How Turkey’s LGBT Community Gains Sympathy

The advanced world’s LGBT communities are making quite a lot of gains lately: US Supreme Court made two rulings in favor of gay rights, France passed its gay marriage law and Britain’s same-sex marriage bill will be presented to the Queen after its third reading in July… LGBT Turks gained something, too: It may not extend to same-sex marriage or to even sort of a recognition of their relationships, but it’s not unimportant. Their achievement was conquering a great deal of hearts in the middle and upper-middle class of the society. Turkish LGBT community was very active at Gezi Park and Taksim, it was possible to see rainbow flags at every corner during the protests. They resisted beside the other groups for individual rights and freedoms, stood up against police brutality with them and got horribly tear gassed with them. Apparently what they did was not forgotten. We clearly saw that four days ago when the 11th of Turkey’s annual gay parade kicked off in İstanbul. Tens of thousands participated and the event was recorded as the biggest pride parade Turkey has ever seen. Many protestors joined the parade in support and social media was and still is full of statements of support. I saw even some of my friends whose homophobic remarks I have heard in past, sharing pictures of the parade, expressing their sympathy along with anti-government slogans. Turkey’s middle class, or at least a good proportion of them, embraced LGBT community and their struggle for a more humane Turkey for gays.

One of the brightest sides of Turkey’s anti-government protests is that they have taught many people to stand up not only for their own individual freedoms and rights but also for each other’s. Surely, the LGBT community wasn’t the only group that benefited from the sense of solidarity that the protests created. After getting excessively gassed, subjected to state violence in middle of the country’s major cities and getting presented as villains by some media, now more people empathize with the Kurdish movement. And Sivas massacre of mostly Alevi intellectuals was condemned much more strongly this year, in its anniversary that is July 2…


While all the winds of empathy, sympathy and activism were blowing, The Mayor Ankara Melih Gökçek reminded everyone with a tweet that Turkey was no paradise, especially no gay paradise. He asked one of the three opposition MPs who joined the pride parade: “Hüseyin Aygün, are you gay? Don’t get us wrong, just wondering…” Then he tweeted again: “Citizens wonder and ask Hüseyin Aygün…”, “Let them parade. Everyone makes their own choices, I don’t have anything to say to that…” By “choice” he probably was referring sexual orientation. His tweets angered gay fashion-designer Cemil İpekçi who tweeted “…the Mayor should give up bothering gays.” Not surprisingly, this wasn’t the Mayor’s first gaffe and display of ignorance about homosexuality. Once on a show at a news channel, TV personality Okan Bayülgen, after speaking of a couple of successful gay mayors in Europe, naively asked Gökçek when Turkey will have such gay mayors. Gökçek’s answer was the summary of most of Turkey’s conservatives’ thought on the matter, he said “Every society has moral values of its own. It is not possible for us, as the Turkish society, to be with gay culture of Europe and approve of it. The way we were brought up, our style of morality and our mentality are a little different. I hope there won’t be gays in Turkey, there should not be.”

If you think their display of homophobic resentment can’t get any stronger than this, you’re dead wrong. In 2010, Selma Aliye Kavaf, the Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs of the time, said in an interview to Daily Hürriyet “I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease. I think it needs to be treated.” Later, on TV, she was asked by a journalist whether she regretted making that statement. She smiled and said nothing in response. Her remarks sparked controversy and were protested but reaction of her party (that supposed to have a “liberal wing”) was weak, verging on none. She kept her seat until the general election in 2011. In 2011, she wasn’t re-nominated not because of her anti-gay remarks but because she had a quarrel with party organization of her constituency Denizli and wanted to be nominated from Ankara, which the PM didn’t accept.

Selma Aliye Kavaf, former Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs.

Selma Aliye Kavaf, former Minister of State of Turkey responsible for Women and Family Affairs.

Three months ago, AKP’s homophobia was carried beyond the country’s borders to the Netherlands and there, it was displayed by the PM himself. The fact that some European Turks’ kids were given to “Christian guardian families” (that’s the way how the PM’s deputy Bekir Bozdağ wanted to put it) by social services of various countries in Europe was bothering the government for some time. And pro-government media, in its sensationalist way, had made the case of a 9 years old Turkish boy of named Yunus from the Netherlands who was given to a lesbian couple, popular. The boy was actually taken from his biological family two years ago, but strangely his case caught attention of the government and their media just before the PM’s Dutch trip. As he always likes to do, the PM made a lecture-like speech in the press conference with his counterpart. He said “In adoptive family system, the fittest thing to do is to give the kids to the families that have similar culture and moral values to the kids’, like a Muslim kid to a Muslim family…” Then he must have thought that his statements might be misunderstood and misinterpreted as homophobic and he clarified: “This might cause misunderstandings in my country, as well. I mean, the matter of sexual preference is important. Because, I am saying in an approach of a Muslim-majority or an Islamic cultured country, giving a kid to a homosexual family is against moral values and beliefs of (or our) society.” Weirdly, what he said caused a big reaction neither in Europe nor in Turkey. And the Dutch PM was very kind yet sufficiently backboned to decline Erdoğan’s offer to make a further discussion involving the ministries and he said that this was Holland’s matter.

