36-year-old Halil Ibrahim Dincdag (pictured) was a soccer referee up until a few years ago. In 2009, he refused to perform a mandatory 15 months of military service, which is where his troubles began.
“I was called in to do my military service, but I hated the idea of being a soldier,” Dincbag said in an interview with Vocativ. “I hate guns, and I hate the fact that you are obliged to do your military service in Turkey. Why? Are we at war? Did they ask me if I wanted to do it? No.”
“So when I went to the military offices,” he continued, “I told them that I was gay.”
As a result, Dincbag was sent to a series of military hospitals.
“It took me three months to get a medical report from the army, running from one hospital to another,” he said. “They made it super difficult. At one military hospital, they put me with three other gay friends in the heavily mentally ill ward. It was a place for people suffering from schizophrenia or serious depression.”
“We stayed 10 days in rooms with metal grills on the windows and doors,” he continued. “Toward the end I thought I was really going mad.”
After the ordeal was over, Dincbag received an official medical report: “The medical report said I had a ‘psychosexual disorder.’ The army sees homosexuality as illness.”
According to the Turkish Football Federation, anyone who is barred from military service for health reasons cannot work as a referee. This meant Dincbag was out of a job. To add insult to injury, the federation also leaked his story to the media.
“In a few weeks the whole national media started writing about the gay referee,” Dincbag said. “I was shocked beyond words. The national media was pursuing me vigorously.”
As a result of the unwanted media attention, Dincbag struggled with finding a new job: “I applied for over 150 jobs. I was even refused as a dishwasher boy. Everybody knows me now.”
Dincbag said he’s also received a number of threats, which is part of what motivated him to go public with his story and sue the federation. He hopes to set a positive example for other gay people living in Turkey.
“When we win the case I believe that many homosexual friends who are regularly fired because of their sexual choices will see it as an example,” he said. “This is what I am fighting for. I want these people to think that there is justice in this country. And employers will think twice before they fire anybody.”
“The case has been going on for three-and-a-half years now,” he continued. “The last hearing will be in December, and it looks like we are going to win.”
Of course, winning the case won’t undo everything he’s endured over the last four years, but it will be a start. Dincbag is hopeful about his future and has grown more confident in himself and his sexuality.
“It breaks my heart to watch a match but not be able to do what I like most,” he said. “When I am in the stadium, the fresh smell of grass makes me tearful. For 14 years I worked in that sector, and now it means nothing.”
“Soccer is my source of life,” he continued. “And I have been away from it for the last four years. And now if I go back to stadiums and the hooligans shout ‘faggot referee,’ I will turn and say: ‘Yes, I am. You have a problem with it?’”