LGBTI Activism in Turkey

Volunteering to Secure LGBTQI+ Rights in Turkey and Beyond

In a social environment defined by the absence of equal rights, downright discrimination and repressive cultural norms, representation is all the more crucial for LGBTQI+ individuals. The LGBTQI+ movement is growing stronger in Turkey. From the academic production of knowledge to representation in political arena, from demanding an end to ethnic discrimination to calling for new laws regarding sex workers, the LGBTQI+ movement is indeed active in all aspects of daily life. Its strength lies in its power to revert stereotypical imagery back to its beholder, most particularly through methods of creative resistance. This is exactly why we, LGBTI News Turkey, come together as an active group of volunteers to translate news on LGBTQI+ life in Turkey into English.

eringobro-via-flickr-cc-by-nc-2-0-768x512While working for political representation in municipalities, at the National Assembly and all levels of governance, the LGBTQI+ movement mobilises its efforts to produce its own cultural representations and images against the discursive and symbolic violence, two aspects of heteronormativity and sexism ever so sinister and so deeply engraved in our lives.

eringobro-via-flickr-cc-by-nc-2-0-768x512As LGBTI News Turkey, we try our best to spread the word and put these images of self-construction into circulation, to help  the ceaseless work done by LGBTQI+ civil society organisations (CSOs) of Turkey. For LGBTQI+ CSOs, it takes a relentless effort to maintain continuity in the face of an increasingly authoritarian government, and legal controversies regarding the freedom of speech and right to assembly.  We believe that “increasing the visibility of LGBTQI+ individuals” is more than a catch phrase for CSO work: it is a matter of life and death for many of our fellow LGBTQI+ community members. It is about reclaiming the right to live as we are, without any compromise. It is about rejecting to remain in the margins of a life not worth living. As one of the popular protest chants says, “Get used to it, we’re not going anywhere!”

We support these efforts by translating and archiving sources on LGBTQI+ life and rights violations in Turkey. By doing so, we create the necessary resources for international CSOs and international human rights bodies to report on Turkey. Files on rights violations help us document and report these cases at the United Nations, Council of Europe, and elsewhere with LGBTQI+ CSOs.

We believe that such efforts must be heard in other parts of the world. Because the LGBTQI+ community stretches beyond national boundaries. Because our experience might teach others and inspire them to act. Because we can only grow if we share. Because we cannot expect others to write about our lives. Because, for most of us, each day is a struggle and by sharing in each others’ struggles we can be empowered.

LGBTQI+ movements in different countries have similar experiences and go through similar processes to what we are facing in Turkey. Therefore it is very important for us – and other activists across the globe – to follow each others’ experiences in order to weave a network of support and solidarity. We believe that our translation work contributes to building a stronger bond, and ensuring an open dialogue with activists abroad. There is indeed interest towards what is going on in Turkey with regards to the LGBTQI+ movement and our blog renders the news accessible, by focusing solely on LGBTQI+ related news and by producing accurate and updated content. In 2016, we had 15 thousand readers from USA visiting our blog, and this traffic was due to The Advocate referring to our translations. The fact that we have become a steady and reliable source of information keeps us motivated. We believe that being knowledgeable about the history of LGBTQI+ resistance in other countries as well as in Turkey, and following the current developments, are essential for building a strong and true LGBTQI+ media.

Aside from publishing news articles on our blog, we give translation support for the annual Istanbul Pride Walk and related workshops, events and any written material. International visibility is vital in these organisations, especially at times of protest bans, police violence, and prosecution. As the mainstream media turns a blind eye to LGBTQI+ related events, if not openly showing them as targets, LGBTQI+ media outlets have an enormous workload on their shoulders and it is our responsibility to help in any way we can. As members of the rainbow nation, the task to strengthen global solidarity falls on our shoulders, and opening new channels of communication through translation is the least we can do.

Zeynep Serinkaya is an academic and volunteer at LGBTI News Turkey. This post was written for Disrupt & Innovate, a project by the International Civil Society Centre.

We Dispersed on Every Street for the 14th Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March

On Sunday, 26 June we “dispersed” everywhere on Istiklal Avenue against the Istanbul Governor’s Office’s ban on 19 June Trans Pride March and Istanbul LGBT+ Pride March and press statement. Our press statement was read on numerous streets, our rainbow flag hung on buildings, the streets undulating. Among those who read our press statement was also Terry Reintke, Member of European Parliament.

From time to time, the police intervened on our friends dispersed around various corners of Istiklal Avenue with tear gas and detained 29 people. All of our friends who were detained have been released.

You can watch the press statement read throughout the day here.

