Turkey’s Homosexuals Come Out for Their Rights
Daily Star, October 6, 2004
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ANKARA—Long oppressed in a
largely conservative society, Turkey’s homosexuals are timidly coming out
for their own share of freedoms as the country’s bid to join the European
Union spreads the gospel of human rights and tolerance.
Ali Erol recalls the days back in 1994 when a group of
aspiring homosexual activists went to the Human Rights Association, one of
Turkey’s leading rights groups, to seek support for their new organization,
“They showed us the door, saying, ‘Your fancies and
indulgences are of no interest to us,’” he said in the KAOS GL office in
Ankara. “Today, we work side by side.”
Turkey’s homosexual movement is still in its fledgling
stages, but gays and lesbians are increasingly outspoken: They are expanding
their networks, organizing conferences and film festivals and taking part in
May Day marches.
KAOS GL’s Umut Guner says Turkey’s drive to improve
human rights in line with EU standards is also forcing officials—albeit
slowly—to overcome prejudices against homosexuals.
Some time ago, he says proudly, government agencies
invited KAOS GL alongside other civic groups to work in commissions on
healthcare and AIDS prevention.
In a milestone move earlier this year, gay and lesbian
activists were for the first time received in the Turkish Parliament to convey
their appeals for legal protection. Their main demand—to make discrimination
“on the basis of sexual orientation” a jailable offense—was first
included in the draft of a major reform overhauling Turkey’s penal code
sought by the EU.
The amendment would have marked the first political
victory here for the movement and made Turkey the first Muslim nation to
guarantee legal protection for gays and lesbians.
But the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which
has Islamist roots, dropped the plan; making homosexuals happy at a time when
the government has yet to deliver on promises to its own religious electorate
might have been a step too far.
“To blame the AKP alone would be misleading,” Erol
said. “There cannot be real progress as long as society does not openly face
For Kursad Kahramanoglu, the Turkish co-head of the
International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), Turkey is far ahead of other
Muslim nations when it comes to tolerance for homosexuals.
Most Muslim countries punish homosexuality, some with
death; whereas in Turkey, homosexuals today figure among the country’s top
singers, television personalities and fashion designers.
Still, prejudice is strong in daily life.
Activists say most of them risk their jobs if they
disclose their sexual identity—and there are no laws that protect their
The Turkish Army, they complain, is the only NATO force
to still consider homosexuality a psychological disorder, and the police are
notoriously harsh with transsexuals and transvestites.
Kahramanoglu, a former philosophy student based in
London, believes that Turkey’s bid to join the EU is an opportunity for
homosexuals to integrate the mainstream human rights movement.
“The EU process is encouraging people to speak out and
it is changing official attitudes,” he said. “It is a pity, however, that
so many things in Turkey change not because the people demand it, but because
they are EU criteria.”