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#mynameisayda

A group of LGBTI+ activists have published a statement regarding the recent attacks on LGBTI+ refugees in Yalova. A social media campaign was launched with the hashtag #mynameisayda. The group has opened a Twitter account called “My name is Ayda” and explained the attacks as the following:

OUR CALL regarding the mob lynches and hatred against LGBTI+ asylum seekers in Yalova and across Turkey:

On May 30 our friend Ayda, a trans woman, was assaulted by the residents of her district in Yalova and she was hospitalized. Ayda left her home county due to transphobia, yet she has become the target of the same transphobic acts and discourses here in Turkey. As we were preparing this text, another friend of ours, a gay asylum seeker, was threatened in the middle of the street with a knife.  

This is not the first attack against LGBTI+ asylum seekers in Yalova, but previous incidents were met with silence. This time we will not remain silent to these rights violations. We will  make our voices heard by the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği) and the United Nations as we seek justice for Ayda as well as for previous cases of violence. We will be using the hashtag #mynameisayda on Sunday (June 3) at 21:00, tagging @UNHumanRights and @UN.

We would like you to join our call by sharing messages publicly with the hashtag.

Together we raise our voices against acts of hatred and violence against our LGBTI friends.

AYDA IS NOT ALONE!

ASYLUM SEEKING LGBTI INDIVIDUALS ARE NOT ALONE!

WITH SOLIDARITY,

 

After the call, the group published an update about the incident, stating that seven of the attackers were detained following the social media campaign. The group wrote: “we would like to thank all of you but our struggle will continue until all LGBTI asylum seekers are safe and our demands are met.”

 

To follow the account and join the campaign, see Mynameisayda

Happy April 26th!

 

This year Lesbian Visibility Day has been celebrated across Turkey with a social media campaign using the hashtag #lezbiyenaçılmagünü (#lesbiancomingoutday). Lesbian individuals are encouraged to shout out to their celebrity crushes in honour of lesbian visibility. A group of lesbians have launched the campaign through a twitter account, asking fellow lesbians not to keep their love to themselves. The hashtag has become a trending topic in Turkey, with love messages to both local and international celebrities. Although there have been discriminatory remarks using hate speech with the same hashtag, this has not stifled the lesbian community’s enthusiasm to celebrate the visibility of their identity.

 
To mark April 26th, KaosGL has published a pamphlet “Don’t Hold Back, Say It: Lesbian”. The publication consists of a glossary of terminology, a brief history of the word “lesbian” and of self-organizing practices of lesbians, a list of frequently asked questions to lesbians, a discussion of stereotypical representations of lesbianism and a summary of the organization’s annual story competition celebrating lesbian love. The Turkish pamphlet can be viewed through this link.

Volunteering to Secure LGBTQI+ Rights in Turkey and Beyond

In a social environment defined by the absence of equal rights, downright discrimination and repressive cultural norms, representation is all the more crucial for LGBTQI+ individuals. The LGBTQI+ movement is growing stronger in Turkey. From the academic production of knowledge to representation in political arena, from demanding an end to ethnic discrimination to calling for new laws regarding sex workers, the LGBTQI+ movement is indeed active in all aspects of daily life. Its strength lies in its power to revert stereotypical imagery back to its beholder, most particularly through methods of creative resistance. This is exactly why we, LGBTI News Turkey, come together as an active group of volunteers to translate news on LGBTQI+ life in Turkey into English.

eringobro-via-flickr-cc-by-nc-2-0-768x512While working for political representation in municipalities, at the National Assembly and all levels of governance, the LGBTQI+ movement mobilises its efforts to produce its own cultural representations and images against the discursive and symbolic violence, two aspects of heteronormativity and sexism ever so sinister and so deeply engraved in our lives.

eringobro-via-flickr-cc-by-nc-2-0-768x512As LGBTI News Turkey, we try our best to spread the word and put these images of self-construction into circulation, to help  the ceaseless work done by LGBTQI+ civil society organisations (CSOs) of Turkey. For LGBTQI+ CSOs, it takes a relentless effort to maintain continuity in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government, and legal controversies regarding the freedom of speech and right to assembly.  We believe that “increasing the visibility of LGBTQI+ individuals” is more than a catch phrase for CSO work: it is a matter of life and death for many of our fellow LGBTQI+ community members. It is about reclaiming the right to live as we are, without any compromise. It is about rejecting to remain in the margins of a life not worth living. As one of the popular protest chants says, “Get used to it, we’re not going anywhere!”

