29/08/2012 | Writer: Kaos GL

Nevin Oztop, Vice President of Kaos GL’s Board, admits that homophobia lies deep in the Turkish culture.

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On July 26th, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission issued an official statement that confirms the drafting of Turkey’s first civilian constitution and urges individuals to petition the Turkish Parliament to include a clause that explicitly gives protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Transgender women are dragged through the streets at night, pulled with their hands above their heads by policemen in uniform, silver badges reading "Polis" glint in the yellow luminescence of street lights. They fight, the transgender women punched once, twice, kicked then pepper sprayed in the eyes.
 
This scene as described by Baris Sulu is one Baris knows all too well. Instances of violence committed against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals by the Turkish police force are frequently reported.
 
Baris, born in Istanbul, personally identifies as transgender and is a human rights activist as well as an editor of the Turkish lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights web Kaos GL.
 
The violence and inequity that Baris faces as transgender in Turkey occurs daily against many thousands of other Turks. In the last three years, over 40 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals have been murdered in hate-motivated crimes.
 
On July 26th, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission issued an official statement that confirms the drafting of Turkey’s first civilian constitution and urges individuals to petition the Turkish Parliament to include a clause that explicitly gives protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The addition of this clause would mark the first of its kind in Turkey.
 
The statement emphasizes the challenges these individuals continue to encounter and that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in Turkey facing violence as well as discrimination do not currently have any legal safeguards that could protect them.
Baris says with confidence that if explicit laws like these were observed, treatment by police as well as by all Turks would be radically different.
 
For Baris, fighting for equality in being outside of the societal gender stereotypes was not a lifestyle choice. “Ever since I have known who I was, I was always different from others.”
 
Baris, now 34, still encounters verbal abuse in Turkey on a daily basis. The things Baris hears today are the same things that were yelled in childhood; the enemy has never changed, never developed, and what people have said repeats itself like a broken record.
Nevin Oztop, Vice President of Kaos GL’s Board, admits that homophobia lies deep in the Turkish culture. Oztop says that what is most dangerous is when ministers of the countries use hate speech in public about homosexuality.
 
Selma Aliye Kavaf, former Minister of Women and Family Affairs, was quoted publicly by the Turkish Hurriyet Daily Newspaper as saying, “I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease. It needs to be treated.”
 
Oztop states that political messages like the one clearly communicated in Minister Kavaf’s statement can be the direct cause of hate crimes, and in extreme cases, the murder of members of the lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual community.
Baris says that while these statements are detrimental to the community, the biggest problem in Turkey regarding the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals is the silence and fear of coming out or speaking publicly about their sexual origination or gender identity.
 
Baris Sulu, after leading decades of equal rights war that continue to thunder on the streets of Istanbul, says that “it is not right to say Turkish people are harsh, every person can be harsh. But they can change. The biggest problem is the lack of information, the invisibility, the secretiveness of LGBT.”
 
By: Anna Hess
Harvard University Journalist

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