LGBT rights in Turkey

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Europe-Turkey.svg
Location of LGBT rights in Turkey (green)

in Europe (dark grey)  –  [Legend]

StatusLegal since 1858
Gender identityLegal permission to have sex reassignment surgery
Military
  • Homosexual people are exempt from conscription
  • Gay men are not allowed to serve openly in the army or government service
Discrimination protectionsConstitutional protection drafted, but was never enacted (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex relationships
Adoption

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Turkey face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT persons. Same-sex sexual activity was legalised in the Ottoman Empire (the predecessor of the modern-day Republic of Turkey) in 1858 and in modern Turkey, homosexual activity has always been a legal act since the day it was founded on 29 October 1923.[1] LGBT people have had the right to seek asylum in Turkey under the Geneva Convention since 1951,[2] but same-sex couples are not given the same legal protections available to heterosexual couples. Transsexuals have been allowed to change their legal gender since 1988. Although discrimination protections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression have been debated legally, they have not yet been legislated. Public opinion on homosexuality has generally been conservative, and LGBT people have been widely reported to experience discrimination, harassment and even violence in recent years.

History[edit]

In the 1980s, the national government, whether democratically elected or as a result of a coup d'état, opposed the existence of a visible LGBT community, especially within the political context. The crackdown on prostitution may have been used as pretext for harassment of gay and transgender people.[citation needed]

Some openly gay people were able to be successful in the 1980s. Murathan Mungan has been openly gay throughout his professional life as a successful poet and writer. However, many gay and bisexual men who lived during this period have since said in interviews that they felt pressured, by social attitudes and government policy, to remain in the closet about their sexual identity.[1]

In the 1980s, the Radical Democratic Green Party expressed support for gay rights, including the work of a group of transgender people to protest police brutality. However, it was not until the 1990s that many members of the LGBT community in Turkey began to organise on behalf of their human rights.

In 1993, Lambda Istanbul was created to campaign on behalf of LGBT rights in Turkey. In 1994, the Freedom and Solidarity Party banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within the party and nominated Demet Demir, a leading voice of the community,[3] to successfully become the first transgender candidate for the local council elections in Istanbul.

In 1993, organisers were denied permission to hold a LGBT pride parade. Similar opposition was expressed by the government in 1995 and 1996 for a LGBT film festival and academic conference. Government officials cited vaguely worded laws designed to protect public morality as justification for refusing to allow these public events to take place.

In 1996, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling and removed a child from her lesbian mother on the grounds that homosexuality is "immoral".[4]

Throughout the 1990s, reports by IHD, Turkey's Human Rights Association as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated that transgender people were frequently harassed and beaten by police officers. One article even stated that police had set fire to an apartment block with many transgender people residing there.[5]

Reports of harassment and violence against LGBT people still occur in the twenty-first century. In 2008, a homosexual Kurdish-Turk student, Ahmet Yıldız, was shot outside a café by his father and later died in the hospital.[6][7] Sociologists have called this Turkey's first publicised gay honour killing.[8][9] The wish of the Turkish Government to join the European Union has put some pressure on the government to grant official recognition to LGBT rights. The report on progress in Turkey for the accession to the European Union of 14 October 2009, the European Commission for Enlargement wrote:

The legal framework is not adequately aligned with the EU acquis...
Homophobia has resulted in cases of physical and sexual violence. The killing of several transsexuals and transvestites is a worrying development. Courts have applied the principle of 'unjust provocation' in favour of perpetrators of crimes against transsexuals and transvestites.[10]

Turkey became the first Muslim-majority country in which a gay pride march was held.[11] In Istanbul (since 2003) and in Ankara (since 2008) gay marches are being held each year with an increasing numbers of participation. The gay pride march in Istanbul started with 30 people in 2003, and in 2010, there were 5,000. The pride parades in 2011 and 2012 were attended by more than 15,000 participants.

