16/11/2020 | Writer: Yunus Emre Demir

LGBTI+ employees in Turkey follow a compulsory strategy to conceal their SOGIESC to minimize the potential discrimination and harassment risk starting from the search for a job.

LGBTI+ employees and compulsory strategy for concealing SOGIESC / Reyda Ergün Kaos GL - News Portal for LGBTI+

Reyda Ergün from Kadir Has University is our first guest in the series: Lavender Ceiling, where we talk about what LGBTI+ persons experience in the labor life. With Ergün, who took part in the research team of joint research studies: “The Situation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex Employees at Public Sector in Turkey” and “The Situation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgender and Intersex Employees at Private Sector in Turkey” conducted by Kaos GL and Kadir Has University, we discussed the situation of LGBTI+ persons in employment.

Hi. First of all I would like to thank you for accepting to participate in this interview. Can you tell us about yourself?

Hi Yunus Emre, thank you for this interview. It is highly significant for me to find the opportunity to talk about the findings of our research we conducted on the situation of LGBTI+ persons in employment in Turkey within the scope of 1 May. I know that the whole research team feels this way.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am an academician of Kadir Has University Faculty of Law, Department of Philosophy and Sociology of Law. Gender and sexuality studies and its legal aspects are among my fields of studies.

I think the first situation report was published in 2015 focused on the private sector. Can you tell us about the development/change process of the reports since that day? How long have you been in this study? How did you initiate this, what were the motivations behind and have you ever experienced any technical, academic or political difficulties in the process? What has changed since the beginning of the report and what caused these changes?

These reports are actually having a nature for sharing the results of the annual research with the public. The first research was conducted by Kaos GL in 2015 regarding the private sector in a limited manner. In this research, it was aimed to identify the experiences of LGBTI+ persons regarding the working conditions in the private sector in Turkey as well as the forms of discrimination they face in the workplace and in the recruitment process. In 2017, in parallel to this research on the private sector, a second research open to the participation of LGBTI+ persons working in the public sector was initiated. We, as Kadir Has University Gender and Women’s Studies Research Center, were involved in this process in 2018. I was not in the first team developing the project, so it is not possible for me to answer questions about the motivation behind conducting these research studies and the difficulties encountered in the first years. However, for both Kaos GL and the Center, I can say that every work on human rights carried out by combining activism and the experience and expertise of the academy is extremely important. Secondly, the employment is not a field studied enough around the world and in Turkey regarding the rights of LGBTI+ persons. However, it is generally accepted in the human rights literature today that economic, social and cultural rights, which are called second generation rights, and first generation rights, that is, civil and political rights, have a very close relation with each other. For this reason, labor life is a field where data collection is significant in order to assess the discrimination against LGBTI + persons with a holistic perspective in any country. I think Kaos GL has acted with such a motivation for addressing an important gap in Turkey by initiating these research studies. Contributing to the opportunities provided by the data pool provided by such a research study covering years to the policies to be developed within the framework of advocacy and struggle for the rights was the biggest motivation behind our participation in the process, as the Center.

With the publication of the 2019 reports, the private sector research has completed its fifth year, and the public sector research has completed its third year. For each long-term study, reporting the evaluations of the previous year, identifying the technical, academic and political difficulties encountered, producing solutions to overcome them in the next year, in other words, the preparation phase of the next year is of course one of the most important stages of the research. In this context, we try to move forward by without making major interventions to research methods and questions in order to make analysis covering 5-10 years possible, but also by making the necessary changes in line with the evaluations of the project team and the feedback we receive for the research.

To mention the prominent changes over the five-year period, I would like to emphasize the following: The expansion of the sampling, thus reflecting a sexual orientation and gender identity spectrum closer to the research universe, and reflecting the diversity of employment, has become one of the most important goals of each year’s preparation phase. It can be said that we have achieved this goal, at least in terms of the number of respondents. The annual number of respondents of the private sector research has risen from 151 to 772 in five years. The number of respondents in the public sector research has risen from 80 to 228 in three years. On the other hand, since our research questions are answered via an online survey platform, we see that the sampling is formed by being open to analysis in terms of qualities such as age range, socio-economic status and education level that will affect whether or not you are an active internet user.

One of our research goals for this year is to review and analyze the findings of five-year private sector and three-year public sector research findings comparatively. It is a very rejoiceful development for us that this research last long enough to make such an analysis possible. We hope to continue these studies in the coming years.

