LGBT Activism in Turkey

Öykü Ay: “The Lord helped and we’ve opened the first trans shelter” in Turkey

Source: Ezgi Başaran, “Rabbim yardım etti, ilk trans sığınma evini açtık” (“The Lord helped and we’ve opened the first trans shelter”), Radikal.com.tr, 19 January 2015, http://www.radikal.com.tr/yazarlar/ezgi_basaran/rabbim_yardim_etti_ilk_trans_siginma_evini_actik-1274664

Turkey’s first trans shelter is opening. The hero of this initiative is Öykü Ay. Also known to the trans community as “the veiled,” Öykü says, “The Lord helped and we’ve opened the first trans shelter. Thousands of thanks to all the girls. It boosted our morale. It showed us that we can handle any difficulty once we’re united.” Here is the most encouraging story of late…

WHY?

Sometimes I meet people whose life experience, or even sheer existence, is the answer to many complicated questions; it tells all that a 300-page book about politics can’t tell. Öykü Ay is one of those people. One of the most encouraging things I have heard about lately is the opening of a new trans shelter. Yes, a shelter for trans individuals. Think how frequently you read in the news about a trans individual’s beating, murder, or suicide under pressure. And now they have a roof to gather under thanks to Öykü Ay’s organizing in the trans community and the community’s own ability to organize. You are about to read the story of that shelter and that of Öykü Ay, who identifies as a religious person. While reading, please think about the concepts of morality and religiousness imposed upon us by the government. How those concepts are unable to describe real life. And, of course, think about what it means to have the strength to do good despite all the systematic misfortune, bad treatment, and ostracization. Just think.

öyküay

Where and when does your story begin?

I’m from the East. I was born in a village of Malatya. To a family with 3.5 daughters and 2.5 sons.

Where do the halves come from?

From me. That’s how I say how many children there are in the family. It’s a joke. You didn’t get it, but that’s fine.

Yeah, I didn’t think that way.

Anyway, I studied teaching. I was an intern grade school teacher for about a year in Adıyaman. But I couldn’t handle it for long because I was too feminine. Pressure from family, pressure from society… It’s hard to be LGBTI in the East; it’s very painful. I ran away from there.

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LGBTI News Turkey looking for new volunteers for translation project

Source: Ömer Akpınar, “LGBTI News Turkey looking for new volunteers for translation project”, kaosGL.org, 15 January 2015, http://kaosgl.org/page.php?id=18506

LGBTI News Turkey is a group that first started after the Gezi Park Protests to tell the world about LGBTI issues in Turkey. The group is looking for new volunteers to help their translation work develop. Some of the volunteers of LGBTI News Turkey told kaosGL.org the story behind LGBTI News Turkey and their goals.

lgbtinewsturkey (1)

LGBTI News Turkey is a group that first started after the Gezi Protests to tell the world about what’s happening to LGBTI in Turkey. Can you tell us what you have done since August 2013? What do you remember the most?

Zeynep: I think many people felt the need and urgency to do something during and after the protests to be an active member and citizen of this country. Our project was part of this impetus and the thought was to put all this information out there. We first organized around Lambdaistanbul. But I don’t think we are confined to the Gezi movement but are part of the larger global LGBTI and human rights movement. Since August 2013, we translated more than 340 sources and reached more than 50.000 readers from 159 countries. This means that all these people all over the world know something about LGBTI rights in Turkey.

zeynep

Zeynep

Elizabeth: For me there are two sets of work that remain prominent; the case of Ekogenç in Van and freedom of association, because their aims tie so much with my personal politics, and overshadowing this are the deaths. So many of our community have effectively been disappeared because of how society has treated them. Those that remain clearest are the suicides; there is much sorrow and privilege in presenting someone’s life to the world, to clearly show their final message to those they left behind is vitally important, my heart breaks every time yet, to honour, them it is worth it.

