Rev Irene Monroe

Turkey Flip-Flops on LGBTQ Rights

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | November 13, 2014 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Burcin Bordanaci, discrimination, Islam, Michelle Demishevich, Muslim world, Muslims, religion-based bigotry, Turkey

Turkey is a country that's conflicted when it comes to its LGBTQ population.

On one hand, Turkey is the first country in the Muslim world to hold a LGBTQI pride march. Eleven years later, the 2014 Istanbul Pride is lauded as the largest pride event held in the Islamic world. It surpassed last year's LGBTQI pride attendance that drew nearly 100,000 revelers and onlookers.

Turkey is the "go-to" country for LGBTQI Muslims fleeing for their safety from other Islamic nations.

Pro-gay measures -- like Turkey's Supreme Court acknowledging this past July that calling its LGBTQ citizens "perverts" is hate speech, and its 2013 landmark ruling stating that selling DVDs depicting graphic as well as pornographic LGBTQI group sex is "natural" and "that an individual's sexual orientation should be respected" -- would suggest that Turkey is a country that embraces tolerance and acceptance. But hate crimes against its LGBTQI population is the highest among European countries, and its trans population is the hardest hit.

Since 1858, private same-sex relations between consenting adults have been legal in Turkey. On the other hand, LGBTQI sexual orientations and gender identities are excluded from the country's legal and civil rights systems of justice.

Michelle Demishevich (below) has become the international face of the country's struggle with its transgender population. Michelle was fired in September from her job as a reporter at Turkey's IMC TV.

michelle-demishevich.jpegThe reason for her termination? "I was getting warnings about my clothes and the color of my hair," Demishevich told Bianet. "Even my use of red lipstick started to be a problem."

According to the 2011 World Values Survey, 84 percent of Turkey's population doesn't want LGBTQI residents in their neighborhood. And those who unfortunately live in those unwelcoming neighborhoods hide from their heterosexual neighbors.

"I can't send my picture or show you my face because as you know Turkey's an Islam country. I live in an area where there are radical Islamists groups and I'm concerned about life safety issues. I'll send some of my friends' picture taken at Istanbul Pride 2014," Burcin Bordanaci of the Turkey LGBTI Union wrote.

Housing discrimination can be added to the laundry list of indignities LGBTQ people face in Turkey --- including health care, education, public accommodations and employment, to name a few. "If you're fired from work for your sexual orientation you cannot receive compensation from the workplace. They can tell your family by phone," Burcin shared.

In 2010 the Minister for Women and Family Affairs depicted homosexuality as "a biological disorder, a disease," and earlier this year Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said homosexuality is "contrary" to Islam. Because so many Muslims view homosexuality as Erdogan does it has unfortunately turned many LGBTQI Muslims away from their faith. Bordanaci shared with me:

"I don't Salat, but I'm Muslim. My family is Muslim, too. My family doesn't know about my sexual orientation. If they learn about my sexual orientation they will marry me off. I do pray to God everyday about LGBTI people, and also for me."

turkey-pride-parade.jpgAs Turkey's government flip-flops on LGBTQI civil rights -- like promising in 2013 to provide LGBTQ people constitutional protection against discrimination to then let the draft proposal die -- its LGBTQ population isn't standing idly by. As a matter of fact, they're fighting back by organizing. And Bordanac? is among them.

"I'm doing activism via Internet," he says. "I speak on Skype at an underground Turk gay club."

Turkey LGBTQ Union is a new activist website just months old that Bordanaci is promoting. Based in the country's capitol of Ankara, Turkey LGBTQ Union is a new umbrella organization to combat both homophobia and transphobia by using the Internet. It aims to bring together all of the country's LGBTQI groups and organizations.

"Because Turkey is an Islamic country, although not in the same league as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq in its vehemently anti-LGBTI stance, there is need for togetherness and solidarity among LGBTI groups to counter the homophobia and transphobia that exists in Turkey today, " Bordanac? told by email.

Turkey LGBTQ Union is founded by gay activist Nikopol who in 2006 also helped form the Turk Gay Club to create community, safety, and anonymity.

Anonymity via Internet has been the way Bordanac? and I have communicated. I have no idea what he looks like.

I applaud his activism but I'm worried, especially when I remember the first (suspected) anti-gay "honor killing" of college student Ahmet Yildiz. In 2008, Yildiz represented Turkey at a gay international gathering in San Francisco. He was fatally shot outside a café near the Bosphorus strait. Yildiz's friends accused his father in the murder.

So in each email exchange I had with Bordanac? I always ended mine by saying: Be safe!

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