When evaluating labor life, all of the processes such as recruitment, starting a job, working, leaving/being fired are actually issues that need to be addressed and assessed one by one. You do so in the report. Are there any steps in which discrimination against LGBTI+ persons become more intense? What is your inference regarding this situation?

Exactly, the process of job search, recruitment, working and termination of the work must be addressed separately and comparatively. When we address these with the perspective of human rights law, such a method can also serve as a facilitator in determining the obligations of states in the context of LGBTI+ persons’ right to work and labor life. For example, states have an obligation not only to prohibit the discrimination that may arise at various stages of the employment, but also to remove the barriers to the access of vulnerable groups to labor life due to discrimination in society. Especially considering that discrimination and the social structure and cultural elements that cause discrimination are not identifiable at first glance, it can be very difficult to map the discrimination. Employment is unfortunately one of the most difficult areas regarding to identify discrimination against LGBTI+ persons. Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights provides a striking point in their 2011 report based on the research conducted in various countries: LGBTI+ workers are developing compulsory strategy for concealing SOGIESC against the risk of harassment and discrimination. This strategy makes it difficult to identify the real dimensions of homophobia, transphobia and discrimination in employment, together with the low number of cases where application mechanisms are applied against harassment and discrimination. We observe that our research findings regarding Turkey are compatible with this evaluation.

For example, when we look at the data of the 2019 private sector research, it seems that the rate of the respondents in the sampling who stated that they encountered discriminatory attitudes, discourses or practices at first sight during recruitment processes and in the workplace, seems quite low as in every year. However, in order to identify the actual situation, these rates need to be considered together with a number of other data. For example, considering the rate of the respondents who stated that they faced discrimination in recruitment processes and in the workplace and the rate of the respondents who stated that they did not experience discrimination during these processes but who stated the reason of this as they conceal or not reveal their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, it is observed that one of every two LGBTI+ persons working in the private sector either face discrimination during the recruitment processes and/or at the workplace where they are employed, or they are not exposed to a direct discrimination due to being assigned with cisgender heterosexuality by the persons around them. This is a very high rate. On the other hand, the rate of the respondents who stated that they did not experience discrimination on account of any reason (44.4%) should be considered together with the rate of being open among the respondents. For example, only 15.9% of the respondents stated that they were completely open during the recruitment process and again only 17.4% of them stated that they are open at the workplace. The findings of our research generally lead us to have such an inference: LGBTI+ employees in Turkey follow a compulsory strategy to conceal their SOGIESC to minimize the potential discrimination and harassment risk starting from the search for a job. The findings reveal that when this strategy is abandoned or does not work, the risks that have been avoided occur. We rarely come across that any application mechanism is applied against the discrimination faced. It can be thought that this is one of the reasons for the low number of precedent court decisions identifying discrimination against LGBTI+ persons in employment, especially in the private sector.

Despite all the difficulties in identifying discrimination, it is possible to say that the respondents still see this risk as higher at some stages. For example, the rates of being fully and partially open in the workplace are relatively higher than the relevant rates in recruitment processes; the rate of ones concealing SOGIESC also decreases after being hired. All these data show that if an atmosphere of trust is created depending on the conditions in the workplace and the attitudes of the superiors and other employees, LGBTI+ employees can be more open about their SOGIESC. Respondents’ answers show this as well provided within the framework of open-ended questions. However, the actual distinct difference regarding the risk of discrimination and the degree of the strategy of concealing emerges between the private sector and the public sector. The rates of being fully open in recruitment processes and in the workplace among 2019 public sector research respondents are much lower than the private sector.

For the first time last year, we added a question about hate speech to the research questions in order to better understand the conditions that force LGBTI+ employees into maintain such a strategy throughout their labor life. Within the framework of this question, 34% of the respondents in the private sector research stated that they encountered hate speech against LGBTI+ persons in their workplace. We believe this finding confirms the conditions that force LGBTI+ employees to pursue such a strategy in the private sector. The related rate doubles in public sector employees. So, this is one of the reasons that may explain why the rate of being open and proud among LGBTI+ employees in public sector is much lower than in the ones in the private sector.