We support these efforts by translating and archiving sources on LGBTQI+ life and rights violations in Turkey. By doing so, we create the necessary resources for international CSOs and international human rights bodies to report on Turkey. Files on rights violations help us document and report these cases at the United Nations, Council of Europe, and elsewhere with LGBTQI+ CSOs.

We believe that such efforts must be heard in other parts of the world. Because the LGBTQI+ community stretches beyond national boundaries. Because our experience might teach others and inspire them to act. Because we can only grow if we share. Because we cannot expect others to write about our lives. Because, for most of us, each day is a struggle and by sharing in each others’ struggles we can be empowered.

LGBTQI+ movements in different countries have similar experiences and go through similar processes to what we are facing in Turkey. Therefore it is very important for us – and other activists across the globe – to follow each others’ experiences in order to weave a network of support and solidarity. We believe that our translation work contributes to building a stronger bond, and ensuring an open dialogue with activists abroad. There is indeed interest towards what is going on in Turkey with regards to the LGBTQI+ movement and our blog renders the news accessible, by focusing solely on LGBTQI+ related news and by producing accurate and updated content. In 2016, we had 15 thousand readers from USA visiting our blog, and this traffic was due to The Advocate referring to our translations. The fact that we have become a steady and reliable source of information keeps us motivated. We believe that being knowledgeable about the history of LGBTQI+ resistance in other countries as well as in Turkey, and following the current developments, are essential for building a strong and true LGBTQI+ media.

Aside from publishing news articles on our blog, we give translation support for the annual Istanbul Pride Walk and related workshops, events and any written material. International visibility is vital in these organisations, especially at times of protest bans, police violence, and prosecution. As the mainstream media turns a blind eye to LGBTQI+ related events, if not openly showing them as targets, LGBTQI+ media outlets have an enormous workload on their shoulders and it is our responsibility to help in any way we can. As members of the rainbow nation, the task to strengthen global solidarity falls on our shoulders, and opening new channels of communication through translation is the least we can do.

Zeynep Serinkaya is an academic and volunteer at LGBTI News Turkey. This post was written for Disrupt & Innovate, a project by the International Civil Society Centre.

My Pride Story: Go On to Shout “We Are Queer, We Are Here, Get Used To It!”

Today in Pride Stories: This photograph, taken when we broke our friend taken into custody away from the police, actually shows where my story comes from.

Cüneyt Yılmaz’s Pride Story

I guess it was 2007. My friend Cihan, studying in Trabzon, wanted to stay in my house when he came to Istanbul for Pride. In brief, he came and stayed, Pride was a day later and I can remember his enthusiasm even today. When we were on the bus on the way to Taksim, he was champing at the bit and his heart almost stopped from excitement. Well, of course he was one of the most popular queers of the time and he used to write for Kaos GL periodically.

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I, on the other hand, used to be a ghetto-gay and live my queerness in my quiet life. We went to Taksim, Pride was about to start, I let Cihan reach that colorful, glowing crowd, and then I disappeared into the side streets of Taksim. I was watching the crowd from the side, I was changing my location with the fear of being seen, I was running away in order to avoid to run into someone familiar. The night of that day, based on my reviews, I planned to be open and visible, to join Pride even from the back or with either masks, glasses or other ornaments. However, I could not make it because of some reasons that I cannot even finish writing here.

Afterwords, my queerness got stronger year after year. Just then, I participated Pride 2012 vaingloriously, and with our increased visibility during the Gezi Occupation 2013, I proudly shouted ‘Don’t you dare to make me stop!’

I have never skipped a Pride until the first Pride that I attended in 2010. With the ‘call of dispersing’ last Sunday, we dispersed into every street of Taksim by waving our rainbow flag. The photograph, taken when we broke our friend, who was taken into custody, away from the police, actually shows where my story comes from.

For the sake of our friends who have been murdered, or committed suicide (which is another form of murder)… By becoming Ivana Hoffman, we will continue to fight against darkness, cruelty and homophobia, to live, to laugh, to make love, to kiss.

With our persistence and consistence of last year’s banned Pride, I consider it a duty to march in Trans Pride and Pride from beginning to the end.