In the Parliament, too, a clash about gays occurred. In February, the main opposition party CHP requested to a parliamentary commission of inquiry to be set up to on LGBT rights. And for that the opposition’s signatories were called “immoral” by AKP’s MPs. After Prof. Binnaz Toprak, an MP of İstanbul from CHP, introduced the proposal along with basic explanations about homosexuality and the rights they should have, Prof. Türkan Dağoğlu, an MP from AKP, spoke against the proposal. Dağoğlu said: “As a medical doctor, I think you would want to know what this (homosexuality) is: Is it a biological disorder, a sociological phenomenon or a psychological condition? In USA, in 1974 and in Europe in 1992, psychiatric associations made researches on the matter and (their) outcome was that the condition defined as LGBT was an abnormal behavior…” Then Prof. Toprak said in response: “I got my BA and MSc in the US. In 1974, I was there. 1974’s USA had scientists that argued blacks were more stupid than whites. Thus, such studies made in 1974 can’t be presented to us as science in 2013. So sorry, Miss Türkan but I think you are wrong.” Expectedly, the proposal was denied by the ruling party’s votes.

Binnaz Toprak (left) and Türkan Dağoğlu.

Binnaz Toprak (left) and Türkan Dağoğlu.

Military service that is mandatory in Turkey, is another source of discomfort for gays. Openly gay males cannot serve in the military. Also, they have to prove their sexual orientation to the Army’s medical services, by the humiliating and degrading methods they are forced to use, like providing a picture showing the person having gay sex or kissing another man, or having their rectal zones examined… After “proving” their sexual identity, they’re given a document called “The Pink Certificate”. The document exempts them from military service for having a “psychosexual disorder” – a classification for homosexuality that is said to be taken from publications of American Psychiatric Association dating back to 1968.

Many more discriminatory practices exist. Many more hate speeches were made and many more are yet to be made… But there is also a bright side.

To be fair, among Muslim-majority countries, Turkey is the most liberal and tolerant country to live, for LGBT individuals. Turkey has been a safe haven for homosexuals from Arab countries and Iran where gay men are hanged and stoned to death for who they are. Apart from the benefits of “Gezi spirit” I mentioned, there are other good developments that are impossible to see in other Muslim-majority countries. Firstly, Turkey is the first and still the only Muslim-majority country allowing and holding pride parades. Of course, having some gays marching on the streets isn’t a big thing itself but it’s is accepted by gay organizations as important as a sign and symbol of tolerance. This year, apart from İstanbul and Ankara, for the first time, two other major cities İzmir and Antalya held their own pride parades. And actors and actresses of Turkey’s most popular sit-com Yalan Dünya (False World) expressed their support in a video calling for more participation to the parade, this was another first this year. Secondly, NGOs focused on homophobia and LGBT rights are more visible and active today. Kaos GL and Lambdaİstanbul were old NGOs focused on LGBT individuals, founded in 90s, were joined by more groups: Pembe Hayat (Meaning “Pink Life”, an LGBT solidarity NGO specially focuses on Transexuals’ rights), Listag (a support and solidarity group for families, named “LGBT families İstanbul Group”) and SPoD (an NGO advocates “full equality for LGBT individuals in Turkey with a special emphasis on social and economic rights…”), founded in 2006, 2008 and 2011, respectively. Thirdly, the main opposition party CHP and pro-Kurdish party BDP demand full rights (including same-sex marriage) for gays in the new constitution to be written. Considering these two parties got nearly 39% of the votes combined, in 2011 general election; it’s hard to ignore the importance of their demand.

First gay parade of İzmir.

The first gay parade of İzmir.

Good and bad, encouraging and enraging developments have been happening all together in Turkey. Even though, the government’s attitude towards gays did not develop for the better, the LGBT community did. Now their voice is heard more and their cause is supported more. Thus, they should have more hope.


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