Pin It
lgbt turkey

Out of sight: life as a queer teenager in Turkey

Young LGBT people share their anger and horror at the capital city ban on LGBT events

This week, Turkey banned all LGBTQI events in Ankara, its capital city, a move human rights groups have condemned as “illegal” and “discriminatory”.

The ban was implemented by the governor’s office in Ankara on Sunday, citing fears they would “provoke hatred and hostility” and pose a threat to “public order”. This includes film festivals, exhibitions, forums and interviews – the ban arrives following the imposed cancellation on German queer film festival Pink Life Queerfest last week, due to supposed public safety issues.

Mehmet Kiliclar, Ankara’s governor, outlined in a statement that the ban would ‘prevent crime’ and encourage “general health and morals”. 

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan previously described such LGBTQI events as “against the values of our nation”.

Turkey is a Muslim country, where homosexuality is legal, unlike other religious nations. LGBTQI groups are also able to legally register. However, activists have spoken frequently about the rampant homophobia both socially and systematically in Turkey. Istanbul pride for example was banned for a third year – crowds attempted to go ahead with celebrations, but faced violent police clashes with tear gas and dogs. 25 demonstrators were arrested and charged.

Several of the LGBT people who spoke to Dazed about their experiences highlighted the deeply embedded homophobia they’ve faced under Erdoğan’s administration and beyond. Deniz, 18, is from Istanbul and describes the tough attempt to celebrate Pride in the city this year, where many faced intense police investigation. 

“A friend of mine was wearing a t-shirt that says ‘We should all be feminists’ and the police didn’t allow her to go in only because the shirt had the word ‘feminist’ in it,” Deniz says. “I mean I think that alone displays how ignorant and uneducated people are towards these issues.” 

Deniz outlines that LGBTQI people are illegally discriminated against frequently by the political and social systems in place, which is facilitated by a large part of the population that agrees with the anti-queer hate. 

“This year at school, me and a few friends of mine wanted to open a LGBT+ awareness club and when we talked to our dean about it she said that another high school was literally sued by the ministry of eduction for doing something like this,” they say. “She was afraid it could happen to us too. When she told us about the suing I actually felt like a huge bucket of boiling water was poured on me. It was a moment of realisation for me, because I recognised there was no way to convince people that we are just like they are, every attempt we make is disallowed by some government force somehow.”

“There’s an ideology in Turkey that recognises being a part of the LGBT+ community as immoral and depraved, as if we are all perverts only looking for sex” 

“I felt so furious, sad and heartbroken about how excluded I was and was going to be in this country. Or just as worse, I was going to be unrecognised and sexualised for liking women. There’s an ideology in Turkey that recognises being a part of the LGBT+ community as immoral and depraved, as if we are all perverts only looking for sex.” 

Amnesty International has previously drawn attention to hateful rhetoric used by Turkish officials, and homophobic language that permeates national discussion. Aliye Kavaf, the previous Minister of State, said homosexuality was “a biological disorder, an illness.” 

“The devastating part is that people do not want to listen explanations and instead they rather abusing you with rude comments… with this ban, we don’t even have the option to explain. I mean, the hate people and the government contains scares me. I have always been scared to live here, and I feel like it gets worst every day.”

A joint statement from LGBTQI groups Pink Life and Kaos GL claims that the language used in the ban is too broad, and encroaches on the constitution. They detailed that the language about “public health and morality” was severely discriminatory. “This decision legitimises rights violations and discrimination against LGBTIs,” they say.

“In our country where discrimination and hate based on sexual orientation and gender identity is rampant, it is the duty of national and local administrations to combat this discrimination and hate.” 

The government has attempted to curtail LGBTQI expression using public morality laws. As Amnesty notes, ‘Gay’ is one of the blocked words on the government-sponsored internet filter. The film, Sex and the City 2, was banned because its same-sex wedding scene was thought to be “twisted and immoral”.

Speaking of the ban, 19-year-old Sıla from Istanbul said it “wasn't a shock”.

“I am so fed up with this country that I'm trying to go to Germany for university and stay there. I can't see a way out,” Sıla says, asserting that much of the fear within the LGBTQI community revolves around the abuse and brutality the police exert on people. 70 per cent of LGBTQI Turks have reported they fear violence because of their sexuality and gender identity.

Transgender women in Turkey particularly face hurt, and many who engage in sex work have reported police violence and harassment, with any complaints ignored.

“I really want to help them to speak up but in my state it's really hard,” says Sıla. “I'm trying to educate myself more out of Turkey then come back one day to be able to help them better. But for now I can only say that a dark time awaits for all, not just LGBTQ+ community but also every person living in Turkey, mostly because of the actions of the government and lack of education.”

“They’re taking away our freedom and right to express ourselves day by day”

In a 2011 research project as part of the World Values Survey, 84 percent of Turkish people said gays or lesbians were among the groups they would least like living in their area. Despite the fact homosexuality is legal, people are often stigmatised and discriminated against, which manifests regularly in social intolerance and violence. 

Naz, 17, from Istanbul, recognises that she has been privileged to grow up in Istanbul, a city deemed more modern in its thinking despite the ban on pride. She asserts that other places, like inner Anatolia in more rural areas, that people face the biggest, outward threats on their lives.

She adds that culturally, she has found that lesbianism is more accepted than homosexual men. Naz points to the lack of youth LGBT organisations that can properly operate and influence policy – many of the associations that to gather are forced to do repeated audits, as officials attempt to shut them down under public morality laws. “It’s actually my biggest dream to found such an organisation,” she says.

Further, she echoes a similar fear that others have expressed about the intolerance towards their sexuality, and how queerness is rarely reflected in the culture around them. “They’re taking away our freedom and right to express ourselves day by day,” Naz says of the ban. “As a part of the LGBT youth, I can say that the ban will affect many teens. Because we don’t get to see ourselves portrayed anywhere, or we don’t get to learn about LGBT issues, it’s in these activities we find our history. They’re trying to prevent us from getting together, finding unity, and their excuses are ‘public security’ and ‘social sensitivities’. We are not a threat to the society or we do not corrupt the society, yet they try to make us feel so.”