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A brief History of the LGBT Movement in Turkey

in TURKEY, 06/12/2004

From the 70ies to the First Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Istanbul in 2004

Like most of the countries in rest of the world, in Turkey a gay culture was born in sub cultures such as parks, bath houses, cafes and bars in especially big cities like Istanbul or Ankara.

Gays and Lesbians in 1970’s Turkey
By the end of 1970’s gays and lesbians who had more economic and educational independence began to establish communication with other gays and lesbians.
An important step to establish a gay movement began in the city of Izmir by Ibrahim Eren. During the 70’s he established therapy/ conversation sessions with gays and lesbians of Izmir while he was working at Izmir Environment and Health Organization. But the 1980 military coup shut down this organization with all other NGO’s of Turkey. Ibrahim Eren left the country to escape from harassment. Living in Germany and other European countries, Ibrahim Eren learnt about anti-militarism, green movement and lgbt movements.

1980 – 1986 – Radical Democrat Green Party
1980 military coup crushed the freedom that Turkish people were enjoying since 1961. But this provided an opportunity for gays and lesbians to establish their own movement cause before they didn’t have a choice but joining an existing left movement. Under those circumstances, Ibrahim Eren wanted to establish a party where anti-militarists, greens, gays, lesbians and transgenders can identify themselves. That’s how the idea to establish a Radical Democrat Green Party was born but by 1987 they weren’t able to resolve the issues, therefore they couldn’t establish the party.

1987 – Hunger Strike Against Harassmentq
Beyoglu and Istiklal Street of Istanbul have always been an important meeting place not only for gays and lesbians but also transgenders as well. By 1987, the police harassment towards transgenders in that district intensified so much, however the media wasn’t interested in what was going on. They preferred not to make comments on these issues.
37 gay and transgenders found the solution to seek help from the Radical Party which was on the process of establishment at the time. They started a hunger strike to protest the harassment towards them. This is the first action taken by the Turkish LGBT community to make their voice heard. Although no substantial success was achieved from the action, it raised attention both internally and internationally. Some successful figures of the time such as Rifat Ilgaz (author) and Turkan Soray (actress) supported their cause.

1988 – Turkish Transgenders Gained Legal Status
After a long legal struggle, in 1988 the 29th clause of the Turkish Civil Code was finally amended, to state that “In cases where there has been a change of sex after birth, documented by a report from a committee of medical experts, the necessary amendments are made to the birth certificate.” But prejudice and violence towards transgenders continued.

1993 – Gay and Lesbian Pride Conference in Istanbul was Banned
A more visible Turkish LGBT movement began to appear after 1990’s. The most notable event was the attempt to organize a gay and lesbian pride conference in Istanbul in 1993.
A gay and lesbian pride conference (Christopher Street Day Sexual Liberation Activities) scheduled for July 2-6 1993 in Istanbul was banned on the last minute by the governor of Istanbul, apparently on the grounds that it would be contrary to Turkey's tradition and moral values and that it might disturb the peace. The governor allegedly sent men to many hotels in Istanbul, instructing them not to provide lodgings for participants. The next day, Turkish authorities detained 28 foreign delegates, most of them while they were on their way to participate in a press conference in protest of the ban. They were detained for over 5 hours, threatened with possible strip searches and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) tests, and deported on a Turkish airline to Germany. The organizers had previously received approval of the event from the Interior Ministry.

The most striking result of this event was the establishment of Lambda Istanbul which is one of the most important LGBT organization in Turkey at the moment. Lambda Istanbul was formed by a group of gays and lesbians right after the Istanbul city government banned the Christopher Street Day Sexual Liberation Activities. After the incident, the group that used to gather under the name "Gokkusagi" (Rainbow) took the name Lambda Istanbul. The group’s first activity was to work with the organizations that aimed to prevent the spreading of HIV/ AIDS. Together with the AIDS Prevention Society in Turkey, they prepared the first Safe Sex Brochure addressing gay men.
Lambda Istanbul became a member of ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) in 1993.

1994 – Kaos GL, A New LGBT Group in Ankara and the First Gay and Lesbian Turkish Magazine
In 1994, a group of gay and lesbian gathered in Ankara to establish a LGBT group. They also started publishing a magazine to cover the LGBT issues in Turkey in 1994 which is still being published.