Artis: I joined the team recently and I don’t know the full history of this work. For now, I have translated a few articles but what affected me the most was an interview with a trans inmate. What hurts me the most as a gay man or despite the fact that I am a gay man is the situation of trans individuals in Turkey.

Artis

Artis

Translating LGBTI news into English has found a great use in international reporting. Can you talk about the UPR process and other reporting processes you are involved in? How does documenting and sharing what we live provide opportunities for rights advocacy? 

Elizabeth: I have long been a believer that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. There are times when it feels as if this is all we are doing, and they are incredibly frustrating. Then, every now and then, people see that light. This is why we shout in the darkness, so that people will hear. If we don’t do this work we will never find allies; it is only through spreading the truth that anyone will know what we face here. Hopefully the truth will make people angry enough to question society, to put pressure on national and international bodies to discuss queer issues and LGBTI rights.

elizabeth

Elizabeth

Zeynep: Translating sources into English has the immediate effect of being useful to global LGBTI and human rights advocacy. Our sources are used for the documentation of rights violations by several organizations including ILGA and IGLHRC. For me, the most stimulating part has been using our sources for the human rights mechanisms in the United Nations. With Kaos GL, we co-authored the LGBTI submission for the Universal Periodic Review and went to the UN in Geneva to lobby diplomats from Turkey and other countries to create an open dialogue on LGBTI rights in Turkey. The strength of the LGBTI movement, its information production and our translations made this possible. I’m really proud of our work. 

Can you talk about the need for new volunteers? What kind of people are you looking for? What do you aim to do?

Artis: There is so much to do in this field. I like translating for LGBTI News Turkey because I am interested in Turkey, the Turkish language, and LGBTI rights. I think for someone to undertake this volunteer work, they should be interested in LGBTI rights, Turkey, and translating. 

Yağmur: We always need more volunteers. We need people who think that it’s worthwhile to work on translating or editing LGBT related articles when they have some time off from their work. We are a direct translation group, meaning that we don’t modify the pieces that we work on at all, save for factual corrections we present in footnotes. On the other hand, it’s important for our volunteers to understand that each act of translation is in fact a claim to represent. It is impossible to carry out translations without abiding by certain usages and habits that are ingrained in the languages you engage with. In our work, we confront this often through the issue of choosing gender pronouns. There are some linguistic and translational choices which impact the subject matter of the LGBT cause qualitatively. Therefore, we need volunteers who are willing to consider the reflections and refractions of their linguistic choices as they translate. 

Elizabeth: From an editor’s point of view I’d like to say linguistically talented ones. But, joking aside, I think we need people with passion and commitment; people who know it won’t always be easy to make others see how important it is or deal with the sadness that comes from the work, yet despite this believe we have to keep hoping and fighting.

Zeynep: But as a starting point, we need advanced Turkish-English language skills and we continuously discuss the nature of our work. This discussion has allowed us to reach what Yağmur has explained. It’s great when our editors are native English speakers. We also need social media volunteers to tweet and post on Facebook. Volunteer work can often lead to burnout and we all need time to turn our brains off. A big enough group would allow us to keep the project sustainable.

Is there anything you want to focus on for 2015? Any specific areas or international documentation, etc?

Yağmur: I think that it is very important to translate documents that reveal rights violations and demonstrate how LGBTs in Turkey are exposed to structural violence. In addition to this, I would like to highlight the significance of translating essays, letters or memoirs that allow us hear the voices of LGBTs themselves. The LGBT movement continues to progress both internationally and in Turkey. As such, this cause acquires a position with a potential claim to represent millions of individuals and agendas. However, what we may term in general as “LGBT rights” involves many social cleavages based on culture, region, religion, sect, sex and politics. I think we ought to discover how these cleavages may impact or modify activism both in terms of sensibly and sensitively engaging with the issue of representation/power and in terms of strengthening the movement itself. I believe that it is through listening to and translating LGBT voices that we may reach these social cleavages.

yagmur

Yağmur

Zeynep: Conducting our own interviews, authoring our own stories. It’s great to translate the excellent work of journalists and activists but we are definitely capable of creating our own sources.

