Boysan Yakar

Genetically Modified Tomato Awards Presented: 140Journos, Istanbul University…

12th Genetically Modified Tomato Awards were  distributed at the ceremony on Thursday. Boysan Yakar, Zeliş Deniz and Mert Serçe, the activists who lost their lives last year, were also commemorated in the ceremony.

Source: “Hormonlu Domatesler Sahiplerini Buldu: 140Journos, İstanbul Üniversitesi…”, BİA Haber Merkezi, June 24, 2016, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/176181-hormonlu-domatesler-sahiplerini-buldu-140journos-istanbul-universitesi

12th Genetically Modified Tomato Awards found their new winners on Thursday in a ceremony at Şişli Urban Cultural Center.

There were stage performances at the ceremony and the entire audience danced to commemorate the three activists who lost their lives last year, Boysan Yakar, Zeliş Deniz and Mert Serçe.

510

Yeni Akit daily received the majority of the votes in the media category with its headline “The number of deaths increased to 50 at the bar visited by the perverted homosexuals” following the Orlando attack, but since the newspaper has continuously perpetrated hate speech with its news and won the award repeatedly, it was given the “Lifetime Genetically Modified Tomato” award.

In the “media” category the award was merited by 140 Journos, which used a transphobic language while covering last year’s Trans Beauty Pageant, and announced its nomination for Genetically Modified Tomato Awards upon the criticism it received. Other nominees in this category were Sabah daily, Cem Keçe and Hürriyet Aile, Hayrettin Karaman of Yeni Şafak, Milat daily and its reporter Enes Babacan, Vahdet daily, Milli Gazete and Yeni Akit.

(more…)

Families of LGBTs in Turkey Dare to Hope

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

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

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

“LISTAG is proof that another family is possible”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We emphasize how important the coming Pride is

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

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

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

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

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

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

This gives me hope.

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

Sema Yakar Will Serve As Advisor to Şişli’s New Equality Unit

At the inauguration of Şişli’s Social Equality Unit, Şişli Mayor Hayri İnönü noted that the Unit will focus on gender issues and Sema Yakar will serve as a volunteer advisor.

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Şişli Eşitlik Birimi’ne Sema Yakar Danışmanlık Yapacak”, (“Sema Yakar Will Serve As Advisor to Şişli’s New Equality Unit”), kaosgl.org, 23 October 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=20401

Şişli’s new Social Equality Unit was inaugurated at an event in Şişli’s City Hall. The night was hosted by Mayor Hayri İnönü and attended by representatives from LGBTI and human rights organizations, as well as the consuls of the United States, Israel, Brazil, and Canada.

Hosted by actress Seyhan Arman, the event introduced the Unit set up largely by the efforts of Boysan Yakar, LGBTI activist and the advisor to the Mayor, who recently died in a traffic accident.

sisliesitlikbirimigece_3“This is a space that we fought to earn”

Arman began her speech with words in memory of Yakar: “In a world of inequalities and discrimination, Boysan convinced us that we could win if we stood united. He conquered our hearts with his kindhearted and egalitarian attitude. This space can be seen as simply a workplace, but it is also a space that we fought to earn.”

After Arman’s speech, a video was screened showing the Unit’s street interviews on the subject, “What is gender?”

Next, the municipality’s social media representative Dilek Güven delivered a speech. A close coworker of Boysan, Güven had a hard time suppressing her tears. She reminisced about meeting Boysan in the local elections and his question to her at the time, “Will you stand by me?”

“I had not understood exactly what he meant at the time, but now I do. The Equality Unit was one of Boysan’s biggest dreams. He had told me a long time ago that we would succeed in setting up this unit. And with Mayor Hayri İnönü’s leadership, the Unit has finally come into being.”

“Hayri İnönü: Boysan inspired us all”

Mayor Hayri İnönü also began his speech with words honoring Boysan: “Boysan was someone that everybody should have met. He inspired us all with his high level of energy. His absence is deeply felt.” İnönü conveyed his condolences once again to Yakar’s family, the LGBTI community, and to all human rights advocates.

İnönü explained how the Social Equality Unit is planned to function:

“The Social Equality Unit will develop the municipality’s policies regarding women, LGBTIs, disabled individuals, minorities, refugees, children and senior citizens, who experience economic, social, and cultural discrimination. The Unit will work both on the services that we provide within our participatory government framework and the issues of inclusion within decision-making mechanisms. Our final goal is to eliminate all social inequalities.”

sisliesitlikbirimigece_5

Sema Yakar will serve as advisor to the Unit

After tackling gender, the Unit will gradually expand its work area and encompass all of society. The Unit will receive guidance from a volunteer team headed by Sema Yakar, Boysan’s mother and a founder of LISTAG (Families of LGBTIs in Istanbul).