1995 – Gay and Lesbian Pride Conference in Istanbul was Banned Again
In September 1995, the second attempt for LGBT activities was stopped by the Istanbul City Government. This second antidemocratic prevention was announced to the world public through the Internet and Reuters by Lambda Istanbul. Despite Turkish media’s lack of interest, it has taken place in the world media and Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of Culture received overwhelming protests.

Dilemma of Turkish Lesbians in 1990’s
In 1990’s there were some attempts to establish lesbian organizations such as Sappho'nun Kizlari (Sappho’s Girls) and Venus'un Kizkardesleri (Sisters of Venus). Lesbians in the existing LGBT organizations at the time were having problems identifying themselves as a part of the movement.

1996 – Repression Against Transgenders Intensified
Although Turkish transgenders were severely repressed since they were visible, before the 1996 United Nations Human Settlements Program (Habitat) conference was to be held in Istanbul, transgender people who used to live in Ulker Street, in the Cihangir district of Istanbul were driven from the area. They were arrested and subjected to brutal torture.

1996 - First LGBT Radio Show and First Attempts to Publish a Turkish Gay Magazine
In 1996, Turkish gays and lesbians opened a stand table in the HABITAT II Congress. ?In 1996, Lambda Istanbul started a radio program in Acik Radyo (Open Radio) to broadcast to Turkish gays and lesbians. The same year, it also published two LGBT magazines, 100% GL and Cins (Gender), but they didn’t last for a long time.

1996 – Establishment of LEGATO, the first LGBT group for Turkish Students
LEGATO, named after the Turkish acronym for Lezbiyen Gay Toplulugu, is a Lesbian and Gay Association that aims to connect and bring together homosexual Turkish college students. The idea of meeting at university campuses and bringing homosexual students together first came forward at the Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) in 1996. In the upcoming years, LEGATO was founded at almost all universities in Turkey. By 2000, LEGATO became one of the most important and active gay/lesbian organizations of Turkey that gathers homosexual university students, graduates and academicians from all over, with its raising member number which is now 350. Beside its continuous work on presenting the homosexual student image and culture at all platforms it takes place, and forming the conscious of homosexuality in Turkish society, LEGATO also stands by its basic aims like supplying the communication between homosexual students and common living areas at university campuses.

June 1997 – A Turkish Transgender Activist, Demet Demir, received Felipa de Souza Award
Demet Demir, a transsexual woman and the first person ever considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International because of sexual orientation, was given the 1997 Felipa de Souza Award for exemplary service to her community. The award was given on June 2, 1997 by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). Ms. Demir is from Cihangir, a district of Istanbul, and has worked on behalf of gay men, lesbians, transvestites, transsexuals, and sex workers throughout Turkey. She has been imprisoned numerous times, tortured, had her home broken into and her telephone cables cut in efforts to silence her. As of 2004, she still is working in collaboration with various non-governmental organizations for equal rights for sexual minorities.

1998 to Present – Bi-annual National LGBT Meetings
Since 1998, Turkish LGBT groups have been holding bi-annual meetings, in Ankara in the spring (Bahar Ankara) and in Istanbul in the fall (Guztanbul). The purposes of these meetings are to produce solutions to the problems of Turkish LGBT community. The participators discuss the needs and demands, methods of struggle and endeavors of organizing by Turkey's gays and lesbians. Also since 2002, some family members of gays and lesbians have been attending to these meetings. These meetings still continue as of 2004.

2001 – First Time, First Demonstration, May 1 Labor Day
For the first time in modern Turkish Republic’s history, on May 1, 2001 Kaos GL participated in a May 1 Labor Day demonstration in Ankara with its own group, bans and signs. This was the first attempt for Turkish homosexuals to express themselves in a public place. That also paved the way for Lambda Istanbul to join the May 1 Labor Day Demonstrations in Istanbul in 2002 for the first time.

After 2000 – New LGBT Groups in Different Turkish Cities,
After formation of LGBT organizations in Ankara and Istanbul, new organizations began to appear in other cities. In the city of Izmir, Pink Triangle Group and in the city of Antalya, Rainbow Group were formed. Also two bear groups, Bear Anatolia and Bears of Turkey, became more active in the recent years. With the help of Internet and the development of other communication techniques, the number of LGBT organizations that targets different aims and interests are expected to increase in the long term.