Elizabeth: Perhaps gender and its intersections?  For major projects we need to get together and talk about them; it would be nice to have some larger background projects in addition to news articles. I’d like us to find some happy stories.

Artis: I’d be interested in knowing more about LGBTI initiatives in Turkey and how they work to change perceptions. Second, what is being done to expand employment opportunities for LGBTIs? F    inally, I am interested in the intersection of religion and LGBTI in Turkey; how do Sunni and Alawite LGBTIs understand and live their religion? Is it possible to create more tolerance and if so, how is it being done?

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Ekogenç’s closure case ends: work in the area of sexual orientation is not “contrary to morality”

Source: Ömer Akpınar, “Ekogenç’in kapatma davası sona erdi: Cinsel yönelim çalışmaları “ahlâka aykırı” değil!” (“Ekogenç’s closure case comes to an end: work in the area of sexual orientation is not ‘contrary to morality’!”) Kaos GL, 19 December 2014, http://www.kaosgl.com/sayfa.php?id=18298

The case concerning the closure of Ekogenç, which was initiated because the expression “sexual orientation” occurs in its charter, and because it did not adopt an organizational model based on hierarchy, has concluded. The court has ruled that it is not “contrary to morality” for Ekogenç to be active in the area of sexual orientation.

Work in the area of sexual orientation is not “contrary to law and morality”

The fourth session of the closure case, initiated by the Van Governor’s Office against the Ekogenç Youth and Ecology Association, was held today at Van’s Fifth Civil Court of First Instance. The court ruled that Ekogenç’s activity in the area of sexual orientation does not conflict with the expression “no association may be established with aims that are contrary to law and morality,” stated in the 56th Article of the Turkish Civil Code.

In the previous session of the case held last month, the court, stating that there was a “formal flaw” in Ekogenç’s charter, had granted an extension until today’s session and accepted the İzmir Black Pink Triangle Association’s request to participate as a joint plaintiff.

The court accepted LGBTI organizations as joint plaintiffs

In today’s session the case was concluded after the necessary correction in the charter was made. The court also accepted the Kaos GL Association’s lawyer Hayriye Kara’s application to participate. Kara recalled that in 2005, when the Kaos GL Association was founded, the association was involved in a closure request because of its area of work, yet the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office did not initiate a lawsuit against the association.

“Organizing is freedom”

After the trial, Ekogenç made a press statement, saying that “the ruling supported a democratic, participatory, horizontal organizational model.” Explaining that the Van Governor’s Office’s claim of immorality had been answered, and that the ruling had occasioned a re-examination of the concept of morality, Ekogenç said that “organizing is freedom.”

The Black Pink Triangle İzmir Association, the Kaos GL Association, the Left-wing Law Association, the Life Woman Environment Culture and Business Cooperative (YAKA-KOOP), the Van Women’s Association, Hêvî LGBTI, and Ahtamara LGBTI Wan were signatories to the statement.

Elif İnce: A History of Turkey’s LGBTI Movement in the 1990s

Despite the raids and evacuations of trans homes in Cihangir and torture in police custody, the LGBTI in Turkey became organized during the 1990s. Lambdaistanbul and Kaos GL associations were founded after the police dispersed the 1993 Pride Parade and the first LGBTI publications appeared.

Source: Elif İnce, “LGBTİ: Kaldırımın Altından Gökkuşağı Çıkıyor”, (“LGBTI: The Rainbow is Peaking Out from the Pavement”), bianet, 8 December 2014, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/160544-lgbti-kaldirimin-altindan-gokkusagi-cikiyor

The 1990s were the years when the LGBTI movement started to organize as a social movement against police violence. Despite the raids on homes and nightclubs and the days-long torture in police custody, these years witnessed the foundation of the Lambdaistanbul and Kaos GL associations, the LGBTI organizations in universities, and the first LGBTI publications.

