28/07/2015 | Writer: Yıldız Tar
Introduction of the book "Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination" compiled by Kaos GL.
Introduction of the book "Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination" compiled by Kaos GL.
When we decided to put together a book about discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people at work place, we wanted to go beyond simply making violations, descrimination and mobbing visible and start debating on how we could fight against them. With this purpose, we have gathered a wealthy collection of writings from academia working in the field as well as LGBT activists. In the end, we came up with a book that is composed of writings that are linked to each other but still look at the issue from different focus points.
The book Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination presents a wide range of examples of difficulties in labour field, discrimination and violations and the joint struggle of workers’ movement and LGBT movement in Turkey and in the world. And we decided to complement it with an introduction that summarizes the history based on Kaos GL Magazine and kaosgl.org news portal. Knowing that the delivery of the long history will require countless books, we picked significant examples of the intersectionality between the LGBT movement and its labour struggle in order to give you a general picture.
First public apperance of gays and lesbians in Turkey, 2001, Ankara May Day
Problems at work place is perhaps the most devastating and yet the least debated issue within the LGBT movement. A question asked by Kaos GL Magazine back in 1994 is still waiting to be answered:
“We live in a society that is not only sexist but also heterosexist. Capitalizing on the slavery of women and reaching today’s capitalist and exploitative system after transformation over a long period of time, the society we live in today is not only run by men but is also based on heterosexist male hegemony. Even though we run into ‘becoming gay’ syndroms and ‘lesbianism trends’, all that is done perpetuates to the continuation of heterosexist politics and societal dictatorship. Women are oppressed and expolited for the sole reason of being women; gays are similarly oppressed by the heterosexist mentality and the patriarchal society which is the institutionalized form of this mentality.”
“To wipe out... You can wipe out all the native Americans, Jews and Kurds. You can collect all the gays after labeling them with pink triangles like Hitler did. Hospitalization, jails, mass executions, unsolved gay and trans murders... They have all been tried in the history. They have killed gays as individuals but could not kill homosexuality. As long as humans remain humans, people will continue to love people of the same gender.”
“It doesn’t matter whether there is a penis or a vagina between the legs of a trans. Once its mind is caged, it no longer poses threat to the heterosexist patriarchal dictatorship. It never did. Similarly, a gay who chooses a person of his gender as his “sexual object” but forgets his gayness outside of his bed does not pose a threat to heterosexist dictatorship either.”
“We are gay not only in our bedrooms but everywhere and at all times. We reject existing latently. Quantitatively, we might be a minority against heterosexuals; however, we refuse to be a minority on qualitative terms. We do not have a problem with heterosexuals but heterosexuals who violate our right to live are our enemies. We refuse to be less or more. We know that the powerful refuses to give up on its hegemony. In the society we live in today, the hegemon is the bourgeoisie who rules in the name of democracy and who would give up on anything but its power. Maybe one day ‘democracy’ branches out and grows (!) so much that gays too can become free! But we believe liberation is a collective and holistic form of existence, and therefore we strive to end heterosexist dictatorship on political and societal level as a whole. This is why we rise...”
Back in 1994, when the word “gay” was a swear word, “striving to end heterosexist dictatorship on political and societal level as a whole” in the first gay manifestation published in a magazine might sound too ambitious. Plus, here it is important to underline that parts of the gay community, the opposition, left-wing groups and unions of the time did not exactly welcome Kaos GL, a magazine that chose a language against the system and defined liberation as a holistic form of existence. Kaos GL did not look at violence and discrimination only from a “visibility” perspective: It looked at homophobia and transphobia –two visible forms of heterosexist ideology- with a systemic critique, looked beyond the tip of the iceberg, digged deeper to find out more about what was behind the iceberg, and established networks for the self-liberation of gays, all of which distinguished Kaos GL’s way of identifying discrimination at work from other movements.
