Torn between religious tradition and political modernity, Turkey’s a queer case study of gay rights. Situated on the cusp of both Europe and the Middle East, the secular nation has made many a liberal stride in recent years. In an effort to align with European Union norms, Turkish officials legalized homosexuality, thus allowing thousands of queers to come out without fear of government-endorsed punishment.
Despite these official moves, activists say there’s still more work to be done.
One gay man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was distraught years ago because high school classmates kept calling him “ibne,” a derogatory word for gay in Turkish.
The man, now a university student, said he avoids physical contact with his boyfriend when they are in public, and passes him off as a close friend. He said he is often mocked if he wears an article of clothing that people think is feminine.
Turkey garnered gay ire last fall when officials arrested a gay editor, Umut Guner. Police claimed that his magazine, Kaos GL, peddled pornography. Though found not-guilty, the headline grabbing case skewed queer public image, setting back the struggle. Although, that gay struggle’s most often eclipsed by the country’s other political happenings, such as the protracted conflict between the Turks and the Armenians. Gay activist Ali Erol remarks: “There are so many problems in Turkey. It looks as though gay rights are put down below in the list of things to be taken care of.” Now Erol and like-minded ‘mos are aiming to push gay rights to the top of that laundry list. Next month, hundreds of homos will gather across the country to discuss the gay way forward. They’ll host an “international anti-homophobia meeting” with representatives from all over Europe. An accompanying statement reads:
We want to share and learn the experiences of all gays and lesbians who struggle against homophobia in the Middle East, Balkans, Europe and the other parts of the world.
While the Turkish public debate homosexuality, gay activists are hoping to thrust themselves onto the international scene. Maybe then they’ll get the rights they deserve. Or just make people hate them more. Either way, they’re not about to slink back into the shadows.