The first Pride Parade named “Sexual Freedom Events” in 1993 in Beyoğlu was blocked by the police based on the governor’s ban. Activists’ houses were raided and they were taken into custody. Participants from abroad were deported. The first pride parade was held ten years later in 2003 and was attended by 40 people. In the last pride parade, 2014, tens of thousands marched.

Gays, Feminists, Greens

The oppressive environment of the 1980 military coup led to the weakening of mainstream leftist groups. Those who could not previously find a place for themselves in these movements began to have their voice heard. In 1997, the Kaos GL Association submitted a statement to be published in Radikal İki, a Sunday issue of a liberal daily Turkish newspaper (now only online). The statement read as follows:

“Transvestites, transsexuals, feminine gays also experienced the oppression of the 1980 coup. Things were ignored and it was a time of every man for himself. When we tried to make a little bit of noise, our voice was drowned among those endless hierarchies. They’d say “not now; there are bigger urgencies”… In the 1980s, there were similar reactions from many different groups to voices that people were not used to, voices they had not heard before. Gays, feminists, greens… Where the hell did they come from?”

In the mid-1980s, the Radical Democrat Green Party Initiative was founded under İbrahim Eren’s leadership. Greens, feminists, atheists, anti-militarists, as well as gay and trans individuals started to organize within this initiative. The party declared its support for gay rights. Eren observed that gays became the largest group within the party and the party was dubbed the “party of the gays”. In 1998, trans activist Demet Demir said, “the group was called the gay group but the majority were trans.”

Sevda Yılmaz, who wrote under the pen-name of Ali Kemal Yılmaz, tells the story of a hunger strike that began on 29 April 1987 to protest the systemic violence and oppression of gay and trans individuals at the hands of the Beyoğlu Police Department. The Radical Democrat Green Party Initiative supported the strike.

The strike which began in a house in Taksim moved to the stairs of Gezi Park on 30 April and was dispersed by the police. The strike continued in different houses for a couple of weeks. Yılmaz was the spokesperson for the strike, which found coverage in international press and drew the support of important artists such as Türkan Şoray, Rıfat Ilgaz and Barış Pirhasan.

This hunger strike is remembered as the first large-scale LGBTI protest before the 1990s.

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Transphobia at Starbucks

Source: Çiçek Tahaoğlu. “Starbucks’ta Transfobi” (“Transphobia at Starbucks”) Bianet, 17 October 2014, http://bianet.org/bianet/lgbti/159242-starbucks-ta-transfobi

Instead of serving her coffee, the Starbucks at the Cevahir Shopping Mall, Istanbul, gave Michelle Demishevich her money back. Demishevich, who protested with a sit-in at the coffee shop, is awaiting a written apology.

Source: Bianet

Source: Bianet

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Who will defend the LGBT organization in Kurdistan?

Source: Müjde Tozbey Erden, “Kürdistan’da LGBT derneğini kim savunacak?” (“Who will defend the LGBT organization in Kurdistan?”) Sol Portal, 19 September 2014, http://haber.sol.org.tr/yazarlar/mujde-tozbey-erden/kurdistanda-lgbt-dernegini-kim-savunacak-97415

[The Van Attorney General’s Office has moved to disband the Van Youth and Ecology Association (Van Gençlik ve Ekoloji Derneği) on the grounds that the Association’s bylaw to “support sexual orientation” is against morality as determined by the Article 56 of the Turkish Civil Code.]

[Update: The court has ruled that it is not “contrary to morality” for Ekogenç to be active in the area of sexual orientation.]

You might have heard of the establishment of the Van Youth and Ecology Association [Van Gençlik ve Ekoloji Derneği] in our region. “What does this Association do?” you may have asked. The association works on several matters, but one of its primary goals is to lend support to individuals regarding their sexual orientations.

