Last edited: January 22, 2005

Gays in Turkey Want To Be ‘Visible’

‘The European organizations are generalizing the issue on the grounds of Turkey’s Muslim dominated culture. Whereas there’s actually no monotheistic religion that’s tolerant to gays,’ says Güner

Turkish Daily News, January 17, 2005

By Emine Kart

ANKARA—It is a country where once a transsexual singer, Bülent Ersoy, was elected by the people as “the women of the year” and trans-gendered singer, the late Zeki Müren, was elected as “the man of the year.” However it’s the same country where the head of the military coup d’eta, namely Kenan Evren, banned Ersoy from performing on stage for many years immediately afterwards the coup in 1980.

That’s Turkey where public opinion surveys demonstrate that people don’t want to have a neighbor who describes himself as gay or lesbian, despite honoring Müren with a title “Sun of the Art.”

Turkey: A purgatory for gays:

“Regarding the problems that gays have been experiencing due to their gender identities; Turkey is neither heaven, nor hell,” says Ali Erol, an activist from Kaos GL, a civil society initiative that aims for the liberation of gays in Turkish society. Kaos GL is a member of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). ILGA is one of the associations of which the European Union takes its reports into consideration concerning Turkey’s membership negotiations.

Kaos GL has been publishing Turkey’s first and only lesbian and gay journal, Kaos GL, since September 1994. Erol and Umut Güner are two names who have been struggling since then in order to expand a space for gays in Turkey to breathe.

Erol said being gay has never been openly listed as a crime in Turkish laws as it was in Romania, the newcomer to the EU. Nevertheless, it didn’t mean that everything was fine for gays in this society.


“It leads to an illusion when looking from Western countries,” said Erol. Concrete problems and barriers for gays are actually being observed in daily life in Turkey. They are being dismissed from work, thrown out of their houses or student dormitories because of their gender identities.

The matter for gays in Turkey is in the public realm, Erol said. “You first need to exist in that public realm where the problems occur. It’s a matter of becoming visible as individuals.”

Güner called attention to a different dimension of the matter at this point. He said most of the gays in Europe have been concentrating on the Muslim identity of Turkish society.

“The European organizations are generalizing the issue on the grounds of Turkey’s Muslim dominated culture. Whereas there’s actually no monotheistic religion that’s tolerant to gays,” said Güner.

Gays living in Turkey are being subject to humiliation, exclusion, threats and violence in houses, streets, schools, work places, hospitals, public and private institutions, added Erol. The European institutions should be involved with these kinds of problems instead of problems stemming from the principles of religion.

A side component of popular culture:

One can easily observe the difference of attitudes in Turkey along recent years regarding gay identities and the way popular culture approaches these characters in soap operas, women’s magazines or television shows. It’s not easy to say if this is really an improvement or not, because most of these characters are so far away from the ordinary lives of ordinary individuals as they don’t have to deal with the problems that an ordinary gay somehow has to face.

The question should be asked, “Is the popular culture reflected in life? Does it offer an opportunity for gay individuals to set their own existence?” Erol said.

If one affirms that gays have a problem of their right to live in this society, then one should also admit that these problems can’t easily be separated from what people in Turkey experience as the violation of their human rights. Erol recalls a friend of him saying, “I have to hide in Istanbul that I’m Kurdish and I have to hide in Batman that I’m gay.”

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