One of the co-founders of the magazine, Ali Erol, offers the following insights on the emergence of Kaos GL Magazine in an interview by Erden Kosova in September-October 2005 issue of Siyahî:
“We, as people who emerged in the 90s, learned from feminism that gender, womanhood and manhood are not eternal and everlasting categories; they are socially and culturally constructed and that they can change and transform. However, despite its radical position on gender, feminist groups of the time failed to be equally radical when it came to heterosexuality. This is why, from our point of view, the feminism in Turkey in its initial form do not deserve much affirmation. They failed to put distance between themselves and “forced heterosexuality”, one of the founding factors of patriarchal ideology. By doing so, they also fell behind many Western approaches on a theoretical level. While defining women’s liberation movement as a dynamic that will overcome capitalist system and offer a new societal perspective, they limited the definition of the gay liberation movement to “freedom movement”. For some reason, the gay movement was perceived as something that did not have the capacity to shake the whole system. According to the feminists of the time, gays could gain access to freedom within the existing capitalist system. Of course, when you hear this from people with whom you sit side by side, you say “Have a heart!”. How do these feminist differ from the Soviets and the Chinese models that called gays the “leftovers” of capitalist system and bourgeoisie? It is true that, in the case of the West, a part of the gay movement is integrated into the system in parallel to the liberal politics; however, the thought of winning against forced heterosexuality –perhaps the last thing that humanity will face and overcome- never came so close to reality until gays and lesbians emerged. This didn’t happen with feminist steps. This situation was something that limited Turkey’s women’s liberation as well.”
Here, Erol is highlighting that, until gays showed up, women’s movement –the most natural and likely ally of the gay movement- failed to include forced heterosexuality in their criticizim towards sexism. From here onwards, he is outlining Kaos GL’s political path and opens “forced heterosexuality” to discussion:
In the same interview, here is how Erol answers the question on whether or not there were any clashes between the women’s movement and the gay community in its initial years:
“No, there were no direct clashes. But here we can see Kaos GL’s unique side. We started our struggle, reminding ourselves that we were not going to make the same mistakes as our sisters and bothers in the West did. Criticism towards sexism was something almost everyone agreed on. But there was something else we wanted to underline: The society we live in is not only sexist but also heterosexist, and the construction of womanhood and manhood benefit from heterosexism. When we pointed at this, the women’s movement, feminism and people who belonged to other political structures had to question their views and accept that something was missing in their version of liberation.”
Erol’s emphasis on “were were not going to make the same mistakes as our sisters and bothers in the West did” is crucial here. This statement has been a key part of Kaos GL’s steps in the following years: In the 90s, Kaos GL turned its face to discrimination at work place and, in 2001, joined the May Day with its own banner, marking its first public presence for the first time. While pushing the limits of unions and identity politics, this has become a key roadmap: A unique rise without making the mistakes done in the past!
When Kaos GL’s practices today and the publications of its early years are studied carefully, it would not be wrong to say that this was a movement that always left a foot in the labour movement, criticized capitalism, posed radical stance and stood strong on its feet.
In order to avoid the notion that the magazine was nothing more than a publication, there is a call for organizing in an article written by Ediz Öztürk in the 2nd issue of 1994. Under the motto “Liberation of homosexuals will also free heterosexuals” and with its invitation to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities to join the flight against heterosexism, the magazine offers an article dedicated to the gay community with an example on workers’ union struggle:
“Let’s look at our surrounding, to the society we live in:
“Workers join unions to be able to defend their rights, so do public officers. Small shop owners open their associations to be able to make more profit, businessmen unite under their own organizations. When we look at the recent history, women too started to organize against gender-based expoitation and sexual assault. But what about us? WHY SHOULDN’T WE ESTABLISH OUR OWN ORGANIZATION TO DEFEND OUR IDENTITY AND TO SAY “WE TOO EXIST”? Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that people should out themselves. I am just saying it is time to collectively think to find ways to stop OPPRESSION, INJUSTICE, ISOLATION AND VIOLATION.
“Gays raised their voice for the first time around the beginning of the 70s in the USA. They offered alternatives to the traditional gay lives and urged unity against “alienation”, solidarity against isolation, love against rivalry, and fight against sexism and ageism over becoming a slave of commerce and trends. From that day to today, there has been a number of organizations founded for the purpose of defending the rights of gays and are still active to this date.”
In the later paragraphs of the same article, the writer mentions the “Gay and Lesbian Rights Commission” founded as part of the Human Rights Assocation in Ankara. Even though the commission was closed by the election of a new Board, it was a meeting point and a safe place for the gays at the time. However, their work remained unsystematic until independent organizations were founded: Kaos GL in Ankara and Lambdaistanbul in Istanbul.