We will continue to be in the very front, to be seen, to shout ‘we are queer, we are here, get used to it’ as police and government violence, homophobic and transphobic attacks, verbal harassments and physical abuses, trans murders and hate speeches continue, I will.

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

My Pride Story: Pride from Sisterhood to Sapphism

 

Today in Pride Stories: Who cannot settle with feminist sisterhood, sapphism and LezBiFem

Gaye’s Pride Story

lezbifempankart

Nowadays, I am in the middle of a busy work schedule which I thought was ‘temporary’ at first. Like other things that I postpone, I was waiting for the right time and place to write and share my little story, with a cup of coffee on the table and shed from the anxiety of being late to work.  Sometimes activism needs the right time and place too… For me and my friends, working or being broke is such a common reason for not being able to go or organize an event; it is a relief to know that we will run into each other at Pride at least.

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My Pride Story: From 15 people to tens of thousands

Today in Pride Stories: From the first Kaos GL cortege on May Day 2001 to Pride Marches of tens of thousands…


Murat Özen’s Pride Story

It’s the year 2001, my senior year in university. As a “kezban” [1] who has just begun to know his identity, I frequently go to Kaos GL. In one of these visits, I overhear a discussion on whether to join May Day demonstrations as Kaos GL. When they ask me “will you come as well?”, I cannot say yes straight away.

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My Pride Story: Istiklal has never been so beautiful

Today in Pride stories: Friends calling to ask “are you ok”, my brother calling to ask “what are you doing with those fags” (!)

Cihan’s Pride story

When I read Hakan’s Pride story in the middle of the night, I said to myself “Yes, I have to share mine as well”.

Last year’s Pride March was my first Pride as well. In the previous years I was mostly held back by my make-up exams – I’m not lazy, studying medicine is hard work- and more importantly visibility was a problem for me. I was thinking that I would be somehow visible among the tens of thousands of people and not having an Istanbulite koli [1] to stay with and being poor had impacts as well.

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My Pride Story: Ideological banner!

Today in Pride stories: Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted.

Tunca Özlen’s Pride story

It’s 2012, a year has passed since we founded the Red of the Rainbow, together with a handful of people. The pride of coming out, finding each other and holding on together is not enough. The struggle is pushing us to producing politics, to going out on the streets. We want to see what our political claims correspond to in life. With the hope we mustered at the march we attended in Ankara, we rolled up our sleeves for Istanbul Pride March. 

We said we would walk behind the banner “Equal citizenship is in socialism!” After all, we believe in equality against discrimination, citizenship against pan-Islamism, socialism against capitalism. We have never gotten banners made in our lives and here I found myself in a flagmaker’s on Kazım Karabekir Avenue. Then off we go to Istanbul. It was time for Pride March. It’s our first time participating as an organization, we are excited of course. With our red rainbow flags and our banner, we joined the march from a point we saw fit.

A friend, who we later on found out was a part of the Pride Week Organizing Committee did not take his/her time to ‘welcome’ us: “Your banner is ideological, you either take it down or walk at the back!” Only we were ideological among the thousands of rainbow flags, slogans against heterosexism, the tens of thousands who filled Istiklal Avenue, ultimately we are communists! The imposition of “Pride March above politics” is itself ideological, we don’t buy that! We said “We will walk behind this banner, through the crowd”. And we did what we said, we are communists after all.

Our paths, that crossed for the first time with the people in our procession during that march, never parted. We were a few before the march, our numbers grew, even if [just] a little, after the march. We accepted being a few at the beginning, in order to grow. If we took down our banner that day, we would have given up altogether. Today we are not few at all, for we focused on growing our crowd and not on our banner. But we are still terribly ideological!

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

My Pride Story: Being born into love

Today in Pride stories: Maybe my story doesn’t take place in Istanbul, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I wasn’t soaked by water cannons but that day a big void inside me was filled.

içimizdenbiri’s Pride story [1]

May 21, 2016/ Lefkoşa [2] March Against Homophobia

Note: Maybe it wasn’t Pride, but it was for me.

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A child, who never thought they could and who never did join Pride, whose self acceptance process started only a few years ago, who is only trying to let themselves go to be happy. This child has only lived inside themselves and raised their voice only for others. But that day something was different, that day this child walked for themselves. You know why? Because love…

Maybe my story does not take place in Istanbul or any other big city in the world, maybe I didn’t walk with thousands of people, maybe I was not soaked by water cannons, I wasn’t exposed to homophobic stares, maybe I wasn’t shot that day, but a big void inside me was filled. The hope that years took away from me piece by piece was standing in front of me as a whole and all it needed was a little courage.