On 30 June 2013, Istanbul pride parade attracted almost 100,000 people.[12] The protesters were joined by Gezi Park protesters, making the 2013 Istanbul Pride the biggest pride event ever held in Turkey.[13] The 2014 Istanbul pride attracted more than 100,000 people. The 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 pride parades were banned by local authorities, and participants were faced with police attacks. In June 2013, the first Izmir Pride took place with 2,000 participants.[14] On the 3 June 2018, the 6th Izmir Pride Parade peacefully took place with over 50,000 participants.[15] Another pride took place in Antalya.[16] Politicians from the main opposition party, CHP and another opposition party, BDP also lent their support to the demonstration.[17] The pride march in Istanbul does not receive any support of the municipality or the government.[18][19]

In 2009, amateur football referee Halil Ibrahim Dinçdağ came out as gay and was subsequently banned from refereeing football matches. In December 2015, the Turkish Football Federation was ordered to pay 23,000 lira in compensation for dismissing Dinçdağ.[20]

On 21 September 2011, the Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Şahin met with an LGBT organisation. She said that the government will actively work together with LGBT organisations. She submitted a proposal for the acceptance of LGBT individuals in the new constitution that Parliament planned to draft in the coming year. She was calling on Members of Parliament to handle the proposal positively. She asserted that "if freedom and equality is for everybody, then sexual orientation discrimination should be eliminated and the rights of these LGBT citizens should be recognized."[21]

On 9 January 2012, a columnist named Serdar Arseven for an Islamist newspaper called Yeni Akit wrote an article calling LGBT people perverts. The Court of Cassation penalized Yeni Akit with 4,000 TL fine and Serdar Arseven with 2,000 TL for hate speech.[22]

In May 2012, the BDP requested the writers of the new Turkish constitution to include same-sex marriage in that constitution. It was rejected by the biggest party in the Turkish Parliament, the AKP, and an opposition party, MHP, while supported by the main opposition party, the CHP.[23] [24]

On 29 May 2013, a parliamentary research motion regarding LGBT rights in Turkey was proposed and discussed in the parliament of Turkey. Despite support from pro-Kurdish BDP, secularist CHP, and the abstention of Turkish nationalist party MHP, the motion was rejected by votes of the ruling party AKP. AKP MP Türkan Dağoğlu cited the scientific articles on homosexuality published in the US in 1974 and said, "Homosexuality is an abnormality. Same-sex mariages may not be allowed. It would cause social deterioration." For the research motion, CHP MP Binnaz Toprak said, "In the 1970s there were scientists suggesting that black people were not as smart as white people in the US. Hence the science of today doesn't accept the findings of those times. Your sayings can not be allowed."[25]

On 12 August 2013, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, which was drafting a new constitution of the Republic and was composed of four major parliamentary parties including Kurds, secularists, Islamists and nationalists, agreed to provide constitutional protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals.[26] The draft was later cancelled.[27]

On 17 July 2014, Turkey's Supreme Court ruled that referring to gays as "perverted" constitutes as hate speech.[28]

Legality of same-sex relations[edit]

Gay sexual conduct between consenting adults in private is not a crime in Turkey. The age of consent in Turkey is the age of majority (set at 18 as per Article 11 of the Turkish Civil Code). According to Article 104 of the Turkish Penal Code (Türk Ceza Kanunu), sexual intercourse with minors aged 15, 16 and 17 can only be prosecuted upon a complaint. However, if the offender is a person who is forbidden to marry the child by law or is a person who is obliged to take care of the child due to adoption or foster care, then the prosecution doesn't require a complaint and the punishment is aggravated.[29] Article 103 regulates any kind of sexual activity with minors under 15 (or minors under 18 who lack the ability to understand the legal meanings and consequences of such actions) as child sexual abuse.[29]. The criminal code also has vaguely worded prohibitions on "public exhibitionism," and "offenses against public morality" that can be used to harass gay and transgender people.[citation needed] Individual towns and cities are given some leeway in enacting local laws designed to protect 'public morality'.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Turkey does not recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits.

Military service[edit]

In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male Turkish citizens between the ages of 18 and 41. However, the Turkish military openly discriminates against homosexuals by barring them from serving in the military. At the same time, Turkey – in violation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights – withholds any recognition of conscientious objection to military service.[30] Some objectors must instead identify themselves as "sick" – and some were forced to undergo what Human Rights Watch calls "humiliating and degrading" examinations to "prove" their homosexuality.[31][32]

In October 2009 the report of the EU Commission on Enlargement stated: The Turkish armed forces have a health regulation which defines homosexuality as a 'psychosexual' illness and identifies homosexuals as unfit for military service. Conscripts who declare their homosexuality have to provide photographic proof. A small number have had to undergo humiliating medical examinations.[10]

In November 2015, the Turkish Armed Forces removed the clause stating that a draftee must "prove" their homosexuality. Draftees may decide to disclose their sexuality verbally and receive an 'unfit report' during their medical examination which exempts them from service, or must not disclose their orientation in any form for a year if a military doctor agrees to grant them a 'fit report' and serve their conscription. Those who disclose their homosexuality and receive an 'unfit report' may be subject to future discrimination in public life as the military's record of homosexuals in the drafting process has resulted in several cases of public leaks.[33] Homosexuality remains grounds for expulsion for commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and military students under the Turkish Armed Forces Discipline Law.[34]

There is little support in the army in favour of greater acceptance; in a 2015 study asking 1,300 officers "whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the army", 96.3% answered negatively.[33]

Discrimination protections[edit]

"I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder and this disease needs treatment."