When I read the report and during the interviews I conducted, I observed that the discrimination was not always direct, and often progressed in an implicit manner. For example, even the definition of “presentable” and the issue of military service can stand in an exclusionary place for many LGBTI+ persons. Did you find it difficult to identify implicit discrimination during the reporting process? Do you think the respondents are aware enough about such forms of discrimination?

I would like to start with the question regarding the respondents’ awareness about discrimination. This is a very important point, and it requires an explanation of our approach to structuring the research questions. We especially preferred not to provide any explanation or definition of the terms while creating the survey. In an online and anonymous survey study, we took care to take the statements of the respondents without onus of proof at every stage and to avoid interference that might manipulate their statements. Discrimination is a legal concept and has a dynamic definition in legal context; it can be said that this is valid for every concept related to human rights. For example, under applicable law, a practice in the field of employment may constitute discrimination, but the person concerned may not perceive this as discrimination. Or an attitude, behavior or practice that the person concerned considers to be discriminatory may not be qualified as discrimination by the law in force, or it is claimed by rights advocates that the relevant attitude, behavior or practice is a violation of the prohibition of discrimination, but a gain in this regard in the legal struggle (a precedent court decision etc.) has not been obtained yet. On the other hand, being able to name discrimination requires approaching the issue with a human rights perspective, and the perspective of rights is not a perspective automatically owned by members of groups exposed to discrimination in societies. If only it were, one of the most important goals of rights advocacy would not have been to raise the awareness of individuals that they are subjects of rights. On the other hand, it should be kept in mind that the struggle for rights is not seen as a survival strategy and model that is accessible to many persons for various reasons or is preferable in terms of its subjective conditions. Therefore, we tried to look at the direction of the perceptions and experiences of LGBTI+ employees based on the statements of LGBTI+ employees by research questions. Maybe I can briefly make the following inference: the strategy of concealing that has to be carried out at every stage of access to labor life and employment is itself the biggest indicator that LGBTI+ persons cannot fully and equally benefit from their rights to work and labor life. Hate speech against LGBTI+ persons at labor life in Turkey is very common phenomenon. However, this situation is not always directly associated with discrimination or human rights by LGBTI+ employees.

I think that the low number of direct discrimination examples is also related to the related strategy of concealing. The respondents’ answers, especially for open-ended questions, show that LGBTI+ employees are almost sure that they face negative consequences if they are open about their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. A large proportion of respondents have no experience of being fired or subjected to different treatment directly on account of the sexual orientation or gender identity because their employers and colleagues are considering them as cisgender heterosexuals. Therefore, as you have identified, in the field of employment, we encounter rather implicit forms of discrimination. In order to identify such forms of discrimination, it is necessary to ask the respondents not only whether they have been discriminated but also such questions in which they can explain their experiences in a wider framework, and it is necessary to analyze the answers given to open-ended questions by using various methods.

Are there topics in the reports where we can see significant differences / distinct similarities when comparing the private sector and the public sector? If so, can you mention them?

The findings regarding research for private sector and public sector employees are generally in parallel to each other. Therefore, it may be more meaningful to talk about the obvious differences between them. While answering one of the previous questions, I pointed out some of them. The rate of being fully open, both during the recruitment process and throughout the working life, is significantly lower among public sector employees than the ones in the private sector. The rates of encountering hate speech doubles in the public sector compared to the private sector. Therefore, we can say that the conditions that cause the reproduction of discrimination and hate speech against LGBTI+ persons provide a much critical picture in the public sector than in the private sector. When the responses to different questions are cross-analyzed, the following result emerges: Aa long as conditions do not significantly reduce the risk of discrimination, LGBTI+ employees in public sector do not abandon the strategy of concealing. In work environments where heteronormative and cisnormative gender perception based on system of gender binarism is very strong, the strategy of concealing does not always work; Even though the slightest word, behavior or attitude that is not compatible with gender can cause a discriminatory practice to be faced by the individuals although they are not open.

One of the most problematic issues in terms of public sector employees is the heteronormative and cisnormative interpretation of some concepts included in the legislation regulating the civil service. This situation creates different forms of discrimination than the ones in the private sector.

From the persons I made an interview with and from the experiences I witnessed around me, I have observed that the productivity of the employees are increased if they were not exposed to discrimination, or they stated that there was a development in this regard. Is there any data in the report that we can infer or verify this situation?