When we got to the starting point of the march, there was a little group and we did not draw too much attention. But minutes later, people started gathering, people who brought their children with them, people who drew rainbows on their faces and eyes. As the crowd got bigger, I couldn’t stop the enthusiasm rising inside me. I grabbed a flag, looked at the crowd and the first thing I felt was happiness. I wasn’t the “other” anymore, I did not feel different. I was there, everyone was seeing me and I was smiling like there is no tomorrow; we were infinite. The march started and people started joining the crowd along the way. Old aunts and uncles applauding from their balconies. Slogans, whistles, laughters, I didn’t want any of that to end. But everything ends and so did this, but this end was the beginning of many things.

If I learned anything these past few months of my life, you become someone when you let your guard down, a person. And your whole life stands in front of you and looks at you. Your feelings are free, your thoughts are not restricted. That is when love comes- or not but that’s what you think- it enters your life when you least expect it. The feelings whose existence you did not accept for years stand in front of you like a mountain. No one knows, and many don’t believe it but there you know it and the rest is not important. What you hold on to is not that love or what you feel for that person, it is just that hope. Then the desire to get up and do something is born inside you and your march towards the sun starts.

As Sezen Aksu [3] says “If I didn’t die of love, if I wasn’t born into love, would I devote myself to fairy tales?”

Stories multiply as they are shared. If you would like to tell your Pride story as well, send your writing of maximum 500 words to web@kaosgl.org, we will publish it on both Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey both in Turkish and English. Do not forget to include your name or nickname.

Translator’s Notes:

[1] İçimizden biri means one of us in Turkish.

[2] Lefkoşa is the Turkish name for Nicosia, a city in Northern Cyprus.

[3] Sezen Aksu is an iconic Turkish singer/song-writer.

My pride story: I’m here and resisting, my love!

Until the earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!” [1]

toma

Hakan’s Pride Story

As a lubunya [2] from Ankara who came out 3 years ago, 2015 Istanbul LGBTI Pride March was my first pride march. When I was a student I could not join because I had no money and later on because I had to work on weekends.

Can someone be assaulted in their first ever Pride March? Apparently, yes, one can.

On Friday, I left for Istanbul from Ankara on the high speed train. I felt both the excitement of Pride and the pride to be finally able to go to Pride. I had previously marched in my own city on May 17 [IDAHOT] and it was the time when I felt the dynamism of the LGBT movement intensely. I was fighting, I was transforming.

After I got off the train, my lover and his flatmate picked me up from Pendik. Yes, Pendik. You love the people picking you up even more, when they travel all that distance to Pendik. Then we caught up on all the fun of Pride Week. That same night we enjoyed ourselves in Tünel, we drank and danced. On Saturday we went to the picnic at Maçka and met lots of beautiful people there. We fell in jugs of beer on Mis Street, partied again, had fun again and kissed on the streets!

Resist Pride March!

Then that day arrived. On the morning of the march we had our breakfast and went to Taksim around 15:30. I shared the video “Mahsun, take me to Taksim” from the film “Tabutta Rövaşata” that morning. Because “I had to go” to Taksim. We saw the tension and the police check points. We considered the possibility for an assault. But we still entered Taksim with Hasan, holding hands. Although that day was the Pride March, those who saw us hand in hand looked twice at us. I thought to myself, “Visibility is a must in our heteronormative society”.

That’s when the resistance started. We could not go up to Taksim from the side streets. We had to drop our lollipop banners and get out. As soon as we got out, a TOMA [3] came from the direction of Taksim and cornered us on Mis Street with high pressure water. We got gassed on Mis Street. We first took refuge in nearby establishments. I can tell you the spirit of Mis Street was glorious. We were together with those who stood against the TOMAs and who resisted for hours.

hakanhasan

We got gassed, resisted and stood against our assailants together. But I cannot deny that the most significant and the most romantic moments were when my lover sprayed Talcid [4] on my face as I got gassed. When it is so difficult even to come out, to come to a point where you can resist against the system and the assault with your lover on your side, it is a memory that makes me shiver to this day. It feels extremely good when you have someone worrying for you as you resist and when you both try to save each other from harm against the police.

