8 March 2014
The European Union reported that attacks and hate speech against homosexuals increased in Turkey in 2013, but that is not stopping LGBTI individuals from claiming their rights in the public sphere.
At least 10 LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Intersexual) candidates have been nominated by political parties in what advocates call a new phase of the human rights movement.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) has put forward four city council candidates in Istanbul, while the Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) has nominated five -- three in Istanbul and two in Ankara. The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) nominated one candidate in Mersin. Among the nominated candidates are gay men, lesbians, and transgender women.
"It is a very important improvement to see LGBT candidates for local elections," Murat Cekic, director of Amnesty International's Turkey branch, told SES Türkiye. "This is an improvement when compared with the past. The situation of LGBT people will change with their active involvement in the political sphere."
The nominations come amid modest advancements in the standing of LGBTI individuals. Last month a Diyarbakir court issued an historic verdict in the slaying of a young gay man, sentencing the victim's father and two uncles to life sentences. Rights defenders praised the decision.
"There has actually been an improvement in LGBT rights in Turkey," Cekic said. "Political actors have put LGBT individuals and rights on the agenda through their statements, positive or not."
LGBTI activist Asya Elmas is running for Kadikoy city council on the HDP ticket. She became politically active during the Gezi Park protests. Speaking to SES Türkiye, Elmas said the protests were the first time people accepted her and her LGBTI friends.
"When we went out to take care of our daily needs, police would bring us to the police station. While all that was going on, people applauded us when we entered Gezi Park for the first time. At first I didn't realise that they were clapping for us. I looked behind us, thinking they were applauding a famous person. After that, I met other LGBTI friends and we established a group called Hevi LGBTI," Elmas said.
By running for office, LGBTI activists aim to show that they are part of society and promote positive changes for LGBTI people. Ebru Kiranci, who is running for Beyoglu city council on the HDP ticket, said she hopes her candidacy will help end discrimination against the LGBTI community.
"The history of Beyoglu is full of expulsions, attacks, and tyranny against LGTBI people. A big portion of LBGTI individuals live in Beyoglu. That's why I became a candidate," Kiranci told SES Türkiye. "We want to have a say in the administration of our city. Our struggle is not new. Police would break down our doors and cut our hair. We had a hunger strike in Gezi Park in 1987 but the police dispersed us. Our struggle actually began then."
LGBTI activist Metehan Ozkan, 39, said the movement is proud of the candidates.
"It doesn't matter for us which party our friends stand for. The important thing is that the LGBTI movement is able to raise its issues and voices in the political arena with their assistance, and we support all friends who do this," Ozkan told SES Türkiye.
University student and LGBTI activist Giray Poyraz agreed.
"I am a Kurdish LGBTI individual and unfortunately, in my country rights are denied to LGBTI individuals just like other excluded people. For this reason we support and care about all LGBTI candidates for the 2014 local elections, because the LGBTI struggle will help us to destroy LGBTI bias, exclusion, hate murders and systematic state violence," Poyraz told SES Türkiye.
Regardless of which party they represent, LGBTI candidates hope elective office would afford them the chance to end the disadvantages and prejudices LGBTI people face.
"I am just a city council candidate. If I am elected, I can't change everything," Almas said. "I am not going to be the mayor, but I believe that to sit on city council as a trans woman will change people's views toward LGBTI people in a positive way. If I am elected I will try to extend municipal services to LGBTI people, like health services."
Kiranci hopes to put LGBTI issues on the municipal agenda.
"First of all, I will let people know about corruption projects. I will be the voice of LGBTI people on the municipal council. I will explain the topics that will be debated to LGBTI people, and I will carry the LGBTI people's thoughts to the city council," she said.
The EU called on Turkey to strengthen protections for LGBT individuals in its latest progress report.
"There is a need for concrete legal and practical steps to address violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity," the report said.
"We cannot seriously talk about improvements until LGBT rights are given legal protection. As a result, chronic problems persist. Furthermore, LGBT people have to put serious pressure not only on political parties, but unions and civil servants," he said.