LİSTAG

Human Rights Observation Report of 19 June 2016 Trans Pride March

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Kaos Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association (Kaos GL), Families of LGBTI in Istanbul (LISTAG), Pink Life LGBTI Solidarity Association, and Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD) declared that they would monitor and report rights violations experiences during the march. In this report, we share with the public our observations gathered before and during the march. This report is a short summary of the events and does not present all the rights violations. The main picture seen from observations of our monitors in the field and news is that on 19 June 2016, Istanbul Governor’s Office, Police Headquarters, and transphobic gangs in civilian clothes violated LGBTIs most basic human rights who experienced violence and harassment.

English Report: Human Rights Observation Report of 19 June 2016 Trans Pride March

Türkçe Rapor: 19 Haziran Trans Onur Yürüyüşü Gözlem Raporu

 

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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Balkans and Turkey Regional LGBTI Network Association Founded

LGBTI associations from seven countries in the West Balkans and Turkey came together between 18-26 July in Belgrade to form a regional network association.

Source: “Balkanlar ve Türkiye Bölgesel LGBTİ Ağı Derneği Kuruldu”, (“The Balkans and Turkey Regional LGBTI Network Association Is Founded”), Pembe Hayat, 27 July 2015, http://pembehayat.org/haberler.php?id=827

After a year of planning coordinated by Labris, a twenty-year old lesbian association based in Belgrade, the regional network initiative is becoming an association in September.

Formed by 27 organizations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, and Turkey, the new regional network association was accorded the name  [the] Equal Rights Association (ERA).

The participant organizations debated issues relating to strategic planning, analysis, bylaws, membership procedures, leadership procedures, and activity plans during a week-long meeting in Serbia’s capital city, Belgrade. The representatives of the 27 participant organizations also debated the name of the association, its logo, the location of its headquarters, and related procedures.

The Balkans and Turkey Equal Rights Association, or ERA as it will be known in short, will be registered as an association by 15 September 2015. Based in Belgrade, the association is expected to start activities in October.

Joined by Pembe Hayat, Kaos GL, Listag, and SPoD from Turkey, the association will dedicate its first year to capacity building and recruiting more LGBTI organizations to its ranks.

Focusing on the countries currently integrating to the European Union, ERA will work to bring LGBTI and human rights records to the negotiation table and highlight the countries’ records on discrimination based on sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics. The ERA will also conduct advocacy work in collaboration with international organizations such as the European Council, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency. ILGA Europe and Transgender Europe have supported the founding of the ERA and its prospective work in bringing visibility to LGBTI issues in the Balkans and Turkey.

From August onwards, the ERA will issue a call for applications for candidates for the executive board from member organizations. The members of the executive board will be elected in the first general assembly of the association, scheduled to take place on 15 September 2015.

The Mother of Murdered Trans Woman: I Condemn the People Who Do Not Employ Our Daughters

Source: Yıldız Tar, “Öldürülen Transın Annesi: Kızlarımıza İş Vermeyenleri Kınıyorum” (“The Mother of Murdered Trans Woman: I Condemn the People Who Do Not Employ Our Daughters”), Kaos GL, 06 January 2014, http://kaosgl.org/sayfa.php?id=15540

We talked with Melek Okan, the mother of İrem Okan who was the victim of a transphobic hate crime in Bursa in 2010: “I still have contact with the other daughters. One of our daughters has recently undergone surgery. I hatefully condemn the people who do not employ our daughters. Remember not only İrem but also Ecem who was killed a year later.”

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“If homosexuality was something that could be treated, a heterosexual person could be turned into a homosexual as well”

Source: Hazal Özvarış, ”Eşcinselliğin tedavisi olsa heteroseksüeller de eşcinsel yapılabilirdi!,” (“If homosexuality was something that could be treated, a heterosexual person could be turned into a homosexual as well,”) T24, 25 June 2012, http://t24.com.tr/haber/dr-seven-kaptan-escinselligin-tedavisi-olsa-heteroseksuel-insanlar-da-escinsel-yapilabilirdi/207036

Before the 20th LGBT Pride Week, we interviewed psychiatrist Seven Kaptan, who has been volunteering as a therapist for the Families of LGBTs in Istanbul (LISTAG) for three years.

“After five hours he told me that he was gay. At that moment, I saw the relief in his eyes. I vividly remember that he stopped crying and was calm. He was relieved but my world turned upside and down. I had felt this kind of affliction when I lost my father years ago… Lost… I lost the son I had known for 17 years.” (Radikal, 2006)

The words above belong to Selma Çizmeci, a member of the Families of LGBTs in Istanbul (LISTAG). Founded in 2008 by the parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans children, LISTAG now includes about 130 family members.

The 20th Istanbul LGBT Pride Week will begin on June 25 and and will conclude on Sunday, June 30 with the pride march in Taksim. Aside from working with the family group, Seven Kaptan is an educator-therapist in the Anti-Homophobic Mental Health Initiative and her area of expertise is the issues transsexual people face. We asked her about the fundamental issues of homosexuality and transsexuality.

Dr. Kaptan talked to us about the processes LGBT people and their families go through. Her responses to our questions are below:

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