Even though we ended our relationship two months after our resistance together, Hasan remains my biggest comrade in the path of resistance I have taken.

Until the Earth becomes the face of love: “I’m here and resisting, my love!”

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

[1] A popular chant in Pride Istanbul goes: “Where are you my love? I’m here my love!”

[2] Lubunya refers to a gay or trans person in Lubunca, the LGBT slang spoken in Turkey.

[3] Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

[4] The lozenges used for stomach problems, they are also used for their anti-acid effect against the teargas.

 

 

My Pride Story: No descriptions!

 

Today in Pride stories: Free love is impossible to describe and the ecstasy of getting lost in her eyes…

Pragsidike’s Pride Story

I’m only twenty years old. I have never been able to understand what I was feeling, until today. I never believed in love. I love the cinema, I watched films about homosexuality, the ones which really capture you, I watched most of them with tears in my eyes. I know the cruelty they inflicted for years. Inequality, injustice were everywhere and evermore. People never got past beyond these silly reactions, they were unable to. Together, we will go beyond these…

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Until today, I have always been interested in women, as much as I have been in men. I thought of my interest for women as a matter of emulation, of being inspired by other women. Up until three days ago. Imagine someone who thinks of herself as heterosexual and who does not believe in love, getting lost in a woman’s eyes. The excitement I felt, the tone of her voice, her smile. There is no way to describe how I felt. There shall be no descriptions, we shall love freely.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

My Pride Story: We carry flowers in our mouths!

We carry flowers in our mouths. Flowers that you will never be able to wither.

Orkoninya’s Pride Story

I had the chance to join the pride march on June 2015 for the first time in my life. Everything was planned weeks before the march and we departed Ankara with my boyfriend at the time and two other friends.

I remember shouting suddenly while listening to Bandista’s  “Aşk Şarkısı (Love Song) in the car:

“Look at that, a rainbow!” A giant, colorful parabola was greeting us. After seeing so many rainbows on our way, we realized that love was on our side, this day was our day.

cicekgokkusagi

The night we arrived in Istanbul, my excitement did not let me sleep. As thousands of people, we were going to shout, unite and paint Istiklal Avenue into the colors of the rainbow that we are. But the next day I could smell the tension in the air as we arrived on Istiklal Avenue. Hundreds of police officers were mocking us on every corner, turning their despising stares on us. Once more, it did not take them too long to target us with their barrels, filled with plastic hate. We ran away from TOMAs* spraying hatred and homophobia on us, some of our friends got hit, people were rushing about, covered in blood. We took refuge in a shop, the shutters were drawn and we started to wait. As everyone started to cough out the pepper spray, I remembered the gas chambers. We waited, we waited, we waited… I was struggling with a disease called panic attack back then. I was panting for breath, my eyes started to black out and I sat on the floor, coughing. I did not have the power to go on anyway. We went back home…

I had great dreams of this march, but it didn’t happen. I was happy anyway. There were so many of me there that day, they all filled me with hope. And the rainbow I mentioned, gave us such a salute that I realized our colors were plastic bullet-proof. As Mabel Matiz says in a song, we carry flowers in our mouths, and these are flowers that you can never wither away. We shall open our mouths for you to see, try to take a whiff. You will feel love. Love…
*Intervention Vehicle to Social Events is the infamous water cannon vehicle used by the Turkish police.

Click here for the original Turkish version of this story on our project partner KaosGL.org.

Stories grow as we share. If you want to tell your Pride story, send your maximum 500 word story to web@kaosgl.org and we’ll publish it in Turkish and English on Kaos GL and LGBTI News Turkey. Don’t forget to add your name or pseudonym!

 

 

Families of LGBTs in Turkey Dare to Hope

It was in 2013 that I sat in a dark movie theater, alone, ready to cry watching My Child, a documentary about families of LGBT individuals in Turkey. I was going through a rough breakup and an even tougher time with my mother. I cried, well, more like sobbed throughout. The parents’ stories of anguish, helplessness, acceptance, and hope were so honest and inspiring that in retrospect I feel like it helped me snap out of my wallowing. These people had created a mode of activism that transcended statistics and policy arguments. They focused on fostering connection, understanding, and empathy. And there, on the silver screen, I met Sema Yakar or Sema Mother for the first time.

