LGBT Rights in Turkey: Time for Action

June 22, 2011
A gay-rights activist holding a placard reading: "Don't hate, apologize," is evacuated as he protests on April 15, 2010 in Ankara against Family Affairs and Women's Minister Selma Aliye Kavaf, who declared that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease." © Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images

Violence, discrimination, and official contempt: a new Amnesty report on LGBT rights in Turkey outlines the difficult straits of the LGBT community in Turkey.

The report makes for grim reading.  The LGBT community in Turkey is subject to a general atmosphere of harassment and discrimination.   Violence is widespread and often comes from members of their own families.  Assault, rape, and even murder go uninvestigated and unpunished.

Discrimination is the norm.  In one survey, 33% of respondents…  reported that they had not been hired for a job because of their sexual orientation  or gender identity.

Gay men of military age face awful choices: violence and harassment while serving or attempting to gain an exception as “unfit to serve” because the Turkish military views homosexuality as a “psychological disorder.”  In order to gain the exemption, the applicant must undergo a humiliating process which might include an anal exam or being required to provide photographic evidence of gay sex.

Transgender women face particularly difficult conditions: effectively unable to find legal employment, they are often pushed into prostitution.  But they don’t receive the legal protections that others do.  While prostitution is legal in Turkey,  transgender women are not considered women by the state and therefore are forced into street prostitution, where they are targets of violence and police harassment.   Unable to find housing in most of Turkey, they are relegated to a handful of neighborhoods, the most famous of which, Tarlabaşı, is now targeted for “renovation” that will leave many of its residents homeless.

The Turkish government has set a tone.  It treats homosexuality as a disease or, as Aliye Kavaf, then Minister of State, would have it “a biological disorder, an illness.”

Police typically view all transgendered women as sex workers and target them as such.  Nearly all the transgendered women that Amnesty interviewed had been subject to police violence, yet attempts to file complaints are routinely ignored.  While the LGBT community in Turkey has bravely attempted to organize to fight for their rights, government officials have responded with harassment.  Kaos-GL, for example, was subject to eight audits of its funds between 2006-2009.  Authorities have consistently opened closure cases against LGBT associations, citing as grounds that the groups endanger “Turkish morals and family structure.”

Hate crimes, harassment, and even honor killings shape the lives of gay, lesbian, and transgendered Turks; over 70% report fear of violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In 2010, 16 suspected murders were documented by LGBT organizations in Turkey.  The murders often were marked by extreme violence which steps over the bounds into the grotesque: torture, bondage, and dismemberment.  Turkish police have dealt with this violence poorly.  Complaints are ignored, victims are treated as criminals, protection is denied, and the mere fact that the victim is homosexual might be construed as a “mitigating factor” in prosecution.

Turkey needs to do better.  It needs to stop discrimination of the LGBT community and end harassment of individuals and associations.   It needs to take proactive action against hate crimes and better train its police.  It needs to ratify Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and extend constitutional protection from discrimination to include sexual orientation as well as amend its laws so that gay, lesbian, and transgendered citizens enjoy what all Turkish citizens should enjoy: equal protection under the law.

You can help!  Amnesty is creating an action aimed at ending discrimination in Turkey.   Or, if you are having a public event, you might consider distributing this leaflet.  Amnesty has also developed a video to call attention to the issue.  Share it with your friends!  Want to follow human rights issues in Turkey?  Follow Amnesty’s Turkey Regional Action Network on Facebook!