Personal Stories

Personal stories on LGBTI issues in Turkey

Book Review: Stories Under the Rainbow – Compiled real life stories from the families of LGBTI+ individuals

Stories Under the Rainbow (Gökkuşagından Hikayeler) is a book about love and family. This powerful collection of twenty-nine stories is a candid celebration of families connecting and reconnecting with, understanding and supporting their LGBTI+ child. Each story, told by a parent, reveals the many aspects in which the cultural upbringing and societal pressures of heteronormativity create unexamined and limiting belief systems that configure the world of parents for most of their lives. These long-standing belief systems, however, unexpectedly fall to pieces when their child comes out to them as LGBTI+. In these narratives, we read how many of the parents experience similar feelings that impart sadness, worry, incomprehension and indignation in reaction to a reality that at first challenges them. The challenges bring changes that alter their modes of living in positive ways. They come to realize, as they are forced to reexamine their convictions, that what they held to be true can be challenged to show other possibilities or acknowledge what is fundamentally flawed. When families find new ways to reconnect with one another, they begin to explore what it means to fully embrace, support and love their child for who they are. We read how beautifully their worlds expand in their reflections on their fears and struggles to dismantle learned homophobia and transphobia.

These narratives are also a meditation on how much our worlds and thinking are shaped by society. Many parents recount similar sentiments on how little they knew about other lives, how it was impossible for them to imagine the lives of LGBTI+ people or the fact that they even existed due to their own lack of knowledge, fear or merely holding onto misconceptions based on what they had heard from others. A parent puts it, “In this society, there are actually a lot of people who hide and suppress who they are and who do not express themselves for fear of judgement because this society is not a tolerant one.”

At first focused on denial and worry, the narratives evolve to celebrate love and life. “This process allowed me to understand and get to know all the other marginalized groups in society and learn more about the experiences of disabled people, Roma, Aleviis, Kurds and women” reflects one parent on how much their world view has expanded and adds, “I see now that the biggest hurdle in front of us is the world’s biggest terror organization. This organization, is not an armed terror organization. It is everyone.”

As someone who has come out to their parents as a trans man, it was hard to withhold tears reading about some of the coming out dialogues between the families and how time, love, and support restored many broken pieces and uprooted the barriers to understanding one another. Equally moving was the parents’ profoundly transformative journey from one of loss, confusion, and blame to one of joy, strength, and empowerment. Fully supporting their LGBTI+ child, they stand up to their neighbors, to school counselors, teachers, or their own friends, demonstrating how by becoming their child’s best ally, they are paving the way for other families to do the same.

This is a very intimate book that reminds us how much we need to hear the stories of people that are othered and marginalized in order to fight against discrimination and harmful narrow constraints of existing and living in this world. These stories inspire and ignite a powerful celebration of life in all its spectrum of colors.

Review by Lukka Alp Akarçay for LGBTI News Turkey

Ishi has a name!

Trans individuals share what their names mean to them.

Source: Ishi has a name! (İshi’nin adı var!) Deniz P. Darno, Kaos GL, April 5, 2019,

http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=27993&fbclid=IwAR37UQxfqMxm4LaZcCAqqh4s2jDKCGxIsxFUkqsTye45NQAEOiXJSXYk4JE

I want to tell the beginning of the story, the moment when I learnt that my grand-grandmother was a Lebanese Armenian. First, I felt shocked and sad because I hadn’t known it. Then, I asked so many questions. Trying to learn the details of the story was like climbing a hill. Though, I couldn’t find an answer to one of the basic questions. “What was her name?” I asked the eldest of the family already, but none knew the name. Here, another one of the problems which look seemingly easy: she has to have a name, what was it? I guess it was the time when I first understood that names have a story within. There are valuable studies about names which we forget, ignore, or neglect. The topic/purpose of this article is to present the story of the names of the transgender individuals who chose their own names and have to face an intense resistance against this choice of theirs, through their own words.

“I really love my name, because I came back to the real me!”

Aras: I have been Aras ever since I could remember. I even forgot when and how I chose this name. I learned the meaning of it much later and I told myself that I guess I chose the right name; it means finding something later and embracing it as if it was always yours.