Selma Aliye Kavaf, Ex-Minister of Women and Family Affairs, 2010[35]

No laws exist yet in Turkey that protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care, public accommodations or credit. In October 2009 the report of the EU Commission on Enlargement stated:

There have been several cases of discrimination at the workplace, where LGBT employees have been fired because of their sexual orientation. Provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code on 'public exhibitionism' and 'offences against public morality' are sometimes used to discriminate against LGBT people. The Law on Misdemeanours is often used to impose fines against transgender persons.[10]

In 2011, Öykü Evren Özen, a transgender woman from the northwestern province of Bursa, has become a candidate for deputy from the main opposition party, Republican People's Party, or CHP. She was the first transgender lawmaker of Turkey during the general elections.[36]

The main opposition, Republican People's Party proposed gay rights to the Turkish parliament on 14 February 2013.[37]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are among the most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey today.[38]

In August 2013, four major political parties in the parliament including the Kurds, secularists, conservatives and nationalists, has agreed to provide constitutional protection against discrimination for LGBT.[26] The draft is later cancelled due to nonconcurrences regarding other subjects in the new constitutional draft.[27]

Can Cavusoglu, a Turkish activist, has launched a campaign as the first openly gay mayoral candidate of Turkey, Cavusoglu announced a bid to run in the Black Sea region, a town of Bulancak, Giresun, home to about 60,000, in the March 2014 local elections. [39]

In February 2015, the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) introduced a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both public and private sectors. The bill seeks equal recruitment, pay, promotion, dismissal in the workplace and reforms in the Turkish Armed Forces Code of Discipline that would allow members of the military to serve openly.[40]

In 2015, pro-LGBT Kurdish, Peoples' Democratic Party publicly announced that they will have LGBT and Feminist candidates. Baris Sulu, the left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP) candidate, becomes the first openly gay man to run for the Turkish parliament.[41][42]

In February 2015, two transgender women became parlimantary election candidates, Deva Özenen for the newly formed Anatolia Party in Izmir and Niler Albayrak for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Istanbul.[43]

In January 2019, the 34th Labor Court in Istanbul ruled has issued the first verdict in a legal case surrounding three garbage men who were fired by a municipality for allegedly engaging in a homosexual relationship with one of their co-workers. The court ruled in favor of one of the plaintiffs, identified as R.S., concluding that his contract was unjustly terminated.

Three drivers of the garbage trucks owned by the Kağıthane Municipality in Istanbul were fired by their employer after it was alleged last year that they were in a gay relationship with a 27-year-old garbage collector.

The garbage collector, identified only as M.Ş., had told the authorities that he had engaged in sexual relationship “from time to time” with the three truck drivers.

The drivers, aged between 43 and 51, had sued the municipality and its subcontractor in April 2018, citing what they described as unjust termination of their contract.

The 34th Labor Court in Istanbul ruled on January 29 in favor of one of the plaintiffs, identified as R.S., concluding that his contract was unjustly terminated.

His attorney had told the court that the plaintiff “had got nothing to do with that incident,” while the company lawyers had claimed that his dismissal was part of “rightful termination” due to the sexual relationship at work.

If the ruling is approved in the appeals process, too, the subcontractor will be forced to return the plaintiff to his previous job or to compensate him.

A hearing for one of the other two cases, which still continue, is scheduled to be held in February.[44][45]

Media Regulations[edit]

LGBT-themed movies are not banned in Turkey. Brokeback Mountain, as an example, was seen in Turkish cinemas without any government censorship. Anyone eighteen years of age or older could buy a ticket to watch the film.

LGBT-themed DVDs can also be legally sold in Turkey, albeit DVDs with sexually explicit content may only be sold to people eighteen years of age or older.

