16/07/2007 | Writer: Kaos GL

The Associated Press<br />Jul. 15, 2007<br /><br />In the 1980s and 1990s, Turkish police routinely raided gay bars, detained transvestites and banned homosexual conferences and festivals.<br />

In May, in a sign of how the state has loosened up, gay activists held forums on several university campuses to discuss their rights and the discrimination they still face. Some delegates came from Norway and Sweden, and discussion topics included homophobia, the history of homosexuality and gay life on campuses.

Gays in Turkey say they lack legal protections and face social stigma in a Muslim nation with a secular tradition of government that has implemented broad reforms in its bid to join the European Union - but remains heavily influenced by conservative and religious values. For the most part, they face less pressure than in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries where Islamic codes are enforced with more rigor.

However, Turkey's homosexuals are jostling for more rights in a crowded field.

The historical feud between Turks and Armenians, as well as the concerns of ethnic Kurds and minority Christians, attract more international attention and pressure for change on the Turkish government.

"There are so many problems in Turkey," Ali Erol, a member of the gay rights group Kaos GL, said in an interview in his office in Ankara, the Turkish capital. "It looks as though gay rights are put down below in the list of things to be taken care of."

In March, the chief editor of the group's magazine, also named Kaos GL, was acquitted of charges that he had illegally published pornography in a July 2006 issue after a judge noted that copies were seized before they were put on sale. The editor, Umut Guner, could have faced several years in jail if convicted.

The issue that got the magazine in trouble showed two images of men in explicit sexual poses, beside an article that editors described as an analysis of issues relating to pornography. The magazine first published in 1994, and became legal when it secured a license five years later. It comes out every two months, and has a circulation of up to 1,000.

In recent years, Turkey reworked its penal code to bring it into line with European standards. The new version does not specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, although the issue was discussed at the draft stage.

Justice Ministry officials had said that laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and political views were enough to protect its citizens.

"There are some hate crime' articles in the criminal code, but they are not used appropriately," said Levent Korkut, head of Amnesty International's operations in Turkey. "Impunity is a problem in this area."

He noted that even some Turks who describe themselves as liberals say: "We don't want to protect these people."

Gay sex is not a crime in Turkey, and some clubs and cinemas in big cities openly cater to homosexuals. Gay and lesbian societies exist at several universities. But the vast majority of homosexuals remain discreet in a country where liberal views have yet to make inroads in rural areas and many urban settings. Municipalities have some leeway to introduce laws safeguarding "morality," which gay activists view as a potential threat to their freedom.

Some gays, notably poet Murathan Mungan and the late singer Zeki Muren, achieved celebrity status and openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. Similarly, historians and novelists have referred to a degree of tolerance for gay sex among some sectors of the elite during the Ottoman Empire centuries ago.

Yet, for many, being homosexual is an exercise in deception. 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.

Unable to find regular jobs, many transvestites and transsexuals work as prostitutes, an often dangerous profession that has led to the murders of some at the hands of clients.

Some deadly "hate crimes" were never publicized because police did not reveal the sexual orientation of the victims, according to gay activists. In some cases, they said, gays who were harassed or physically harmed because of their orientation did not report the incident or go to court because they wanted to avoid scrutiny.

The European Union has funded gay groups in Turkey, which sometimes coordinate with the Turkish Ministry of Health and other government agencies. Kaos GL has links to Lambda Istanbul, a gay group in Turkey's biggest city, and hosted an "international anti-homophobia" meeting on university campuses in Ankara nearly two months ago.

"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," the group said in a statement. About 20 participants came from other countries, and Erol said after the meetings: "We have now moved beyond the borders."

The Kaos GL magazine paid tribute to Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who was allegedly slain by extremist nationalists in January, by printing a somber image of him on the back cover of a recent issue.

"Those people who murdered Hrant Dink do not like us either," Erol said.

Original Link: http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0715turkeygay.html

Tags: human rights