Sema Yakar: “Boysan is my comrade”

Sema Yakar, who was in the US to work on Boysan’s uncompleted tasks from when he was in the US earlier this year, joined the event via a videotaped message. Yakar remarked that, these days, we see once again that human life is cheap. Speaking in memory of Boysan, she noted, “He is my comrade, my teacher of all things new. Your fight will be the fight of us all.”

sisliesitlikbirimigece_7

Boysan’s father Hakan Yakar continued: “Being an ‘other,’ Boysan had to begin his fight at an early age. He was an LGBTI activist, an advocate of human rights and the environment, a brave heart, a revolutionary, and most importantly, the pride of our family.” Yakar noted that a book that Boysan was reading before his death, called Beyond Human, was found at the accident site: “He had scribbled in the margins the ‘cheapness of death in Turkey.’ It is so true. Traffic monsters took away three of our dearest souls: Boysan, Zeliş, and Mert. May they rest in peace.”

“No peace without equality”

Melda Onur, a CHP candidate in the general elections from Istanbul, remarked that Boysan’s absence was deeply felt: “We have to hold on to each other tightly and continue the struggle.” Onur said that the Unit should set an example for other municipalities.

“There can be no peace without equality and no freedom without peace. I hope that this Unit sets an example to all local governments and inspires them, starting with municipalities in Istanbul.”

The last speaker was Meltem Ağduk from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Ağduk reminded the audience of the “Women Friendly Cities” project that her agency had started in 2005: “Şişli Municipality’s project seems to be at a much more advanced level than our project. Cities are founded with a masculine perspective and this perspective labels many groups as ‘others.’ The way to overcome this problem is to multiply projects like the one started by Şişli.”

The night was concluded with a cocktail.

sisliesitlikbirimigece_10

LGBTI Activist Boysan’s Mother Follows Son’s Footsteps in the US

Source: “Annesi ABD’de, Boysan’ın İzinde”, (““His mother following in Boysan’s footsteps in the US”), GZone, 21 October 2015, http://gzone.com.tr/abdde-boysan-yakarin-izinde/

Sema Yakar, one of the founders of LISTAG (Families of LGBTs in Istanbul) and mother of LGBTI activist Boysan Yakar who died in a tragic traffic accident in early September, stated in an October 2015 interview with GZone that she would continue Boysan’s unfinished projects:

Boysan always took notes; kept notebooks not to forget what was on his mind. That day I went to the City Council meeting at the City Hall with his notebook. I turned the last page he wrote on and dated the next page. “You left, but we are here and we will keep going,” I said. His notebooks will not remain half-finished. We will keep writing.

I will keep marching on for this fight. As long as I do, Boysan and Zeliş will see me.

Yesterday, Sema Yakar shared pictures from the Washington D.C. offices of the Human Rights Campaign where Boysan had worked in June and a picture of herself in front of the building giving the same pose as Boysan once had.

12106754_10153718702546639_8693575227097813603_n 12144733_10153718702151639_5691037926081324761_n

Boysan’s dream comes true: Equality Unit in Şişli Municipality!

The launch of the Şişli Municipality Social Equality Unit will take place on October 22. Boysan Yakar will be commemorated that night.

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Boysan’ın hayali gerçek oldu: Şişli’de Eşitlik Birimi!”, (“Boysan’s dream comes true: Equality Unit in Şişli Municipality!”), kaosGL.org, 20 October 2015, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=20380

Şişli Municipality has established a Social Equality Unit. The process that began with Boysan Yakar’s work as Advisor to Mayor Hayri İnönü has come to fruition and the unit has begun its work.

The Equality Unit’s establishment will be announced with a launch at 19:30 on Thursday, October 22 at the municipality’s new service building. Boysan Yakar, who lost his life in a traffic accident, will also be remembered that night.

boysan_yakar

“Different politics for a more equal world”

Lambdaistanbul LGBTI activist Elif Avcı who began working at the Social Equality Unit explained the unit’s establishment to KaosGL.org:

After the 2014 local elections, talks began with municipalities which signed the LGBTI-Friendly Municipality Protocol to hold them to their promises. In the strategic planning phase of this process, we spoke with the Şişli Municipality as LGBTI associations and communicated our requests to be included in the strategic planning. The Equality Unit was one of these demands. Then Boysan Yakar, who began working as the mayor’s advisor at the Şişli Municipality, followed up on these demands and after his struggle for a year and half, the equality unit within the municipality has been founded.

This unit will serve to create equalitarian and participatory politics for LGBTI, people with disabilities, senior citizens, minorities, refugees, children, youth, and women. Boysan could not see the establishment of the unit he worked so hard for. So as much as the unit excites me, it also breaks my heart. We are working in a place where we feel Boysan’s loss every day. On the other hand, we don’t have the luxury to fail his hard work. With his inspiration, we are trying to make real a different politics for a more equal world.

We have lost LGBTI Activists Boysan Yakar and Zeliş Deniz

Boysan Yakar, LGBTI activist and advisor to Şişli Mayor, Zeliş Deniz, feminist LGBTI activist, and Mert Serçe have passed away in a highway car crash.

