBTI hate murders in Turkey 2010-2014

It is important to note that these figures point to the lack of information regarding a significant part of Turkey. This scarcity of data may be caused by the intersection of several factors:

a) Issues of visibility in terms of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in Turkey,
b) Lack of official data (the Republic of Turkey does not recognise SOGI as categories pertaining to discrimination and hate crimes),
c) Systematic lack of attention and reach by Turkish mainstream media sources to regions populated by religious and ethnic [Kurdish] minorities.

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News Media Analysis: “One less trans following each trans-related news”

Source: Michelle Demishevich, “Her trans haberinde bir trans eksildi,” (“One less trans with each trans-related news,”) P24, 13 October 2014, http://www.platform24.org/guncel/514/her-trans-haberinde-trans-kadinlar-bir-eksildi

The media has a direct responsibility for the discrimination and violence that target trans individuals.

For years, the media perceived news and updates on the LGBTI as if they were an undesirable workload. There are already very few journalists at news desks who have a mastery on the language of gender [as a social construct]. The making of LGBTI news requires significant sensitivity. Sentences should be carefully chosen. Yet a discourse of hatred, deployed through trans women, has been rampant in LGBTI news stories that appear in the media. Trans women have been represented as mean and wicked in news headings such as “transvestite terror,” “transvestites have spread horror,” “transvestites have entered into armed conflict with the police,” and so on. In the last few years, positive news stories by women who are sensitive to LGBTI, women, and gender have been effective, to a limited degree, in undoing this perception.

Whenever media published a story on trans women, a trans murder happened the very next day. Perhaps trans women were targeted by the news stories, or perhaps it was the deployment of the discourse of hatred that set the stage for hate crimes.

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