In the following issues of the magazine, there is much emphasis on the position of Kaos GL: It is not “political politics”, in the sense it is not politcally linked to the parliament or the power; however it is quite a political publication. AIDS, psychology, science, ruling parties and homophobia are spreaded across the magazine pages. At the same time, it publishes letters and post cards from gays and trans people in order to bring value to their undervalued lives, experiences, feelings and desires. They are reconstructing, by inexperienced steps, their language which has been defined, pointed at and stigmatized by the hegemon. The foundation of what will become the LGBT movement or anti-homophobia & anti-transphobia movement was started at meetings in Istanbul and Ankara. Kaos GL, slowly, was setting a style which it would preserve until this date: Critics and personal testimonies combined in a very political and public and yet still personal publication!
After its first publication in September 1994, its 9th issue reaches its readers in less than a year in May 1995. Something unexpected from gays happens and here is what shows on the cover of the issue:
“TO BE GAY AND A WORKER...
A gay can be a painter, poet, fashion designer. But if a gay person becomes a worker, he must pretend to be heterosexual, or becomes a “faggot” if he gives away. In short, it is not possible to be “gay” and a “worker” at the same time. But since everyone needs to work, and we cannot all be painters, poets and fashion designers... Then what?”
There is one other article, announced in the 2nd issue but not published until the 5th issue, on workers: “To be gay and a worker” by Gay’e Efendisiz. The general picture of work place is summarized as the following:
“Since work is not only about ‘labour + road’ but rather a filthy and mandatory act, I would not want you to think I am about to make the stupid mistake of defending both the gay and the worker. I only want to draw your attention to what is deliberately unseen by heterosexual eyes. If we continue to hide like we have so far and refuse to see the reality which heterosexual eyes do not see, then the society will think gays are nothing more than a handful of “artists” and a couple of “faggots”. Why not keep heterosexuals wide awake at night? Why not increase their paranoa? Let’s make sure they understand what it means to assume the owner of the little shop they go to, people they work with, teachers of their children, workers who clean their streets, the drivers of the buses they take can too be a “faggot”. And they should not be surprised, looking stupidly.
“Heterosexuals cannot accept. Because they see themselves as the society. And they do not wish to see us next to them. They cannot stand seeing a gay who is not a “faggot” or a “perve” next to them. They either swear, or let out a laugh.
“Public officers are not any different. Unions that are filled with thousands are composed of only “men” and “women”. There is no need, from their perspective, to additionaly define themselves as “heterosexual”. Because they are of course heterosexual! Apparently the state does not want gay workers. This does not seem to appear as a problem for the unions. When, in fact, they should be reacting to this even if they don’t have a single gay member. But it doesn’t happen, and gay workers pay for it in the end. A gay who “gives away” is either suspended or put on standoff. He is on his own. That is only if our heroic society has not tried to lynch him yet of course. I looked at the by-law of one of the major unions, I could not find a single sentence. (Of course I am not stupid; I already knew there was nothing to find.)
“According to unionists and other sirs, workers at industrial sites and factories too are heterosexual!
“There is one painful reality in all this: Due to pressure from heterosexual society, gays too start to think they are perverts and reject their gay identity.”
In the same magazine issue, personal testimonies of two gays –a salesperson and a cleaner- are shared in an article under the name “Workplace and gays”.
The magazine continues to be published despite “reactions from outside the community as well as within”. When the issues published in the 90s are studied carefully, one would realize the major themes are on education, social politics, workplace, youth and mental health, all of which are major work fields of Kaos GL today. Every single topic that was touched by the pages of the magazine ultimately turned into major fields of struggle and hard work today. In other words, the power of words in the pages was multiplied by this insisting and decisive publication style. This article you are now reading does not dare to go into the linkage between publication and the movement, a rich field that could be studied in a whole new research. However, with two samples, let’s look briefly at the cross-roads of union movement and anti-homophobia / transphobia movement.
The first example is from 1996. In the 28th issue of the magazine, here is how an article with the name “REFLECTIONS ON DECEMBER 14 BY A GROUP OF GAY WORKERS” starts:
“The day you reach the level where you do not ignore this article after seeing the word “gay” in its title regardless of whether you agree with the content or not, you can say you are no longer playing the unionism game, but that you actually understood the unionism reality.”