In 2013, a Turkish vendor was charged with selling "immoral" DVDs because the DVD movies featured gay sexually explicit content. Judge Mahmut Erdemli from the court in Istanbul overturned the criminal charges. He ruled that gay sex is "natural", stated that an individual's sexual orientation should be respected, and cited examples of same-sex marriages in Europe and in the Americas.[46]

Restriction of expression[edit]

The Istanbul pride parade in June 2015, which overlapped with the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, was banned by the Istanbul governorship hours before the event over "security concerns". Soon after, it was shut down through police intervention for the first time in its 13-year history. The parade had taken place the previous year during Ramadan without issue.[47] In 2016, it was banned again and arrests were made as participants tried to hold the rally regardless of the prohibition.[48] It was banned again in 2017, and in 2018 it was banned again and arrests were made as participants tried to hold the rally regardless of the prohibition.

In 2017, the capital city of Ankara banned all LGBT or LGBT rights related events, under the pretext of providing "peace and security", with officials saying that such "exhibitions" could cause different groups of society to "publicly harbor hatred and hostility" towards each other; on the other hand news media noted that the ban came in the context of the steady erosion of civil liberties in Turkey following the failed 2016 coup attempt.[49]

In Ankara, all public LGBTI-related discussions are banned. In November 2017, the Ankara governor’s office under state of emergency imposed an indefinite ban on LGBTI-focused public events. The emergency rule ended in July 2018; however, the ban was still not lifted. In October 2018, the government extended the ban to LGBTI-focused events generally without giving any idea about the end date.[50]

Public opinion[edit]

Attitudes towards the legalization of same-sex unions in Turkey are mixed. A 2015 poll by Ipsos found that 27% of the Turkish public was in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, while 19% preferred civil unions instead.[51] 25% of those surveyed were against any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples and 29% stated that they didn't know which option to choose.[51]

Ipsos Results[51]
Statement Agree
"Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally." 27%
"Same-sex couples should be allowed to obtain some

kind of legal recognition, but not to marry."

19%
"Same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry or

obtain any kind of legal recognition."

25%
Undecided 29%
Total 100%

Living conditions[edit]

Between January 2010 and November 2014, 47 individuals were killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT persons in Turkey may face discrimination, harassment and even violence from their relatives, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, employees, teachers, and even members of the Turkish police. Homosexuality is widely a taboo subject in Turkey and the culture of "honour killings" can be observed in Turkish society families murdering members (usually female) who engage in sexual/moral behaviours regarded as inappropriate. The death of Ahmet Yıldız, a 26-year-old Kurdish-Turk gay person from Şanlıurfa, may be the first known example of an honour killing with a gay male victim.[6][7][52] Studies for the years 2007–09 prepared by the German Democratic Turkey Forum show 13 killings in 2007, 5 in 2008 and at least 4 killings in 2009 related to the sexual identity of the victims.[53] On 21 May 2008 the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch published a report entitled "We Need a Law for Liberation".[54] The report documents how gay men and transgender people face beatings, robberies, police harassment, and the threat of murder. Human Rights Watch found that, in most cases, the response by the authorities is inadequate if not nonexistent.[54] In case of hate murders against homosexuals, courts apply the condition of "heavy provocation" and lower sentences.[55]

On 20 August 2018, during the 2018 lira crisis, the widely circulated Turkish pro-Erdogan paper Sabah reported that the US was planning to "drop gay bombs" on enemies countries that "will change the sexual preferences of that country's population".[56]

LGBT civil rights organizations[edit]

Ankara Pride parade in 2012, Kızılay, Ankara

The major LGBT community-based civil rights organization is KAOS GL, established in 1994 in Ankara. Lambdaistanbul, a member of ILGA-Europe, established in 1993 in Istanbul, was dissolved in May 2008. The prosecution argued that its name and activities were "against the law and morality." That ruling, sharply criticized by Human Rights Watch,[57] was finally overturned by the country's Supreme Court of Appeal on 22 January 2009.[58]

During the early 1990s, the organizations' proposals for cooperation were refused by the Government Human Rights Commission. April 1997, when members of Lambda Istanbul were invited to the National Congress on AIDS, marked the first time a Turkish LGBT organization was represented at the government level. During the early 2000s (decade), new organizations began to be form in cities other than Istanbul and Ankara, like the Pink Life LGBT Association in Ankara, the Rainbow Group in Antalya and Piramid LGBT Diyarbakir Initiative in Dıyarbakır.

In 1996, another LGBT organization, LEGATO, was founded as an organization of Turkish university students, graduates and academicians, with its first office at Middle East Technical University in Ankara. The organization continued to grow with other branches in numerous other universities and a reported 2000 members. In March 2007, LGBT students organized for the first time as a student club (Gökkuşağı – in English: rainbow) and Club Gökkuşağı was officially approved by Bilgi University.

