Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, has instigated an ‘indefinite’ ban on all public events that promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues. This broad ban has far-reaching consequences for the LGBTQI+ community, putting a halt to their ability to host film festivals, forums, and exhibitions. Ankara’s governor, Mehmet Kiliclar, said in a written statement that the ban was to protect “public security” as there were fears such events could “provoke hatred and hostility” due to “certain social sensitivities.”
Despite the fact that homosexuality has been legal in Turkey since 1923, this ban comes in the context of a long history of hostility and violence toward LGBTQI+ in Turkey. The European Region of the International LGBTI+ Association released a report in 2016 that showed, out of all European countries, Turkey had one of the worst violations of LGBTQI+ people’s human rights. In June, CNN published an article describing the violent discrimination taking place in Turkey. Their report included the story of Ordek, a sex worker whose gender is non-binary. Ordek was viciously attacked in their own apartment in Ankara, but had their story instantly dismissed by police.
There is a prevalent homophobic and intolerant culture throughout Turkey, with 78% of the population rejecting homosexuality, in a 2013 Pew Research Centre survey. In particular, this attitude is currently being publicized and endorsed by the highest authority in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In 2013, Erdogan called homosexuality incompatible with the “culture of Islam” in Turkey. There are no signs that this type of sentiment is changing. Just weeks ago, the President stated that to try and empower homosexual people would be “against the values of our nation.”
These feelings are constantly reflected in situations across the country. In Istanbul, Pride parades have been banned for the past three years. This year, the governorship released a statement saying the ban would be enforced “for the safety of our citizens, first and foremost the participants, and tourists who are in the area visiting.” When Pride organizers attempted to march regardless, police used tear gas and rubber pellets to disperse the rally. CNN’s report of the incident cited organizers´ beliefs that the ban was “another facet of Turkey’s creeping authoritarianism under the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP.”
It is clear that there is a dangerous tension in Turkey. However, while Kiliclar’s statement may imply that his office is working to create peace in the community by creating this ban, the backlash from the LGBTQI+ community suggests that it will not be this simple. LGBTQI+ organizations Pink Life and Maos GL claim that the ban is unconstitutional and “the decision legitimises rights violations and discriminations against LGBTIs.” While steps need to be taken to stop disorder, infringing upon the freedoms of one group only threatens to create more chaos.
Transgender Day of Remembrance was 21 November, two days after the ban was put in place, and yet it is clear that the struggles of this community are not being fully acknowledged in Turkey. In order to create a peaceful environment for all their citizens, leaders need to find a way to better support the community at risk. Following the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a Turkish newspaper published a homophobic headline calling those killed “perverts” and “deviants.” This is where the focus should be – on stopping the proliferation of such violent ideas, rather than punishing those who are merely innocent victims.