Sema Mother is one of the 7 parents who told their intimate stories in My Child. Nearly two years after I saw the documentary, I finally got to meet the mothers at an International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia event in May. I was hesitant to approach them but when I finally did, I thanked them for opening up my world and for empowering me. Seeing their courage to tell their stories along with the bug of activism that touched many during the Gezi Protests had pushed us, a group of volunteers, to start the translation project LGBTI News Turkey. Sema Mother told me that she loved our work and that she was proud of us. Then she hugged me.

12144733_10153718702151639_5691037926081324761_nA day after Turkey’s repeat November elections, I sat with Sema Mother and fellow activist Metehan Özkan to talk about their trip to the United States in October. I had seen pictures of Sema Mother standing exactly where her son Boysan had stood at Human Rights Campaign, with two balloons in their hands. We tear up constantly. Boysan- LGBT activist, advisor to Şişli Municipality mayor, son, lover, friend, inspiration- died in September in a traffic accident. I feel guilty that life continues and we talk about our plans. But here is this woman, at a painful crossroad in her life, telling me her dreams for the future of LISTAG, the Association of Families of LGBTs in Istanbul.

“LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”

Since 2008, LISTAG has been providing much needed support to parents who are seeking information and guidance on how to understand their gay or trans child. They hold monthly group meetings with psychologists reaching nearly 40 families at each session. Parents of all stripes, religious, secular, young, and old, pass through these doors. Some of these parents, a core group of 20 volunteer families, meet every Saturday to plan their activities, share experiences, and meet new parents. They host monthly potlucks with their children, creating safe, non-judgmental spaces to spend time. This special group is a product of Metehan’s doctoral thesis to create a support and solidarity group with parents and his chance meeting with Sema Mother who had used a pseudonym to publish a column in a mainstream newspaper in 2006 calling on all mothers of LGBTs to be there for their kids, to drop their prejudices, to educate themselves. My Child is an extension of that call.

This socialization is key. Parents often feel a giant wave of emotions like fear, self-blame, shame, loneliness, and confusion when they find out about their kids’ sexual orientation or gender identity. Being gay or trans in conservative Turkey is not easy, as LGBTs face hate crimes, honor killings, and rampant discrimination in all aspects of life. To know that there are other parents out there going through a similar experience and who have embraced their children is perhaps the most hopeful thing out there.

Instead of fixing or rejecting LGBT children, Sema Mother says, “LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”. This is why LISTAG parents have become every LGBTs mothers and fathers as they continue to be inspiring examples of what unconditional love looks like. But Sema Mother and Metehan are constantly thinking about how to make LISTAG sustainable, how to make sure it continues as an institution after they are gone. Their trip to the US helped them imagine a future for LISTAG, express the priorities of Turkey’s LGBT, and come back with revamped energy.

“We don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue”

The duo was invited to a PFLAG conference in Nashville, Tennessee. PFLAG is the largest organization for parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTs in the US. They had heard about Sema Mother and Boysan- this was reason enough to connect. Metehan explains that Turkish and American societies are similar in placing family at the core of social structure. The families they spoke to were surprised that a family group like theirs would exist in Turkey and appreciated the influence their experiences in PFLAG and elsewhere informed LISTAG. The fact that families in Turkey and the US face similar challenges meant that they are not alone and that there are ample opportunities to work together.

The pair’s eyes glitter when they talk about all they learned in the biennial PFLAG conference. Participants were asked to think about their vision for the next two years. With focused intensity, Sema Mother says the workshops at the PFLAG conference helped them see that they can realize their goals. She says, “we don’t have time; we are working on an urgent issue” and with more projects, more trainings, and a more effective process, they can expand their support group. Metehan explains that their next plan is to expand the LISTAG model, which exists in the metropolitan cities of Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara, to more hubs in Turkey. “We aim to bring LISTAG to Samsun in the Black Sea area, Mersin or Antalya in the Mediterranean area, Diyarbakir or Gaziantep in the southeast”, he says. With the creation of regional networks, the LISTAG parents and psychologists would reach families across Turkey. They envision bringing together these groups under one umbrella in two years. “We want to be a pressure group in Ankara to change laws and to be an ally to the organizations working on LGBTI rights”, says Metehan, in his unique way of looking ahead and imagining the emotional force mothers and fathers across Turkey could have in helping create inclusionary policies for LGBTs.

