Personal Stories

Personal stories on LGBTI issues in Turkey

A Review of Pride Across Turkey: Defiance and Resilience

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

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

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

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

Istanbul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ankara

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

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

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

Izmir

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

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

Gaziantep 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mersin

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

Municipalities’ Official Support

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

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

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

 

Words by George Winter

Photos by Bradley Secker in the İstanbul Pride 

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

A Success Story: advocacy against a hospital denying hysterectomy surgery for trans men 

Source: “Rejection of hysterectomy in Cerrahpaşa, prosecution process and success of advocacy”, (Cerrahpaşa’da histerektomi ameliyatı reddi, dava süreci ve savunuculuğun başarısı), Emirhan Deniz Çelebi, KaosgL.org, 10 July, 2019

https://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=28513

I guess it was early February in 2017 when a friend texted me: “Emirhan, did you hear that Cerrahpaşa no longer do our surgeries?”. When I first read the message I was taken aback and then called my friend to learn more about what’s going on with Cerrahpaşa. 

This is how the story begins: My friend was barely able to get a date for their surgery next week. A member of the staff at Cerrahpaşa OB-GYN department says: ‘ Due to a decision taken by the academic committee, we no longer do the laparoscopic hysterectomy of trans men, we have to cancel your surgery date’. My friend could barely hold it together at that point. In Turkey one of the most excruciating parts of the legal process in changing your assigned gender and your name on the ID is to make the post-surgery reports in time for the day of the hearing. If there is a lag, the court may adjourn your case to two or three months later.

After receiving this news, I wondered ‘Hang on, what will they say about surgery day if I call them?’ and I picked up the receiver. I got the same answer and so I asked ‘When did you start making transphobic decisions that concern public health in your academic council meetings?’. There was no answer. When I asked them to send me a written copy of their reply, I was already sure that I would not receive that either. Nevertheless, I gave them a shot and waited 10 days. No news. Was I surprised? No. I called them again and asked for a written reply. They hung up after saying ‘We can’t send you any reply sir’. That’s what drove me wild. Yeah, as if you can’t, you will  have to respond. 

I sat down and wrote a complaint to BİMER* (now it’s called CİMER):

To whom it may concern,

When trans men in our country submit their request to change their name and gender to a court, they are referred to OB GYN departments of hospitals as Article 40 of Civil Code requires them to be permanently deprived of reproduction [reproductive capacity]. Cerrahpaşa Medical Faculty OB GYN Department was one of the institutions which undertake these surgeries [hysterectomy]. That was the case until I was told that these surgeries are no longer done based on an academic council decision…This decision results in transsexuals not being able to undergo the legally required surgeries. Many people had their court date adjourned and were victimized. If you require us to do so, we can submit a joint petition. Last week, in a meeting with around 30 trans men, many of those who have their surgery dates approaching brought the issue up. 

I would like to ask you three things: Is it only the trans men your hospital is not doing the laparoscopic hysterectomy and salpingo oophorectomy operations on? If that is the case, on what grounds? Are you currently allowing your cis-gender female clients to undergo these operations?  

In sum, I kindly request you to send a written reply, including the reason for the decision and the minutes of the academic council meeting.

I wrote this on March 13, 2017. On April 13, 2017 I received an untitled e-mail, it read ‘[Our] respond to your application is attached’. Here we go. Check this out:

The request and complaint submitted to Prime Ministry Communication Center (BİMER)  by XXX Çelebi was examined. The Academic Council meeting on February 15, 2017 ruled against these procedures as the examination of these cases of voluntary castration (hysterectomy and ooferectomy) surgery done on genitally healthy individuals who are phenotypically and genotypically female and organically have the reproductive capacity lead to irreversible organ failure and loss of function which can lead to medical, ethical and legal problems; due to the problems the admission of male-looking patients causing problems in OB-GYN wards,  and because emergency and pregnant patients are prioritized during the relocation of our department. According to Social Insurance Institution regulations, people have no right to apply to another hospital. Attached is the relevant Academic Council decision.”

I read these words in a breeze and I began to feel numb starting with the bit about ‘these cases’, climaxing at ‘male-looking patients’. The pregnant patients are to be prioritized…as if it is only cis-women who give birth! The whole reply is oozing transphobia. 

I calmed down a little and decided to take this opportunity. In that period, there was another hospital which did hysterectomy operations of trans men, they would refuse to do the operations every now and then. It was time to get the rights advocacy going. I printed out the documents and ran to the attorney Rozerin Seda Kip.

Together with my attorney Rozerin, we applied to Istanbul Administrative Court. In the petition, Rozerin indicated that these attitudes were transphobic and discriminatory. Rozerin also reminded the court of Article 40 of Civil Code and the European Convention on Human Rights. The petition demanded the halting of the execution of the ruling, stating that the administration’s refusal to carry out the ‘sterilisation’ surgery of the trans individuals is arbitrary and unlawful.   

Following this application on 2017, what did the Istanbul University Rectorate** do? Of course, it asked the case to be dismissed. The first court in charge was Istanbul 10. Administrative Court, and this court stated that the hospital can not refuse to carry out the surgery, reminding them that the hospital itself penned a report that suggests the person needs to undergo gender affirmation surgery.

The University made no surprises and filed an appeal to Council of State. Finally this year the Council of State 10th Chamber ruled against the appeal. Thus, the legal struggle beginning in 2017 certified that the hospital’s refusal to carry out the surgeries of trans men was unlawful. 

The struggle starting with BİMER and ending at Council of State is an example of the importance of advocacy. In this way, the judiciary too, confirmed that hospitals have no luxury to deny the surgery. During our advocacy action, cancelled the requirement to ‘be permanently deprived of procreation’ from Article 40, even if this is not the practice in reality…We have a long way to go! May this decision be a beacon to us all! 

*Translator’s note: BİMER is Prime Ministry Communication Center. Currently, CİMER (Presidency Communication Center) is used by citizens to file complaints about any state department.

** Cerrahpaşa is a training hospital under the administration of Istanbul University Faculty of Medicine. It is the sole authority in many state sanctioned surgeries, like the gender affirmation surgeries.

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.