Definitely there is. The info note on the findings of the International Labor Organization’s Pride Project in 2016 points out that LGBTI+ persons who are open and proud at work are much less likely to show symptoms of anxiety, depression and burnout syndrome. The findings of our research are in line with these findings. From the sharing of the respondents, it is inferred that the risk of being discriminated against, facing hate speech or discrimination and hate speech, and the strategy of concealing SOGIESC they had to maintain prevent them from establishing close and genuine relationships with their colleagues and from owning the institution they work for. It is understood that it causes intense emotions such as hopelessness, unhappiness, anxiety, solicitude as well as low performance and motivation, depression, stress and tension, burnout syndrome caused by overstraining psychological and physical capacity. Therefore, this reduces productivity and professional satisfaction in the workplace. The respondents working in workplaces with supportive and inclusive policies, which are rare, mentioned positive results in terms of productivity and professional satisfaction.

Almost none of the persons I made the interview with were members of a professional organization or union. There is similar information in the report. LGBTI+ persons do not both become a member of these organizations and do not consider these as an authority to apply in case of discrimination. Can we say that there is a special situation for LGBTI+ persons in comparison with the unionization/organization situation in the country?

Unions and professional organizations are undoubtedly one of the first areas that come to mind when it comes to empowering LGBTI+ employees in access to employment and labor life. When we look to the private sector unionization rate of workers between Turkey we are already seeing that in general it is very low. This is a problem in itself in terms of the struggle for economic and social rights. According to DİSK-AR’s report published in February 2019 named “Unionization Research Report”, union membership rate is 11% among workers in Turkey. However, our research shows that this rate is even lower for LGBTI+ employees in the private sector. Among the respondents in our 2019 private sector research, the rate of the ones indicate that they are union members is only 5.6%. We also see that the rate of being a member of professional organizations among LGBTI+ persons working in the private sector is also low (11.3%).

The findings of our research show that this rate among LGBTI+ employees in public sector in Turkey is not high as well. It is very difficult to say that the members see trade unions and professional organizations as areas of struggle against discrimination against LGBTI+ persons. 33.8% of the respondents of the 2019 public sector research stated that they were union members. This rate is significantly lower than the rate of the unionized public sector employees in general. On the other hand, only 10% of the respondents stated that they are members of professional organizations. Although the rate of being fully open in the union or professional organization is higher than the rate of being open in the institutions, it still does not exceed the rate of 12%. Only one of the respondents, who stated on the discrimination faced in the institution, notified the union of which this person is a member and only one respondent applied to the professional organization of which this person is a member. Similarly, according to the data of our private sector research, 7 out of 59 participants who stated that they were discriminated in their workplaces are members of a union and/or a professional organization, and none of them reported the situation to the union or professional organization they were a member of.

The rate of those who answered the question about the three main measures to be taken against discrimination against LGBTI+ persons in our survey by marking the option “organized struggle and solidarity networks” is 20% in both public and private sectors. Based on all these findings, we can conclude that most of the unions and professional organizations in Turkey are not prioritized to develop effective policies for strengthening LGBTI+ employees and for preventing the discrimination in the employment against them in that regard. However, it is difficult to say that this is a situation specific to Turkey. Inference of International Labor Organization on that the economic and social rights of LGBTI+ persons are not a priority issue for trade unions points to a general problem.

Another issue mentioned in the report is the subject of legal regulations. Do the laws protect LGBTI+ persons against the discrimination? - In the private sector - where the laws are not protect the employees, are in-service regulations meaningful and sufficient?

It is impossible to say that the discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender is prohibited legally in Turkey; while the Constitution and related laws regulate the grounds on which discrimination cannot be made, these covers all the rights holders although these do not list these grounds explicitly. However, such a regulation on paper does not mean that legislation in Turkey can protect LGBTI+ employees against discrimination. The law is a field that is constantly being rebuilt in practice. Often, specific measures need to be taken to ensure that law enforcement officials to interpret legal rules in a way that everyone can enjoy equal rights. For example, the explicit inclusion of the concepts of gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics in Article 10 of the Constitution regulating the principle of equality or Article 5 of the Labor Law regulating the principle of equal treatment would have unquestionably revealed the will of the legislator in this regard in terms of law practitioners. In this sense, we all know that there is no such a legislative will in Turkey.