According to Article 2 of the Association’s code, “The Association may form alliances with, become a member of, work in solidarity with, and provide financial and moral support to local, national, and international and cultural and academic associations and/or associations working in the fields of women, refugee, asylum seeker, ecology, humanity, youth, children, sexual orientation as it sees fit by following relevant legal procedures.” [sic] Under the “Activities” heading, the code states that “The Association pursues activities in the fields of life, organic agriculture, climate change, rural development, education, culture, social politics, art, gender, discrimination, poverty, refugee, asylum-seeker, youth, children, the disabled, sexual orientation.” [sic]

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President Erdoğan Sues Pişkin for Damages Worth 50 Thousand TL

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Erdoğan’dan Pişkin’e 50 bin liralık tazminat davası!” (“Erdoğan Sues Pişkin for Damages Worth 50 Thousand TL”) KaosGL.org, 29 August 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=17425

President Erdoğan files a new lawsuit against Levent Pişkin, an LGBTI activist, for a tweet Pişkin had made and demands 50,000 TL (23,155 USD) in damages.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a new lawsuit against LGBTI activist Levent Pişkin for a tweet he had made and demanded damages worth 50,000 TL (23,155 USD). This is the second time Erdoğan has filed a suit against an LGBTI activist over a tweet.

The verdict of the last case, in which Pişkin was sentenced to pay 1,500 TL (695 USD) in damages was cited as evidence.

Press Releases made in support of Pişkin also targeted

The new case also targeted press statements made in support for Levent Pişkin. In the filing, Erdoğan’s lawyers wrote, “The whole incident was deliberately misrepresented. The defendant continues to cross the line and grossly insult the acting Prime Minister.”

In the notification document sent to Pişkin, Erdoğan’s lawyers argued that “Erdoğan’s honor, dignity and reputation were damaged,” with the damage estimated at 50,000 TL.

“A fag* myself, I would never use the word ‘fag’ as an insult”

Pişkin, in his previous comments to KaosGL.org, had stressed that  ‘fag’ is a word that has been reclaimed by LGBTI people. LGBTI solidarity organizations had responded to the case by saying “The case against the use of the word ’fag’ has been filed against all of us. Homosexuality/Faggotry is not an insult, but a sexual orientation.”

What prompted the case?

Levent Pişkin had tweeted, “The next declaration I am expecting from Erdoğan is, ‘I am a perfect fag. Obviously I will not learn how to be a fag from you.’ Kisses #LGBTIintheConstitution.*” Prime Minister Erdoğan had then attacked Pişkin through the media. Levent Pişkin had, in turn, filed a criminal complaint against the Prime Minister for insulting his sexual orientation.

Presiding judge removed from the case

While Pişkin’s complaint was not processed, Erdoğan’s action had resulted in the sentencing of Pişkin for libel (125/2) to two months and fifteen days of incarceration, later converted to a 1,500 TL fine.

The first judge appointed for the case had told Pişkin at the first hearing, “Do not be afraid, we are the judges of the December 17th case.** Feel free to tell the truth.” The second hearing, originally scheduled for March 25, was postponed, the original judge removed from the case, and a new judge appointed.

*#AnayasadaLGBTI

**Referring to the corruption allegations raised against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then the Prime Minister of Turkey, and circles close to him on and after 17 December 2013. 

Translators Note:

*The Turkish term ibne is originally derived from the Arabic word “boy” and is widely used today as a derogatory slang for gay men. The Turkish Language Institute Dictionary defines ibne as “a passive homosexual man” and “a word said in anger.” The term is being reclaimed by many in the LGBTI movement in Turkey. In this sense, ibne’s current connotations lie somewhere between the American English terms “fag” and “queer.” In this translation “fag” is used to stand for ibne, and “faggotry” for ibnelik, the state of being an ibne.