In June 2003, the first public LGBT pride march in Turkey's history, organized by Lambdaistanbul, was held at Istiklal Avenue. In July 2005, KAOS GL applied to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and gained legal recognition, becoming the first LGBT organization in the country with legal status. In September of the same year, a lawsuit by the Governor of Ankara was filed to cancel this legal status, but the demand was rejected by the prosecutor. In August 2006, the gay march in Bursa organized by the Rainbow Group, officially approved by the Governor's Office, was cancelled due to large-scale public protests by an organized group of citizens.

The organizations actively participate in HIV/AIDS education programs and May Day parades.

In September 2005, the Ankara Governor's Office accused KAOS GL of "establishing an organization that is against the laws and principles of morality."[57] It also attempted in July 2006 to close the human rights group Pink Life LGBT Association (Pembe Hayat), which works with transgender people, claiming to prosecutors that the association opposed "morality and family structure."[57] Both charges were ultimately dropped.[57]

In 2006 Lambda Istanbul was evicted from its premises as the landlady was not happy with the fact that the organization was promoting LGBT rights.[citation needed] In 2008, a court case was launched to close down Lambda Istanbul, and although a lower court initially decided in favour of closing down the association, the decision was overruled by the Turkish Constitutional Court and Lambda Istanbul remains open.[59]

On June 10, 2018 was held the 6th Izmir Pride, in Alsancak. Around 50,000 of LGBTI+ members, allies, and human rights supporters participated at the Pride, walking along the waterfront street, Kordon. It started on Kıbrıs Şehitleri Avune and it ended in front of Türkan Saylan Cultural Center.[60]

In April 2019, Ankara court has lifted a ban on LGBTI events in Turkey's capital.[61]. It is reported that it was Turkish LGBT+ rights group KAOS GL who managed to get it appealed after being unsuccessful last year.[62]

Istanbul Pride[edit]

Gay Turks and human rights activists chanting slogans against the Turkish government's policies on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul
Istanbul Pride parade in 2012

Istanbul Pride is a gay pride march and LGBT demonstration held annually in Turkey's biggest city, Istanbul. The event first took place in 2003 and now occurs each year on either the last Sunday of June or the first Sunday of July, to mark the end of Istanbul pride week. About 30 people took part in the first Gay Pride Istanbul. The numbers have increased exponentially each year, reaching roughly 5,000 people by 2010. The 2011 gathering attracted over 10,000 people, therefore making Gay Pride Istanbul the biggest march of its kind in the Muslim World.[63][64][65][66] The 2012 pride march, which took place on 1 July, attracted between 10,000 and 30,000 people.[67][68]

Participants assemble in Taksim Square before marching the entire length of İstiklal Avenue. This is a wide pedestrian boulevard and one of Istanbul's most important public spaces, the frequent home of bayram and regional festivals.

On 30 June 2013, the pride parade attracted almost 100,000 people.[69] The protesters were joined by Gezi Park protesters, making the 2013 Istanbul Pride the biggest pride ever held in Turkey.[70] The 2014 pride attracted more than 100,000 people.[71] The European Union praised Turkey that the parade went ahead without disruption.[72] On Sunday 29 June 2015, Reuters reported that Turkish police used a water cannon to disperse the gay pride parade [73]

In 2016 the pride march was banned by the local government "for the safety of our citizens, first and foremost the participants’, and for public order.".[74] LGBT organizations have also not been allowed to make a press statement. The governate of Istanbul once again claimed that a gathering of LGBT would not be allowed. "Within Law No: 5442, this request has not been approved due to the terror attacks that have taken place in our country and the area; because provocative acts and events may take place when the sensitivities that have emerged in society are taken into account; and because it may cause a disruption in public order and the people’s- including the participants of the event- tranquility, security, and welfare."[75]

In 2017 the Istanbul Governor’s Office yet again banned the LGBT Pride Parade, citing security concerns and public order.[76]

In 2018, for the fourth consecutive year the Istanbul Governor’s Office yet again banned the LGBT Pride Parade, citing security concerns and public order, but around 1,000 people defied the ban, they were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. 11 participants were arrested.[77][78]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1858)
Equal age of consent (18) Yes (Since 1858)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Recognition of adoption for single people regardless of sexual orientation Yes (Since 1858)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 1988)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Banned for all citizens)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No (Turkish Red Crescent does not allow blood donations from MSM[79])

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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