Aslı: My friends reacted [badly] when I first told them that I had chosen the name Aslı. They told me I could choose a more modern and beautiful name. But I easily overcame their prejudice; I chose the name Aslı because I came back to the real me. I chose it because I was re-born. I really love my name, because I came back to the real me! (Aslı: Original, Real)

Aylin: There are a couple of important women who came into my life and their names were Aylin. I chose this name because I was really inspired by them and I want to further their energy. It also means moonlight. The moon has no light itself, it reflects the light it receives from the sun. That means, it reflects light which already exists. The moon brightens up with the light it receives; so maybe I’ll brighten up with this name and the process. I always exist but I brighten up with the light, my name. Also, I bring light to the darkness in some way.

Defne Gülce: Gülce is related to my family; my mother’s name is Gülden and my elder sister’s name is Gülşah. So, I chose it. Defne has a mythological story. Defne is a tree and it has a fairy girl inside. I see the tree as the body I was born with and the female hidden inside the tree means a lot to me. There is a god called Apollo in the story and he, manhood that is a thorn in her flesh, searches for Defne. I chose the name Defne because I think it reflects me a lot. (Defne: Bay/laurel (Eng. Daphne); Gülce: Like a Rose)

Deniz: The feeling of “unable to fit in” was one of the feelings that I felt most intensely at the beginning of my process. I felt the same about my name on my identity card and wanted to change it. Then I found my name from one of Arkadaş Zekai’s poems that I love: “If you reach to caress the curly brunette hair at the point where love makes love with love, if you see the golden sparkles inside the curly brunette hair, that means you are inside of the sea, even if the sea is a far away from you.” (Deniz: Sea)

Dila: One day, I stepped in front of a mirror, looked at it, and told myself: what goes together with this face? What, what… Many names came into my mind. Then, I had a friend, we were talking, and they told me  “Tell me how you really feel when you look at your face and let’s find a name according to it.” I said that “I see a really heartfelt, warm sincerity.’’ It looks like I am speaking highly of myself now, but anyway! Then I learned that Dila means a heartfelt sincerity and chose the name Dila for myself.

Eda: When I was around 8-9 years old, there was a grocery store on the ground floor of the apartment where we used to live and its owners were our neighbours. They had a daughter and her name was Eda. I used to play games with her. I had only the name on my identity card then, but it was like I would identify myself with her. I would run to respond when someone called her. My name comes from those times. (Eda: Coquetry, Coyness)

“I wanted my name to be Hayat (Life) because I chose to hold on to life.”

Efruz: The meaning of Efruz, which is a Persian name, is glamorous light; it also means igniting, emblazing. I define myself as a Middle Eastern woman and I have never felt ashamed of having been born in this part of the world. On the contrary, it is an honour for me to having been born here and therefore, I wanted my name to belong to this region. I started to look at Kurdish, Persian, Arabic, Syriac, Armenian, and Romaic name dictionaries. I was looking at them with one of my friends. Then I came across Efruz. I fell in love with its phonetics; its meaning was splashy! Then I said yes, I am Efruz! I also quite like the fact that the name originates from Persian which has existed since ancient times and so, I chose the name Efruz.

Eva: My friends suggested this name to me during my 18th birthday. Eva is the Latin version of Havva. Havva is the first woman ever created; they told me  “you created yourself” and suggested it with this motivation. We can say that Eva was found during funny chit chat. However, my name is associated with a vampy image and I face prejudices most of the time because it is generally considered as outside of the norm. In such a society which loves standardized types and excludes minorities, these names can, unfortunately, make life a little harder for us.