“We emphasize how important the coming Pride is

As Metehan and Sema Mother thought about their future plans in Turkey, they also had the opportunity to meet NGOs and US administration officials and explain the situation LGBTs and their families face in Turkey. The Turkish government has been sending conflicting messages on LGBT rights. This past year we witnessed Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc argue at the United Nations that LGBTs are equal before the law even if there are no special regulations for LGBTs in Turkey. On the other hand, criticizing the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party for nominating an openly gay candidate for parliament became campaign fodder for the ruling Justice and Development Party. Candidates for the party and pro-government media pushed LGBT existence as an aberration that is detrimental to the Turkish family structure and society. Finally in June, the Istanbul governorate, for the first time, banned the 13th Istanbul Pride and police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the thousands of people gathered to celebrate LGBT and diversity. Boysan was in the front lines trying to negotiate with the police to allow the march. The parents, including Sema Mother, were also there and the consul-generals of the US, the UK, and several European nations joined them.

With their memory collection accumulated over the years working on LGBT rights and their hearts open, Metehan and Sema Mother went to Washington, DC. In a pilgrimage of sorts, they went to leading LGBT institutions Human Rights Campaign and the Victory Fund where Boysan had worked in May. They met with Human Rights First, Open Society Institute Foundation, National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, and the Center for American Progress- all prominent institutions that have helped push forward LGBT rights in the US. The duo also went to Capitol Hill to observe a human rights briefing, met with the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus and with members of the Obama Administration, including Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Individuals Randy Berry. “This visit to the US really helped me after Boysan’s death. It allowed me to return to the rights struggle more quickly. I wanted to anyway but now I feel that I can do much more”, says Sema Mother.

Metehan and Sema Mother asked their NGO and US administration contacts to pay special attention and monitor Pride in June 2016. “We emphasize how important the coming Pride is”, says Metehan. They feel it is absolutely crucial that Pride takes place not only for Turkey’s LGBT community but also for the global LGBT movement- Istanbul Pride provides a space for LGBT from across the region to openly exist for one day. But Pride’s importance reaches beyond the LGBT community and exists as a symbol of rights in Turkey. Before it was banned and blocked this summer, the Justice and Development Party had used Pride as an example of the party and its supporters’ respect and tolerance in an election brochure stating that “the AK Party has never had and will never have the intention to interfere with anyone’s life style”. Soon after Pride was blocked, the United Nations, Council of Europe, the US and others issued concerned statements about the state of freedom of assembly and expression in Turkey and safety of LGBT individuals. Metehan and Sema Mother believe that it is in Turkey’s interest to allow Pride.

“We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”

Conversations with international NGOs as well as countries with pro-LGBT agendas are useful to formulate thoughts to build alliances for the global LGBT movement with an eye on results for Turkey. But the actual work is in Turkey where LGBT associations lobby for equal rights and the need to have this conversation at a policy level. What the parents bring to the table is activism straight from the heart and no matter which part of the political or social spectrum one is, the experience of a mother or a father on acceptance and love can open many doors. “We will knock on closed doors, we will continue working”, Sema Mother says.

After the elections, social media was awash with comments about people wanting to leave Turkey; many who did not vote for the ruling party felt anger, fear, and exclusion. But this soft-spoken woman who just lost her son says, “we need to be hopeful”. There is so much more to be done and “no one took away this field, where we continue to work, away from us”, says Metehan, adding, “there are so many mothers that these mothers need to help”.

This gives me hope.

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.

Turkey’s LGBTI File Criminal Complaints for Attacks Against Istanbul Pride- Hear Them Out!

Turkey LGBTI

“We are here today to make a complaint against the Governor of Istanbul, Minister of Interior Affairs, General Chief of the Police in Istanbul and Istanbul police who attacked the protestors at the gay pride on 28th of June”, says lawyer and LGBTI rights advocate Yasemin Öz. Behind her looms the giant complex of the Caglayan Justice Palace. Though LGBTI activists doubt that the perpetrators of the violence against Istanbul Pride will be brought to justice, they vow to use every legal mechanism at their disposal.

Pride is a special day for Turkey’s LGBTI, who regularly face discrimination in all aspects of social life, if they are not already victims of hate crimes. University student and drag queer Madır Öktiş says, “Pride is the day I can express my pride with almost a hundred thousand people like me and it’s the only day I can, you know, I can feel that solidarity, that strong”.