Throughout the paper, there are opinions on the December 14 Marching. There are criticism towards the organizing unions who ignored the existence of gay workers as well as towards the general axis of the marching. This article offers more than a “See us too” criticism:
“We hope, when the December 14 Marching is over, the current form of demonstrations won’t repeat themselves and that someone will put a stop to the decline after 6 years of struggle. To take necessary steps, we as lesbians, gays, bisexuals will be on your side, standing next to you. And you unionists (you heterosexual unionists): You will accept that there are gays in your/our unions while leaving your homophobia aside and that our thoughts with regard to demonstrations are way more radical than yours.”
It is important to listen to the demands of gay workers in 1996 at a time their position changed to a more demanding one in an ever-transforming LGBTI movement. The language reaches beyond a “Give us this and that” type of tone and rather settles on a more collective struggle perspective:
Of course every act and every article conducted by the gay workers of the time generate further questions: How would the people who wrote these articles, joined those demonstrations and fought in the struggle feel today when they saw the work of Kaos GL’s Union Affairs Section and Education Affairs Section? How would they react if they saw the work of Egitim-Sen LGBTI Commission, the collective solidarity with the unions and Black Pink Triangle İzmir’s Baki Koşar award to Eğitim-Sen LGBTI Commission?
The second example, on the other hand, is from 2000. During those years, Kaos GL’s pages turned colored and started to get in trouble under the “Obsene Publications Act”. While attracting a lot more readers and attention, the publications were found “harmful to the underage” and “obscene” at the same time.
Just like other issues, personal testimonies continue to be the milestones of the issues. One of them is from 2000, issue 65. The spring feeling of March-April issue can be felt in its pages as well. And Ahmet tells the readers about “private sector, his dreams, his gayness and unemployed status”:
“Once my chief told me when we was leaving the office; “You have an artist’s soul, make use of it. You don’t have a businessman in you, you don’t fit the field. Your heart is clear and it should stay so.” Is he appeasing his conscience or what?! Especially this part hurt me a lot; “In your world, the system must be changed from bottom to top. Your world is very different and ideal; but no employer would want this. You are a threat to them.” Perhaps he is right, Turkey is threatened by people like us. But he is doing a good job with pretending to be a “caring chief” while appearing to “criticize” his employer. He is seriously right! Our thoughts are full of rights, beauties, order and details. When was the last time somebody appreciated the gay community which has an artistic soul and a wealthy heart! I believe people can change; and I really believe in this. Regardless of how often I find myself fired! It is easy for them to get rid of me in case I ruin their order, get them in trouble or bring out my “superior” personality. I don’t need their high salaries, football or bedroom talks, fake careers and drunken talks in so-called intellectual bars. We gays get stigmatized for talking about love, respect and peace, and get kicked out when they decide we are no longer “useful for their cause”. Actually they are SCARED of us! This is why I find it difficult to work in private sector. I am not afraid of them; but I do feel tired. Imagine you are in a lame game where you have to pretend to be heterosexual, with an iron costume on you, trying to please your inappropriate auidence (your boss). This is how much fun (!) I get out of working in private sector! How wonderful would it be if all guys were gay, my chief or the employer was gay, or all the girls were lesbian!... I am sure we each would have our own passion and mad desires. I am guessing, because there won’t be any hetero feelings, it will be a healthier place to work; or maybe this is what I’m hoping. I prefer 50% gay-driven plots at work over 100% hetero company! At least it would be my own race, wouldn’t it!!! This is how I could comfort myself.”
Ahmet’s personal testimonies is only one of the stories about workplace in Kaos GL magazine and on kaosgl.org. Hiding at workplace, facing mobbing and discrimination despite hiding, violations faced after coming-out, psychological and physical violence, the final phase of unemployment and feelings around “I feel so tired” happen also today. But beautiful things happen too... After Ahmet said “I feel so tired” in 2000, they went on the streets on International Workers’ Day on May 1st with their rainbow flags and “Kaos GL, the Voice of Gays” banner. It is not a coincidence that the first public appearance of gays was on May Day, considering its long interest on the issue. But this was followed by the question “What are gays doing here on May Day?” from the gay community as well as the unionists who did not question heterosexism even for a second. With Kaos GL on the streets, the union movement as well as the gay movement had questions to answer.