Source: BK, “LGBTİ Aktivistleri Boysan Yakar ve Zeliş Deniz’i Kaybettik,” (“We have lost LGBTI activists Boysan Yakar and Zeliş Deniz”), BiaNet, 6 September 2015, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/167397-lgbti-aktivistleri-boysan-yakar-ve-zelis-deniz-i-kaybettik

The crash occurred on the Çanakkale – Istanbul Highway in Bolayır, Gelibolu. Yakar, Deniz and Serçe who were all in the same vehicle lost their lives as well as two other persons who were in the other vehicle involved in the collision.

Şişli Mayor İnönü: “We will miss you and need you very much in the future Boysan”

Şişli Mayor Hayri İnönü, whom the 31 year old activist Boysan was an advisor to, tweeted; “we have lost our colleague Boysan Yakar to a traffic accident. My condolences to his family and all of us. We will miss you and need you very much in the future Boysan…”

Boysan Yakar

Boysan Yakar, an advisor to Şişli Mayor Hayri İnönü, was among the CHP city councilman candidates during the Municipal Elections of March 30, 2014.

500-167

Yakar had the following to say about his candidacy in an interview with Bianet Women and LGBTI issues editor Çiçek Tahaoğlu:

“I believe that especially politicians were not ready for LGBTIs in Turkey to be so conspicuous until today. But we are part of the people and we live among the people. Contrary to popular opinion, we walk the city during the day as we need to. We live in this country but as a direct target to various discriminations and hateful actions. Our organized effort for equal rights have been continuing for more than 20 years and we expect our legal rights to be granted and our demands to be taken seriously. I think the politicians should just trust us. We are sure we will handle government duties and municipal duties at least as well as we do everything else we put our minds to!”

500-500

Yakar’s family, also members of Listag (LambdaIstanbul Family Group), were featured in the documentary “Benim Çocuğum” (My Child).

Zeliş Deniz

Zeliş Deniz, an LGBTI activist and feminist, was also an active member of such organizations like Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association and LambdaIstanbul.

500-318

She was photographed during the International Women’s Day Walk on March 8th, 2014 where she stood against riot police with her purple flag.

Rainbow and Feminist Flags on LGBTI Activists’ Coffin Cause for Tip Off by “Informant Neighbor” and Police Questioning

Stepping into action in light of a tip off given by “neighbors” about a rainbow flag draped over the caskets of LGBTI activists Boysan Yakar and Zeliş Deniz, who lost their lives in a traffic accident, police went to the mourners’ home wanting to take a statement.

Source: “‘Muhbir komşu’ işbaşında: Tabuta örtülen gökkuşağı bayrağına ‘yasa dışı’ ihbarı”, (“The ‘Informant Neighbor’ is back at work: ‘Illegal’ tip off given about rainbow flag wrapped around casket”), Diken, 10 September 2015, http://www.diken.com.tr/muhbir-komsu-isbasinda-tabuta-ortulen-gokkusagi-bayragina-yasa-disi-ihbari/

We are coming because of the tip off

Ayşe Yıldırım, a writer with Cumhuriyet, explained what happened in her column today: “The garden gate was opened. Three civilian men with radios and papers in their hands came inside. It was around 11:00 in the morning. “Is the family of the funeral here?” they asked everyone sitting in the garden. The crowd pointed to Neriman Deniz. When the three men came came towards Neriman, because of the radios in their hands, she thought, “They are either police who came to express their condolences from the municipality or police who are going to give some information about the crash.” One of the men took out his ID and said, “I am a police officer, we are coming because of a tip off.”

boycan-cenaze

According to Yıldırım, the police said that they had come after getting a tip off that the funerals had been performed with an illegal organization’s flag. Neriman Deniz, who asked whether the feminist movement’s flag and the LGBTI movement’s rainbow flag were considered illegal, got “no, of course not,” as an answer.

Those flags were at Şişli Mosque, the police were there too

When Neriman Deniz asked, “Well then, why have you come?” the police said that they had taken action because of a tip off received from a neighbor. As a response, she said, “Do you all have no intelligence information at all? The television networks and newspapers covered the funeral. Did you not see that either? How can you come up to a wounded mother, to a house in mourning like this?”

When the police asked, “Wasn’t this the accident in Gallipoli?” Neriman Deniz said this in reaction: “You know that, but you do not know what flags were at the funeral. Those flags were at Şişli Mosque and the police were there too. The real terrorist in Turkey is the state, it is ISIS, let the police deal with them.”

Is it a crime to be a leftist in this country?

Following Neriman Deniz, the police this time headed towards Zeliş Deniz’s sister, and indicated that they had gotten a complaint about the funeral being performed with a PKK Flag. They then asked for Neriman Deniz’s ID to record a statement, but were forced to leave the house when the family said, “We will not give it to you, inform your superiors.”

Neriman Deniz, who was clearly very upset and angry about the police’s approach, showed her reaction by saying, “In the middle of the casket there was an LGBTI flag, at the head there was a socialist feminist flag and a purple kerchief, and at the foot there was a red flag. It was embroidered with roses and pictures. Is it a crime to be a leftist in this country? They cannot come into my house like this.”