March 2003, Establishment of the First Turkish Gay Library
At Lambda Istanbul Cultural Center, a LGBT library was founded which includes books, human rights reports about LGBT issues, articles about LGBT/queer politics, publishes of some Turkish NGO’s and gay-themed movies. With almost 1,000 books Lambda Istanbul Library has been functioning since March 2003.

May 2003 – Important Symposiums about LGBT Issues
In May 2003, there had been a symposium series about “Music and Gender Politics” at the Lambda Istanbul Cultural Center.

In mid May 2003, “Symposium about Discrimination and Violence Towards Gays and Lesbians” was held in Istanbul Bilgi University with the participation of Lambda Istanbul, Anatolian Bear Group and academics. During the symposium discrimination against gays and lesbians in psychiatry, law, psychology, sociology and social works were analyzed. Other topics held were: “Problems of Travesties and Transsexuals” and “Invisibility of Lesbians.”

June 2003, First Openly Gay Pride March in Istanbul
In June 2003, Lambda Istanbul celebrated the 10th Gay Pride week and the anniversary of Lambda Istanbul’s establishment. (Lambda Istanbul was formed by a group of gays and lesbians right after the Istanbul city government banned the Christopher Street Day Sexual Liberation Activities to take place in July 1993) For the first time in Turkey’s history, about 50 gays and lesbians marched in Istiklal Street of Istanbul and issued a press statement at the end of the parade. The press statement pointed out “The Right to Live Proud” which is an indispensable part of Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The statement also indicated the problems Turkish gays and lesbians face in their lives. Other events that followed the parade were: The traditional pride party, the show of the legendary movie “Stonewall”, a symposium about the history of LGBT movement in Turkey, a symposium about “Gay Identity and Literature” with the participation of Stella Aceme and Kucuk Iskender, a poet recital with Julide Kural and a music recital with Vedat Sakman.

September 2003 – Lambda Istanbul Joined an International Conference in Istanbul
On September 27, 2003 Lambda Istanbul participated to “International Congress of Institute of Forensic Sciences” and joined to a symposium about “Murders Towards Gays and Lesbians”.

Spring 2004
In the spring of 2004, Kaos GL realized meetings in the cities of Diyarbakir, Ankara, Izmir, and Istanbul in order to come together with the gay and lesbian individuals and the human rights activists.

Two new symposiums took place in Spring 2004. The first one is: “To Understand Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation in Turkey” which was held on May 7, 2004 with the support of Istanbul Bilgi University. The second one was “Turkey, Identity, Queer” which was held for two days on April 2004 with the support of University of Bogazici.

January 2004 – Turkish Parliament Justice Commission Considered “Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation” a Crime
On January 29, 2004 Turkey's Parliamentary Justice Commission voted to alter the 'discrimination' clause in the Penal Code to include "discrimination based on sexual orientation" as a crime. Turkish LGBT activists praised the legislation that would result in criminal charges against a person who refuses anyone service, housing or employment on the basis of sexual orientation. If the law had passed, Turkey could have became the first predominantly Muslim country to pass such a law.

July 2004 – Hopes Were Crushed When Turkish Parliament Justice Commission Ruled Out Considering “Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation” a Crime
On July 6, 2004 The Parliamentary Justice Commission took up the discrimination clause and decided to replace it with the discrimination clause that exists in the Constitution. According to the Article No.10 of the Turkish Constitution, discrimination based on language, race, skin color, gender, political opinion, religion, denomination and similar reasons is prohibited but it does not directly refer to sexual orientation.

July 2004 – International Aspect to Turkish LGBT Movement: European Union and Turkey’s Membership Application
International Lesbian and Gay Association of Europe (ILGA Europe) asked the EU Presidency to ensure changes in the Turkish Penal Code in order to amend articles that discriminate against LGBT people. ILGA Europe also called for issues surrounding human rights and acceptance of LGBT people in the accession countries including Turkey.

September 2004 – Gays and Lesbians Are Protesting
Demonstrators from Gay Right Groups marched with Women rights groups on September 15, 2004 in front of the Turkish Parliament to protest the proposed legislation which aims to make adultery a criminal offence and gives no reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

October 2004 – First Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Istanbul
Istanbul had its first gay and lesbian film festival, OutIstanbul, 1st International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival between October 1 and October 6 2004.

Hakan Gecim / Kaos




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