In summer 2001, the magazine went out with a colorful photo on its cover: A group of people running with their pink banner and rainbow flags on May Day streets. Here is how the importance of that day was delivered:
“After BaharAnkara meeting, we went on the streets on May Day with our “Kaos GL, the Voice of Gays” banner. While we were still at the May Day celebrations, we received phone calls from people who saw us live on TV channels. They were shocked, happy and excited, and this of course multiplied our joy. We were the main actors of that May Day, and showed everyone what it meant to ‘Come Out’”.
In the same issue, Murat Yalçınkaya offers an answer to why gays joined the May Day celebrations, in his “May 1st, Wallnut Shell and Tarkan” article. He says there was one particular question they kept getting: “What were gays doing on May 1st? Why did you choose May Day?”. Here is how he continues:
“I believe if we went public not on May Day but on another day, we would get a similar question. Because the general notion about gays is that they are not political in any sense. Because as we all know, the pervert relationship form homosexuality did not spread its disease before the West brought it here and all families in the West became degenerated! This situation takes a more solid form when a man moans under another man and gives up on his honor by offering his ass to someone. In the meantime, gay women do not even exist; in this land, women are valued as much as the word “woman”... Gayness as a misdemeanour is continued in bed and this is a problem. But what is worse is men on the streets or on TV who do not fit their stereotypes. These “creatures” who cannot fullfil minimum standards of becoming humans of course will not have justice demands either! Just like the national liberation war against transsexuals, the national unity and prosperity is possible only through the means of getting-rid-of-faggots-operations, beating them with hoses, attacking them with knives, murdering them and insulting them. In return, what the gays need to do is not to defend themselves but rather give up on their pervert ideas, watch Reha Muhtar while wearing striped pajamas, and say “Oh look at these anarchists!” while watching TV.
“Under these circumstances, of course gays have no place to show up at May Day celebrations, because May Day is a symbolic day for the opposition to make itself heard and for the hegemon to use its terror to shed blood all across the country. This is why gays have no place because they are not serious but feminine, faggot, pervert and sick. This plot is valid both for the groups who go on the streets on May Day and for the state that sees May Day as a terrorist act. This is why it is not a surprise that Sabah Newspaper chose the following title to report on the demonstrations: “The day passed softer than expected”. If gays are involved, the event is “softer” of course as they bring fun and lightness to the Day. This way, the Reha-Muhtar-watching society will be comforted. In short, the problem here is not why gays chose May Day demonstrations; the problem is why they chose to demontrate in the first place. For this reason, Kaos GL proved, if did nothing else, that gays can have demands too apart from being “soft”. They proved it but maybe not everybody got it. After all, we are the children of a nation that is simply not understood...”
Yalçınkaya then summarizes the kinds of reactions they received after Kaos GL went on the streets:
“The leader of DİSK (Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey), a union that carries the word “revolutionary” in its name and once was the leader of radical protests and a key figure in Turkey’s political history, has been complaining that the media gave too much coverage to gays. Let’s assume this is all he said. What he is actually complaining about is that the messages of the unions were overshadowed by the presence of gays. As a result, when gays were so much under the spotlight, the seriousness of May Day was jeopardized. Let’s take his arguments further: He is basically saying, “Was it really the time for this?!”. On the other hand, the General Secretary of KESK (Confederation of Public Worker’s Unions) said, “May Day is the day of victims. Gays are also victims in this society and there is nothing more normal than seeing them march with the rest of people. And in the meantime, the Socialist Party was spreading hate towards gays by saying, “They ruined all our seriousness and radicalism.”