Hayat: While I was deciding my name, I especially didn’t want to choose one of the widely known names, because names such as Ayşe or Fatma are so traditional and have a meaning corresponding to a certain female image. In other words, there is an image coming right to your mind when you say that name; so, I didn’t want something like that. I wished for a name which does not correspond to anything and which I will fulfil. In addition, considering the difficulties that I had at the beginning of my process of coming out, I can say that it is a fight to hold on to life. I was in the middle of the point where I could continue to my transition or end my life. It was a period in which I had intentions, attempts to commit suicide. But I chose to hold on to life despite all the difficulties, so I wanted my name to be Hayat. (Hayat: Life)

Janset: I guess it has been three and a half years since the time I chose my name. At first, it was hard to choose a name, start to use it, and make people around me get used to it. Janset is a name that is really valuable for and belongs to the Circassian language, culture, and history. It means sunrise. Before telling you about how I chose my name, I want to mention a couple of things. When I came out as being a trans person, which part of my body I needed surgery for was one of the first things that I had faced. The name problem was a crisis following right after it. I was not known in the activist community and the sooner I chose a name and started using it, the easier it would be for people to get used it. But I waited even so. It was really hard to change the name which is a reminder of my deceased mother who gave that name to me. Also, I had spent the first 27 years of my life with that name. There were a couple of people who want to be a mother to me and therefore to choose a name for me, which is a tradition for trans people. It is a tradition in the history and culture of trans women from Turkey. I was distant, but also so close to that system. At first, I couldn’t capitalize on it. Both my character and my sociocultural background were not suitable for it. All these are different sides of it though, but they are the factors that affected me while choosing my name. My father is Zaza, my mother’s father is Turkmen and mother is an Iranian. So, I don’t have any relation to being a Circassian. When I was born, my mother named me with a name that she created by combining a part of her name with a part of my father’s name. When I decided to choose my own name, I wanted it to be a name which can tell all of  my story and character through its meaning and keep the part from my mother alive. Then, the actress Janset whom I really like came to my mind. I searched for the name and when I read the meaning: I said my name is Janset.

“I chose the name Kuzey (North) because I found my direction.”

Kardelen: My mother had given the name to me, even before I was born. In other words, my mother had wanted and expected to give birth to a girl, they had even chosen a name: Kardelen. But they were baffled and named me with the name on my identity card after I was born.  A while after I came out as a trans individual, my mother suggested this name which they had thought of giving to me before. Kardelen is really special to me because of its meaning. Because it really suits the trans spirit. Kardelen is a flower kept under snow, a fighter flower. Therefore, I really love its meaning as well. (Kardelen: Snowdrop)

Kuzey: When people want to find their direction, they look at the North. For example, sailors look at the North through their compasses and find their direction. When a tree is covered with moss, the moss shows the North. So, I chose the name Kuzey, because I found my direction. (Kuzey: North)

Lukka:  I hiked across the Lycian Way by myself a couple of times in 2015. It is located in the Southern part of Anatolia, between Fethiye and Antalya. I have been there many times and always hiked by myself. In the meantime, I researched its history, mythology etc. so as to commune with that place; I even painted it many times. Climbing the mountains and hiking by myself there were really meaningful to me. I enjoy climbing mountains and I see this activity as some kind of an expression of freedom. Also, the scenery is amazing and the archaeological remains, various plants, trees and people you see along the road have made the hiking precious. So, my name came to mind when I researched Lycia more. I learned that the masculine version of Lycia is Lukka, which also means light.

Mert Toprak: I have two names; it was hard to officialise it at the court, but both of them are really meaningful to me. The first one was given to me by a woman whom I had a relationship with for 4 years. Unfortunately, she got married by force and now has a child whose name is Mert, too. She was a really special woman for me. And the story of the second name is that my family was really transphobic at the beginning of my process of coming out and I would even receive death threats. So, I told myself that I would finish this process even if I would depart from this world and become a part of the earth. So, I chose the name Toprak by myself. (Mert: Brave and Trustworthy; Toprak: Earth)

Nora: My name means God’s light and good spirit. The reason why I chose it is because it is a different name that is out of the ordinary; besides, I think this name really suits me. I didn’t want to use such Turkish names as Ayşe, Fatma, Hatice, etc. I have been a trans individual for 5 years, but I have used the name Nora for 15-16 years. In other words, it isn’t a name chosen after becoming a trans individual.

Tolga: My mother picked my name because it is close to my name on my identity card. We chose and accepted it “so that people would not have a hard time to get used to it.” In addition, the whole process is like my rebirth, so I wanted my mother to name me, and she suggested this name to me. (Tolga: Helmet)

P.S.: The article only contains the stories of the transgender individuals who chose to change their names. However, we know that this change is not an obligation. The experiences of each and every one of us with our processes are unique; ultimately, the bottom line is to be reborn, name ourselves, and live our lives as we wish.

