State of Emergency

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.

Court lifts the state of emergency ban against LGBTI+ activities in Ankara

Upon Kaos GL Association’s appeal application, Ankara Regional Administrative Court 12th Administrative Case Court has examined the indefinite ban against LGBTI+ activities, declared by the Governorship of Ankara on November 2017.

Source: Court lifts the state of emergency ban against LGBTI+ activities in Ankara, (“Mahkeme, OHAL’de ilan edilen Ankara LGBTİ+ etkinlik yasağını kaldırdı”), kaosgl.org, April 19, 2019, https://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=28102&fbclid=IwAR03zlUFhP1Bmh-AQRuTEjYuWNrcIKz_gt4x30786XqCNWBAQMPm_r_GYQg. This is a summary translation of the article.

Regional Administrative Court has stated that the ban was declared for an indefinite duration and bears no limitation or clarity as to the quality of the actions that are banned. The court indicated that if there is a threat against the planned activities, law enforcers should take precautions instead of banning the events; and that the ban is not lawful. The court ruled to lift the ban.

Here is an excerpt from the court ruling:

“The ban declared on November 18, 2017 for an indefinite duration, regarding the activities such as film screenings, cinevision, theater plays, panels, talks, exhibitions etc. taking place in different locations in Ankara, which include certain social sensibilities and sensitivities by various civil society organizations on LGBTT-LGBTI etc. matters; bear no limitation or clarity on either the time duration or the quality of the actions which are banned.”

“Although it is suggested by the administration that the planned activities might upset certain sections of society and lead to provocation, assault or reactions, such gatherings and activities can be protected by necessary security measures instead of an indefinite ban based on the premises that certain sections of society might react or be provoked”

The ruling also suggests that such indefinite ban with regards to duration and scope leads to the restriction on the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties, and therefore is not compatible with the law.

Despite the lifting of the state of emergency, a ban was sent by the Governorship of Ankara’s Legal Affairs Branch Directorate’s to Provincial Directorate of Security on October 3, 2018 on the same grounds. The lawsuit against this decision continues.

 

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

 

Özgür Gür from METU LGBTI+ is Released

Özgür Gür from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity Released Today after his statement at the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Source: “Özgür Gür from METU LGBTI+ is Released”, (“ODTÜ LGBTİ+’dan Özgür Gür Serbest”), pembehayat, July 9, 2018, http://www.pembehayat.org/haberler.php?id=1833

Özgür Gür from Middle East Technical University (METU),  LGBTI+ Solidarity, as well as the head of the Council of Student Representatives (CSR) was taken from his home and detained on Sunday, July 8. He was released today, July 9, after his statement at the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Gür’s lawyer, Erkan Çiftçi, said that during Gür’s detainment at the police station he was questioned about banners put up at METU graduation ceremony which read: “We are not a group of students, but the school’s LGBTI+ people. We are here! It is our right to live safely on the streets and on campus.” Another banner read: “Verşan Kök cannot be the rector of METU.”

Çiftçi stated that Mehmet Gür also asked: “did you shout out ‘Rector Resign’ slogans?”

What had happened?

METU security guards attacked students who put up a rainbow flag and banners during the graduation ceremony.

At first the private security guards said “we’ll take the flag down”, then they threatened the students from METU LGBT+ Solidarity who put up a rainbow flag at the bleachers. The security guards attacked students when they put up banners during the rector’s speech that said, “We are not a group of students, but the school’s LGBTI+ people. We are here! It is our right to live safely on the streets and on campus” and “Verşan Kök cannot be the rector of METU.”

Three students were detained after the protests at the graduation ceremony on July 6, 2018. Özgür Gür from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity, the head of the CSR, was taken from his home today and detained.

 

Governorship of Adana bans the Pride March

The Adana Governorship has banned the first-to-be Pride March with the alleged justifications of “public safety”and “social sensitivity”.

Source: “Governorship of Adana bans the Pride March” (“Adana Valiliği, Onur Yürüyüşü’nü yasakladı”), kaosgl.org, July 6, 2018, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=26222.

The Adana Governorship has banned the Pride March that was supposed to take place tomorrow [7th of June]. The first march planned by the Adana LGBTI+ Solidarity has been banned by the Adana Governorship due to the supposed threats to public safety and social sensitivity.

The governorship in the official proclamation of the ban has stated:

“…[It was determined that ] this event which is to take place in an open space will incite hatred and hostility amongst a section of the public  with different characteristics in terms of social class, race, religion, sect or region against another part of society, that this might lead to imminent peril with regards to public security, that considering the intel regarding the terrorist groups preparing to act against opposing groups, that there may be reactions and provocations against the groups and individuals taking part in the organization due to certain social sensibilities and thus is not appropriate to take place”

There will be a press release

Adana LGBTI+ Solidarity has decided to have a press release tomorrow [7th of June] at 17.00 in the Adana Human Rights Association after the ban has been issued. The press release will cover the process regarding the ban and cancellation process of the first to be pride march of Adana with the theme “ban”.