Madır was getting ready to join the parade when they heard that police attacked pride-goers. They wore a pom pom hat and a hundred per cent gorgeous t-shit and “A police officer told me that I could not walk in with that outfit”.

Until this year, twelve Istanbul Pride Parades passed without incident. LGBTI activist and academic Volkan Yilmaz says, “I wasn’t expecting any attacks on Sunday because even after Gezi protests we could make the march happen so after the attacks, actually, I was a bit surprised and I started to think about why it happened now and it turned out to be that it’s about Ramadan month”.

Last year’s Pride also coincided with the month of Ramadan when an estimated ninety thousand people marched without police interference. But this year, there was a significant rise in the visibility of the LGBTI rights movement and a corollary increase in hate speech from both public officials and conservative media.

Veteran activist Şevval Kılıç says, “this is a big step, that we are threatening the system, we are a movement, a big huge movement, and of course some people are afraid of this, some people are afraid of changing, going forward”.

Volkan thinks the attacks may have happened “because of media provocations and the new governor of Istanbul is a bit more conservative than the other guy and this happened this year”.

At least 78 people were wounded in the police intervention against Pride. One person is in risk of losing an eye. The Governor stated that proportionate force was used against the demonstrators after they refused to disperse.

Boysan Yakar, a prominent LGBTI activist and advisor to Sisli Municipality Mayor, was among the wounded and filed a criminal complaint for battery charges. He says, “I was beaten by the police while I was trying to stop the violence of power at the very first beginning of the pride parade and at that moment we had the support of the MPs from two different parties, HDP and CHP, and when we were trying to stop the violence, police attacked many activists”.

Şevval takes issue with the Governor’s statement of proportionality. She says, “they just directly attacked us with plastic bullets, you know, there are thousands of ways that you can dismiss the crowd but they choose to attack us with plastic bullets”.

So far, 4 LGBTI associations and 68 individuals filed criminal complaints. They are filing criminal charges (PDF-Turkish) against Interior Minister Sebahattin Öztürk, Istanbul Governor Vasıp Şahin, Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok, and police officers involved in the attacks for the following crimes:

  • Offenses of Bodily Harm (Turkish Penal Code (TCK) Articles 86-87)
  • Torture (TCK Articles 94-95)
  • Torment (TCK Article 96)
  • Ill-treatment
  • Violence (TCK Article 108)
  • Exceeding the Limits of Authorization for Use of Force (TCK Article 256)
  • Misconduct in Office (TCK Article 257)
  • Executing Illegal Mandatory Provision and Order of the Supervisor (TCK Article 24)
  • Restriction of freedom of belief, conception, conviction (TCK Article 115)
  • Restriction of Right to Meetings and Demonstration Marches (Law No: 2911)
  • Offenses against Freedom (TCK Article 109)

As one of the seven lawyers submitting the complaints, Yasemin Öz says, “I’m not hopeful about the Turkish state’s courts, especially when it comes to the ministers, police chiefs, and governors but we are hopeful about the constitutional court or otherwise the European Court of Human Rights”

But despite the lack of trust in the Turkish judicial system, Volkan Yılmaz says, “We have to do it to push the legal process a bit further”.

There was global outcry against the banning of Istanbul Pride and the violence that ensued. Boysan appreciates the global support and says, “It’s great to see that thousands of people are protesting right now throughout the country, from Korea, from Japan till the United Kingdom and United States as well and this is not only happening in the level of citizens. This is happening in the very high levels as well. Government to government it’s happening right now. It’s so important. And it’s great to see such solidarity throughout the universe”.

Yasemin calls for continued support for LGBTI in Turkey and the world. “We want the world to know that our basic right to free assembly has been violated by our own state so as the LGBT people and their friends, we have to unite where there is a violence against LGBT people because no state volunteers to protect LGBT rights. Many states in the world criminalize homosexuality and transsexuality”.

Tired but determined, Boysan says, “We are here, we exist, and they have to get over it”. This is how everyone, gathered in front of the Caglayan Justice Palace to seek justice, feels. They chant, “Gays will not be silent, they will not be silent, will not be silent”.

Zeynep Bilginsoy/ LGBTI News Turkey

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.