*I would like to thank all the friends who shared their stories, and dear Metin Akdemir & Gülşah Tekin.

**The illustrations at this article were used with the permission of the artist Rory Midhani.

***Title: Ulus Baker, Yüzeybilim- Fragmanlar, ed. Ege Berensel, Birikim Yayınları, 2014 [2009], p. 242-243.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The effect of the state of emergency on business life

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

“LGBTIs are neglected”

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

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

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

Photo credit: Peter Hershey

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason: “Unnatural intercourse with a person”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sexual orientation is an important part of private life”

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

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

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

“The criminal record of Turkey is getting worse”

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

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

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

 

“No one believes that there could be a Muslim, socialist, and homosexual woman.”

From bianet’s article series THE CHANGING JOURNEY OF THE STRUGGLES OF HIJAB​

“I attended the Pride marches or the marches on May 1st and the people who see me say ‘Look, she has come to support.’ They look at me not as an individual who takes part in this struggle but as a person who was recruited from among the conservatives and converted.”

Source: “No one believes that there could be a Muslim, socialist, and homosexual woman.” (“Müslüman, Sosyalist ve Eşcinsel Bir Kadının Varlığına Kimse İnanmıyor”) Büşra Cebeci, Bianet, February 10, 2018 http://bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/194033-musluman-sosyalist-ve-escinsel-bir-kadinin-varligina-kimse-inanmiyor

“When they realize that I can be a homosexual, they get puzzled. They look at me like saying ‘What do you mean?’ and get baffled. Then, they laugh after saying ‘You gotta be kidding me’. They don’t believe it; the fact that I am a ‘dyke’ or that I am a Muslim.”

We have witnessed throughout this Bianet interview series that there are difficulties for women to wear a hijab or take off the hijab. In this interview, we witness the things that a woman wearing hijab will suffer when she outgrows the norms of a “woman who wears hijab”.

A socialist and homosexual woman with hijab shares her story with us; telling us about the rage conservative society feels towards her because they see her as a deviant coming from within their society and about the fact that the dissident society see her as someone converted from the other side, not as truly one of them, she narrates her struggle to be a free individual despite all this.

When and how did you decide to wear hijab?

I can say that my wish to wear hijab consciously came when I was at around my 20s. In the past, I did not go outside the house without covering my head, because of the society and family that I live in and the habits that I’d had since childhood. I covered my head outside of the school hours. At that time, wearing hijab at school was not allowed and this was a good thing for me because I didn’t want to wear it as a matter of fact. I was wearing it due to the fear of hearing “the daughter of what’s-his-name wanders around without covering her head.”

I grew up in a society that thinks “girls don’t go to school;” so, I was already alienated because I was constantly reading and studying. To be honest, I did not even dare to take off the hijab. Wearing it for a while becomes like a habit, I think. Unless you choose to wear it consciously, wearing hijab is nothing more than a habit. Otherwise, despite the fact that you disobey all the other rules of the religion: tell lies, slander someone, gossip, break hearts, and fail to share your meal with hungry people, you think you will go to heaven because you are a true Muslim for wearing the hijab. Is that possible?

You don’t hide you are an LGBTI activist wearing hijab on social media. What are the reactions that you receive from that?

Actually, not only on social media, but I don’t like hiding it in real life as well. Even at my place of work, some of the people know my sexual orientation. The majority of them show “toleration” or think they are showing “toleration.” The thing we call “toleration” is in fact just an attitude of people thinking to himself or herself that they are superior. I don’t think I did something like committing a crime, which needs to be tolerated. There are so many people who claim they are LGBTI supporters but they are actually homophobic.

“Toleration” means tolerating something and I don’t do anything that wanders at the borders of a person’s toleration. Needless to say, I don’t need to be tolerated, I need to be equal with other people. On the other hand, there are some people who straightforwardly spill out hatred against me. There are some saying “even the breath you take is a sin.” Some even threaten me by saying “this slut is just confused, come and let me help you.”  Some try to lynch me. Basically, every LGBTI individual faces these kinds of sentiments. However, the situation gets carried into another dimension because I wear hijab. They see me as a deviant who was once a part of them and this is the point that they get angry about. They already attack LGBTI individuals. The fact that there is a religious person with hijab, someone who looks like them, among the LGBTI people whom they call “deviant” makes them much angrier. But there is not just one colour in this life. Unfortunately, those who don’t have rainbows inside of them don’t realize this.