Yeni Akit has targeted the Solidarity

Meanwhile, the Yeni Akit Gazette has targeted the Adana Pride March with their article titled “Mobil Homos are after provocation.”  After the gazette’s prior attack and call for a “ban” on the Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March, the Adana Governorship has banned the Adana Pride March.

 

Istanbul Pride Week Committee’s Announcement Regarding Governor’s Decision Against the Pride March

Istanbul Pride Week Committee announced that the Pride March is to take place in spite of Governorship’s decision to ban the march. Below is the written statement published by the committee:

Source: “Our announcement to the public and press” (“Basına ve kamuoyuna duyurumuzdur”), Istanbul Pride Week Committee, June 29, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/istanbulpride/posts/1677107182416888:0

OUR ANNOUNCEMENT TO THE PUBLIC AND PRESS

“As Istanbul Pride Week Committee, we came together to organize the Pride March which is to take place in the last week of June as every year. Our Pride Week and March are very important for us to celebrate the pride we feel for our existence and to provide our visibility in a society in which we are systematically rendered invisible and are taught to be ashamed for our identities. It is no secret that the Pride March, which is ever more crowded with each year, takes place on the last Sunday of the month. We have been struggling with the same determination for the last 26 years, to make our call for the march be heard and to be visible.

As Article 3 of the Law on Assembly and Marches indicates, it is every citizen’s right to organize an assembly and march as long as it is peaceful, without prior permissions. However, as it is the case every year, this year too, we requested a meeting with the governorship in order to discuss our march, which is known to all the world. In the meeting we had with the governor’s aide, we were told that in previous years the march coincided with Ramadan in recent years, that this is not a hindrance this year as it is not Ramadan, however it is up to the Governor to decide.

After the meeting, the committee send a written notice regarding the week and the march to the Governorship. Unfortunately, the Governor’s reply points to the Law on Assembly and Marches which is supposed to protect our right to protest, and states that they will not be able to ensure our security, therefore it is not appropriate to organize the Pride March.

Pride March has been organized for 16 years and had taken place without any security issues for thirteen years straight, prior to the police assaults. Governorship of Istanbul stated Ramadan and security issues as an excuse first, yet for the last two years the march has not coincided with Ramadan and this year it has not received any threats, which demonstrates that the premises for the governorship’s bans are merely excuses and indeed the governorship’s decision is a part of the hatred against us.

The governor is committing a crime by using his authority to discriminate against a certain section of society. This decision is unlawful and only incites the hatred against us, therefore it is not legitimate. Yes, as the Governorship decision states we do have a security problem, yet the reason for this problem is none other than the Governorship and the police forces attacking our march, which our democratic right, every year. This decision has shown just how important Pride March is for us LGBTI+ individuals, trying to live in spite of the hatred directed towards us. This march takes place against [a backdrop of] the very violence and discrimination that the governorship’s decision further incites.

We announce to the public and press that  we will carry out our Pride March with the same determination as we have done for the last twenty six years and we would like to remind all that each lubunya [queer person] is a Pride March. “

Governorship of Ankara’s decision to ban the film screening of ‘Pride’

Source: Ankara Valiliği, “Yasaklama Kararına İlişkin Basın Duyurusu”, June 28, 2018, http://www.ankara.gov.tr/yasaklama-kararina-iliskin-basin-duyurusu-28062018

“Through social media, various print and visual media outlets, it has come to our attention that Komunist LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) is organizing a film screening of ‘Pride’ at Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center in Çankaya at 19:30 on June 28, 2018.

It was decided that the aforementioned social media shares might deliberately incite a certain segment of society with different characteristics of social class, race, religion, sect or region against another segment of society, that this might lead to imminent peril with regards to public security, that considering the intel regarding the terrorist groups preparing to act against opposing groups, that there may be reactions and provocations against the groups and individuals taking part in the organization due to certain social sensibilities.

Due to these circumstances, from June 28 onwards the film screening at Nazım Hikmet Cultural Center in Çankaya district, and within the scope of our city is banned by our Governorship, based on Article 11/C of the Law Of Provincial Administration, No 5442, within the scope of measures to be taken for the provision of peace, security, right to physical integrity and the public order, following Article 17 of Law No. 2911 on Assembly and Demonstration Marches and Article 11/F of Law No. 2935 on the State of Emergency.”