In the following year, in 2002, Lambdaistanbul too went on the streets in Istanbul. This is how the missing piece completes the whole picture... The gay movement went on the streets, carried their rainbow flags and spoke in public against discrimination and exploitation in 2 cities where the movement has been blooming: Ankara and Istanbul. An article in the 73rd issue of the magazine by Öner might help us understand what it was like to march in Istanbul on May Day:
“This was also the first time I ever marched in my life on May 1st. I will write more from a personal point of view. I never really put much thought into May Day. The only memory I have of the day is this: A friend of mine once was on a bus on his way to school on a May Day. During apolitic university years (it was after September 12 coup, plus there was bourgeoisie!)... There was a police search and ID check on the bus; they took everyone with the name Devrim and Turan. My friend not only missed his two exams on that day but also spent a night in jail only because of the name his parents gave him. I guess, in short, May Day was like a “bugaboo”. A bit marginal!”
“Today I saw that May Day was not a bugaboo. To be honest, I liked all the chants we shouted but I especially liked how we existed with our gay identity for the first time in Istanbul, how we waved our rainbow flags, how we carried our banners with our heterosexual friends.”
Collective liberation seeds planted in the 2000s by Kaos GL turned into something bigger: The LGBT movement demanded that sexual orientation should be put in the Constitution. In DISK and KESK’s constitutional draft, everyone had a little surprise: KESK and DISK included the term sexual orientation in their version of the constitution!
There is no need to go into the details of constitutional demands of the LGBT movement as they are already well-covered on kaosgl.org and other similar news portals thanks to the growing technology in the 2000s. What is more important here is that the constitutional demands, a major field of struggle also today, were embraced by the unions already in 2009. How did the “lonely and worthless” gay movement of the 90s transformed into a “comrade” who is key to collective liberation with the networks it built over the years? Ali Özbaş, one of Kaos GL’s key founding figures, tells us. Back in 2002 at Lambdaistanbul and BaharAnkara meetings, Özbaş suggests the union struggle as a new path they must follow in order to succeed against heterosexism. He explains the process as clear and simple as possible. This simple and clear language, with time, forces the LGBTI movement as well as the unionist movement to transform together and reach liberation together. This is what Özbaş had to say:
“Unions are key in the way politics are conducted almost in every country, including of course Turkey’s own political history. Because they unite workers, whether that is workers or public officers, and they adress a mass part of society. To what extend have they managed to reach out to their own members? Of course this is debatable. I am not saying, if someone knocks on their doors, they will welcome the person and say “Ooo, welcome, let us fight for you too.” This won’t happen. But I believe the relationships that are starting up at unions will have fruitful results in future. We should also not forget that unions are not always on the side of the opposition. In fact, sometimes they even connect with whoever is in power at that time. These two are not the same things.”
All that being said, in 2014, Turkey’s witnesses a massive massacre of workers. Hundreds of miners lost their lives in Soma. The country was filled with anger and mourning. And just like every year, Kaos GL was getting ready for its annual May 17 International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia marching. Every event and every detail of the 9th annual marching were dedicated to the those who lost their lives in Soma. The marching was not only against homophobia, transphobia and hate murders but also against murders in workplaces. Thousands of people joined the demonstrations which were dedicated to Soma. The chants “Murderers will be held accountable” and “From Roboski to Soma; the state will be held accountable” joined the rest: “We will demolish the homophobic state” and “We are trans, we are here, get used to it, we are not going anywhere”. And finally, “There is no liberation on one’s own; either together or no one!”
This introduction aimed to give a general picture of the two cross-cutting and mutually inclusive movements. The history of all these movements might seem like a fictional story from outside. We hope this brief history will inspire the advancment of the movement against all forms of disriminations. This is also the moment to salute every gay, trans and worker who lost their lives in hate crimes and in workplace.
Editor note: The articles of “Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination” has been translated into English by Nevin Öztop.
 Kaos GL Magazine, Issue 1, 1994.
 Kaos GL Magazine, September-October 1994, Issue 2, “Turkey’s Gays, Let’s Unite!”, Ediz Öztürk
 Kaos GL Magazine, May-June 1995, Issue 9.
 Kaos GL Magazine, May-June 1995, Issue 9, “To be gay and a worker…”, Gay’e Efendisiz.
 Kaos GL Magazine, November-December 1996, Issue 28.
 Kaos GL Magazine, March-April 2000, Issue: 65, “Private sector, my dreams, my gayness and unemployment”, Ahmet.
 Kaos GL Magazine, Summer 2001, Issue 70.
 Kaos GL Magazine, July-August 2012, Issue 73
Tags: human rights, labour