Our Press Statement:

Make noise, shout, and scream wherever you are, wherever you are organized! #wedisperse #dağılıyoruz

The reason why we are reading this press statement today is because the 14th Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March has been banned.

Pride Marches are among the biggest, multi-voiced, and mass demonstrations that this country has witnessed. In our marches, we stand up to this dark time that is our share in world history, with our love and desire. We hold those who seize our labor accountable, we take our destiny into our hands, we dream our own future. We defend peace instead of war, courage instead of fear, and all who are oppressed. We show that a different world, sexuality, body, and life is possible. Those who banned our march used “society’s sensitivities” as an excuse. But what’s being guarded is not society’s but the government’s sensitivities. Society is none other than us. What’s being banned is our attempt to voice our longing to exist as proud people of this world, our demands, peace, justice, and equality. Banning our march is an unsuccessful attempt to silence our voices.

Unsuccessful because the pride of our existence grows with every oppression. We proudly own all the insults they throw at us to hurt us. We are expanding our limited spaces with solidarity. We are leading a revolution on every street we walk, on every work day, every house, every love and every act of lovemaking. We are killed and reborn in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Antep, Diyarbakir, Mexico, Bangladesh, and Orlando. We will always exist, shout out our existence, and always be proud of our existence.

We are not marching today but we just started marching [forwards]. The sound of our slogans is in our ears, the colors of the rainbow are with us, the scent of freedom is in our noses. We are on this path to demand more than tolerance and permits. We are continually strengthening our resistance everywhere to demand that our personal, political, and social rights are guaranteed; that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in the constitution; and that the reality of the LGBTI+ movement as a political participant is recognized.

We are dispersing, we are stronger, bigger, and louder. They are right to be afraid of us because we are uniting, growing, and marching.

 

Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Committee Statement: We are Dispersing!

Last year, police attacked Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride March and this year, the Istanbul Governor’s Office has banned it in its 14th year. Trans Pride March, realized in safety in 2015, was stopped by the police after the ban this year.

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Due to these developments, as the 24th LGBTI+ Pride Week Committee, we submitted an application to the Istanbul Governor’s Office to hold a press statement on 26 June at 17:00 in Tünel Square. However, we received the response that it was “not approved”. The Governor’s Office has chosen to violate the “Law on Meetings and Demonstration Marches” guaranteed by the Constitution as a democratic right instead of protecting us against the threats that it has put forth as grounds for the ban.

We are announcing, with sadness, that we will not be able to hold the 14th Pride March. But our confidence in ourselves, our horizon, and our dreams are much bigger than a march, Istiklal Avenue, this city, and this country.  Our fight for existence goes beyond yesterday, today, and the future because we were here, we are here, and we will be here.

Our popular Pride Marches, held for 12 years with great joy, are a space where we celebrate our existence, our persistence to live a proud life, and our exponentially growing organized movement. They influence not only LGBTI+ individuals’ lives but everyone. Pride March allows humanity to dream: If this world were different, what kind of people would we be? What would we wear, desire, do, say? What would the streets of this city look like? If we organized with love, what could tear us apart from each other? If we held our bodies, work, and future in our own hands, what would happen? The ban on Pride March is an effort not only to stop us from leading dignified lives but also to stop us from dreaming of this world.

Police forces have told the people attempting to read a press statement during Trans Pride March to voice their legal and political demands: “Please disperse and allow life to go back to its normal course”. We are obeying this call: On Sunday, 26 June we will disperse to every single corner of Istiklal Avenue, we are reuniting with each other on every street and avenue in Beyoğlu. Instead of living a life that is imposed on, a life that normalizes violence, oppression, and denial; we are living the life we chose, the life in which we exist with pride and honor and we are “Letting life go back to its ‘normal’ course” by:

DISPERSING, DISPERSING, DISPERSING

Source: https://www.facebook.com/prideistanbul/posts/928571397270474

Istanbul LGBTI+ Pride Committee Files Criminal Complaint Against Hate Speech Groups and Applies to Overturn Governor’s Ban on Pride March

Dear Members of the Press,

On June 20, at Çağlayan Courthouse at 11:00, we filed a criminal complaint against groups such as Muslim Anatolian Youth, Alperen Hearths Foundation, Tembihname, Özgür-Der, and the Greater Union Party (BBP) for their hate speech and threatening statements that targeted us. Since we do not have a legal personality as the Pride Week Committee, we filed the complaint as individual members of the committee and the Lambdaistanbul Association.

