04/06/2015 | Writer: Ali Ersen Erol
Erdogan’s statement is a constitutional crime on two counts: first, the Presidency in Turkey cannot be affiliated with a political party, and the second, the statement is hate speech.
As the June 7th general elections draw close in Turkey, the ruling conservative AK Party has been tightening its authoritarian grip on social life through homophobia. AK Party has been progressively making life difficult for those who do not identify with mainstream understandings of sexuality and gender not only by statements that further add to the othering and marginalization, but also implementing actual policies that enlarge the circumference of structural violence imposed on the members of the LGBT community.
Current President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was the leader of AK Party and the Prime Minister of Turkey for more than a decade, made a statement that exemplified the molding of increasing homophobia and authoritarianism as the elections draw close. In a meeting on the 28th of May in Turkey’s capital Ankara, Erdogan stated, “we won’t appoint a homosexual candidate from Eskisehir.” He was referring to Turkey’s first openly gay candidate, Baris Sulu, who is a candidate from Eskisehir, and affiliated with the leftist and Kurdish-centric People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Erdogan’s statement is a constitutional crime on two counts: first, the Presidency in Turkey cannot be affiliated with a political party, and the second, the statement is hate speech. However, since his decree, there have been other consequences of his statement.
In a matter of hours, the Minister of Family and Social Policies in Turkey declared that they will no longer allow single bedrooms in subsidized low income housing—since, she said, it is not conducive to “nucleus family values.” This, of course, stems from social perceptions and the related stigma against young people who live alone as promiscuous and engaging in premarital sex. Minister’s statement creates the social conditions that aims exclude everyone who do not fit into the definition of a “nucleus family.” Since LGBT identified individuals are not allowed to marry in Turkey, this policy implicitly excludes them from subsidized low-income housing.
Not even after day following Erdogan’s statement, AK Party launched a new initiative called “Family Support Program” (ASDEP) that aims to provide further social support for families. While the content of the program is not clear, the introductory video suggests that every family will have a consultant that can guide the family through social services and help, as the promotional video exemplified, with the tutoring of children. The program, by mere definition, is also exclusive to heterosexual couples, since as stated above, LGBT identified individuals are not allowed to be families.
Such initiatives suggest that AK Party is following in the footsteps of countries such as Singapore, despite constant comparisons to Putin’s Russia. Singapore’s party-state system, where all the bureaucrats and technocrats are party members and all policies align with the ideological outlook of the party, despite what the public wants. In Singapore, too, there is ample structural violence against the LGBT identified individuals. Subsidized housing, for instance, is contingent upon several conditions. In order to qualify for a flat provided by Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HBD), Singaporean citizens must “form a family nucleus”. This most often means an applicant must live with a spouse, with their parents, or children under legal custody. Individuals may also live with their fiancé or fiancée. Single applicants are only eligible for studio flats and can only purchase, not lease, their flats. Similar to Turkey’s case, while there is no overt definition of what constitutes a “family nucleus”, since same-sex marriage is not allowed, the only family that can exist is a heterosexual.
While homophobia powered structural violence in Turkey is increasing, such policies and discourses encourage other more visceral types of violence. In a single day after Erdogan’s statement, two trans women in Istanbul were physically attacked. Turkey already has a terrible record regarding violence against women and LGBT identified individuals. In the month of May alone, seven trans women were attacked and hospitalized as a result. In 2014, there were five murders and eleven attacks based on hate—and these are only the reported numbers to KAOS GL, Turkey’s biggest LGBT-rights organization.
The structural, psychological, and physical violence that persists against the LGBT identified individuals in Turkey do not only take place within public spaces, like the physical violence, but also regulate the public space so that it is harder to exist in it as an LGBT identified individual. All of these types of violence privilege the existence of monogamous heterosexist families such that it imposes the dissemination of the normalcy based on capitalist conceptualizations of intimacy. AK Party has been consistent on their neo-conservative and neoliberal ideology that feeds from unsustainable consumption based on logics of reproduction and sees those who do not participate in that logic and economy as an existential threat. With its increasing homophobia compounded by its authoritarianism, AK Party believes they can attract more mainstream votes to maintain their power.
For this reason, the upcoming elections may determine if Turkey will complete its transformation to a party-state and be governed completely by the ideological policies of AK Party or if opposition parties will be able to create flexible alliances that could potentially keep the increasing authoritarianism of the ruling party in check. Either way, it is essential that the upcoming elections will signal a turning point.
Ali E. Erol: email@example.com
Ali E. Erol is a professorial lecturer at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC. His research focuses on queer theory and its intersections with international relations, neocolonialism, knowledge production, as well as with public space. His articles and reviews have been published in International Journal of Communication, Journal of Language and Social Psychology, Journal of Narrative and Conflict, & International Journal of Political Anthropology.