What kinds of answers do you get from the people to whom you come out to about your sexual orientation?

They laugh at first. Then, when they realize this is real and they get puzzled. They look at me saying “What do you mean?” and get baffled.  Then they laugh, saying “You gotta be kidding me.” They don’t believe it; the fact that I am a “dyke” or that I am a “Muslim.” People look at me like I am telling them a joke. So, I let things slide. Instead of coming out to them, I wait for them to realize by themselves. When they do, they become distant anyway and almost all of them leave me. Except for a few, even my closest friends stay away from me and think they are protecting themselves from me.

A female friend of mine, whom I had hugged and kissed and who had never hesitated to have a close touch with me in the previous years, pushed my arms away when I was about to hug her a day after I came out to her; she has never come close to me since then. I was friends with this person for years, we were so close, and I always considered her like a sister to me.

Another characteristic of yours that many see as contrarian is your political orientation. How do people react when you define yourself as a socialist?

I don’t worry about the reactions now, but no one accepts me. In the past, I was a member of a revolutionary — left wing organization. I used to go to the establishments of this organization and they used to see me as a person who is interested in the subject a little, but confused and in a paradoxical situation. When I went to LGBTI establishments, they shut the door in my face after saying “it seems like you came to the wrong address”. They have started to get used to it recently, or at least I think they have. For example, I go to the Pride marches and the people who see me say “look, she has come to support us,” they don’t accept that I am one of them or they don’t even regard it as possible. I go to the marches on May 1st and I hear them saying “Look, sisters with hijab are with us, they seem like they don’t believe in the government in power.” They look at me not as an individual who takes part in the struggle but as a person who was recruited from among the conservatives and converted.

At the exits of subways or at the stations of ferries where socialist leaflets are distributed, when I reach to take one, they draw back. This is completely because of their prejudices. I am perceived as if I am supporting or as if I have to support the conservative government. No, the religion that is exploited for political gain is my religion and I don’t have to defend this exploitation. In short, no one believes or can believe that there could be a woman who is an LGBTI individual, a socialist, and a Muslim.

Why? Seeing all this in one person is considered a paradox. They say that I understand nothing, that I lie in order to get attention, or that I suffer from contradictions in terms. No, the first one is my sexual orientation, the other one is my political opinion, and the last one is my religion.

To me, the Quran is a book that each person interprets individually and they shape themselves according to that interpretation after reading it. In real life, everybody practices what s/he understands from the Quran. I think it is wrong to use it as a vehicle to impose something religious after interpreting it with personal opinions and I cannot accept this attitude. Believe me, I have heard so many things about myself. So, I just gave up listening to them and expressing myself to them. After all, everyone believes in the things that they have in their minds. My family ignores my political standing. Yes, they just ignore it, as if it doesn’t exist or as if I am a joke. All my family and relatives are extremely conservative and they often tell me “you have been brainwashed.”

Is there any women who suffer from the same problems and contact you? What would you like to tell them?

There are few, not many. Most of us are afraid and hide ourselves. We can even face death after all. A person whom you have never meet can stab you as you walk around the corner, kidnap you, rape you so that “you can come to your senses,” kill you or beat you. They do all these things just because you are different from them and prefer walking a different path.

No one steps up and do something about it, because this is Turkey and we, women, are creatures who are seen as a second- or third-class citizen or we don’t even belong to a class.

We are raised and governed by people who do not accept our existence. So, we need to never give up on ourselves and who we are. It is not just about resisting against them. It is also about resisting against ourselves.

We need to resist even against ourselves in order to never give up despite all of our fears, sufferings, scars, and alienation.

Second expulsion for police officer Osman: It hurts…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, let’s hear Osman’s words.

When and how did you hear that you were expelled?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were you working as a police officer during it?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, because we have become polarised.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

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

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