Lawyer and activist Levent Pişkin spoke on behalf of the Pride Week Committee and stated:

“We think that prosecutors, especially press prosecutors, should start an investigation on the matter on its own initiative as there is more than one type of crime. The declarations include offenses such as targeting LGBTI+s, instigating crime, discrimination, instigating the public to rage and animosity, insult and obstruction of democratic rights. The governorate’s ban against the march, using these threats as an excuse, is not only against European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence and international conventions but also national laws and the the constitution. We will file the criminal complaint and follow up. We will continue our struggle and stand up for our rights against those who target the LGBTI+s, deem them deserving of death and instigate hate.

Against the decision of the governorate, we will open a lawsuit today (June 20) at the Administrative Court with an urgent request demanding a stay in the execution of the decision of banning next week’s march. We hope that there will be a verdict to stop the execution without further ado. There are similar cases in ECtHR cases regarding Georgia and Russia. There were also threats by certain faith groups against the LGBTI+, governorate bans against marches in these cases, and police attacks against LGBTI+s, which we have also attached these cases on our complaint.”

Anyone who wishes to can sign the complaint and submit it to the prosecutor’s offices.

Last week, Istanbul LGBTI Association and Human Rights Association filed another criminal complaint against these groups.

You can find the criminal complaint below.

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33 MP candidates signed the LGBTI Rights Pledge

A number of candidates running for parliament membership from various cities such as Malatya and Edirne have signed the LGBTI Rights Pledge. The human rights organization SPoD LGBTI had formulated the open pledge and asked candidates to publicly sign it. By signing the aforementioned pledge, the candidates promised to defend LGBTI rights in the parliament.

33 MP candidates signed the LGBTI Rights Pledge

The LGBTI Rights Pledge was made public for MP candidates’ signatures prior to the general elections of June 7 by the Social Policy, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD LGBTI) and has thus far received the signatures of 33 candidates. The pledge was proposed as part of the LGBTIs in the Parliament campaign, whose aim was to increase the visibility of human rights violations suffered by LGBTI individuals and to create a society where no individual faces oppression due to their identities. Women from the HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party] were the first candidates to sign the pledge as they  declared “We are the rainbow.” Recently, new signatures were added to the pledge.

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Representatives from SPoD LGBTI were in Ankara on April 28-29 to present the LGBTI Rights Pledge to politicians. Selina Doğan, the CHP’s [Republican People’s Party] first rank candidate from the second district of Istanbul, signed the pledge in addition to Zelal Deniz Demir, the HDP candidate from Ankara, Aylin Nazlıaka, the CHP candidate from Ankara, and Selin Sayek, the CHP first rank candidate from Izmir’s second district.

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LGBTI organizations assessed 2014 for the Rainbow

Representatives from LGBTI associations assessed 2014 for the movement against homophobia and transphobia.

Source: “LGBTI örgütleri gökkuşağının 2014’ünü değerlendirdi”, (“LGBTI organizations assessed 2014 for the Rainbow”), Kaos GL, January 20, 2015, http://www.kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=18531 

Representatives from LGBTI organizations [from various cities in Turkey] assessed the year 2014 for LGBTI people at an Advisory Committee meeting organized by the Pink Life Association for “The Rainbow Coalition Against Discrimination,” a project run jointly by Kaos GL and Pink Life.

“LGBTI movement spread locally in 2014”

Evren Çakmak, Kaos GL: It is easy to define 2014 as the post-Gezi year. 2014 is a very important year for the LGBTI movement. We have seen developments on all topics and fields we have been working on. 13 new LGBTI initiatives have begun. Geographically, the movement has spread to the local levels. Various communication channels have been established among local organizations. The energy that was formed last year seems to be tilting towards institutionalization in the second half of 2014, in the summer and beyond.

Tuna Şahin, Mersin 7Renk [Mersin 7 Colors]: 2014 was a year that the LGBTI movement gained strength in the local context of Mersin province. There were positive ramifications of the work on local governance. The violence and discrimination faced by trans women since 1992 was invisible. In 2014 we succeeded in making visible the transphobic violence we face. The visibility of attacks and police violence against members of our association, and of gang formation in our community has deterred gang formation today. For our friends working in the Yenişehir region, the visibility of violence has prevented more violence. Cops are not as violent as they used to be. Fines and penalties levied as a result of Misdemeanor Law have almost come to an end. The work we have been doing with the Platform Against Discrimination in the local context of Mersin has strengthened our ties to civil society. It helped us build ties to the women’s movement and the human rights movement. We are able to act in unison with the Mersin Platform Against Discrimination which consists of 26 NGOs. Our connection to the Rainbow Coalition Against Coalition also has positive ramifications in Mersin.

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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.

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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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