However, in terms of labor life it is still hard to say that this situation is specific to Turkey. In the 2015 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it was determined that the national legislation in most states does not contain adequate and effective protection mechanisms against discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, and that the relevant norms are not effectively implemented in some countries where there are legal regulations on the subject. Of course, the obligations of the states come into play with this determination. For example, in a publication of the United Nations dated 2016, it was stated that discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender perception and sex characteristics in the context of the right to work should be explicitly prohibited at the legal level. However, it was underlined that not only legal regulations will not be sufficient to prevent discrimination in employment, but also there is a need to implement an effective policy, especially about raising social awareness, ensuring accountability and measures to eliminate the reasons and effects of discrimination. There are similar findings in the 2010 recommendation of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. Thus, the obligation on the subject in terms of states who are members of an international mechanism is clearly manifested, including Turkey: the discrimination on account of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics shall be explicitly prohibited by national legislation and all necessary measures shall be taken for the realization of this prohibition, effective policies shall be developed in that regard. In this sense, in Turkey, we know that how law enforcement and the legislation are deficient in that regard.

On the other hand, the findings of our private sector research show that even when the legislator does not develop the necessary policies, there is a lot that employers can do by using their initiatives.

According to the findings of our recent research, the rate of the respondents who stated that there are mechanisms to prevent discrimination on account of gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics, and practices being responsive to the needs or for the inclusion of LGBTI+ employees in their workplaces is 10%. Unfortunately, this is a very low rate, but it is possible to identify the positive effects that an increase in this rate can create, based on the research findings. We see that the rate of being open and proud among LGBTI+ employees increases significantly in workplaces where such mechanisms exist and are effectively implemented. The rate of the respondents who work in workplaces with these qualifications are fully open is over 50%. To remind you, this rate was 17.4% in the overall sampling. In addition, the sharing of the respondents show that although there is no such rules or boards or practices formally, the existence of unwritten agreement and a corporate culture responsive to LGBTI+ rights can have positive results. As we have seen that in the workplaces where there are mechanisms effectively used for empowering LGBTI+ employees are rarely found in the private sector in Turkey. However, the findings of our research clearly reveal that these mechanisms are essential in combating against discrimination on account of gender identity and sexual orientation and in empowering LGBTI+ employees.

What are your plans for the new period regarding the study?

Right after we introduced our research reports with an event we held on 10 December Human Rights Day, we started the preparations for the 2020 research and published our 2020 survey for the access in mid-April. It is possible to access our survey from the web pages of Kaos GL and our Center. As I mentioned before, this year we also plan to publish five-year data of private sector research and three-year data of public sector research.

Finally, we can encounter many different forms of discrimination while working and in daily life. Or even if we do not encounter it, the discrimination experiences we indirectly hear/witnessed, can affect us, as we call secondary trauma. Have there been any difficult moments you faced in this reporting process that you do as part of your job? If so, what were the methods that are good for you after such moments or are there any such methods?

While developing effective policies for advocacy, data and information are among the most needed resources that will enable a situation analysis. I think it is the responsibility of academia as much as non-governmental organizations to create these resources. Every work that I can contribute within the scope of this responsibility is the most important means of struggle against the effects of the experiences you mentioned for me. I think it is very empowering to be able to contribute to the establishment of empowerment mechanisms, because liberation of one of us means the liberation of all of us.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Our research from the shares of the respondents reveals that the priority of LGBTI+ employees in Turkey is freedom and visibility. I want to underline this in particular. Obtaining legal safety both in general and in employment is of course mentioned as one of the conditions for fulfilling this claim. However, it is possible to mention that there is a common perception among LGBTI+ employees that social transformation cannot be achieved only by law. In this context, it is understood that LGBTI+ employees have demands and claims from employers, universities, professional organizations, trade unions and non-governmental organizations as well as official authorities and political parties. I hope that our research reports will contribute to ensure this demand to be taken into consideration more.

On the other hand, the findings of our research show that LGBTI+ employees do not form a homogeneous group, and within the framework of their conditions and needs, especially the differences arising from gender and gender identity should be taken into account in developing the relevant policies. I would like to highlight this aspect of the subject as well. For example, in the 2019 private sector research, we see that the rate of the respondents who are trans women having an education level like associate, bachelor, master’s degree decreased from 82.4%, which is the overall rate in the sampling, to 53%. On the other hand, the rate of being open in recruitment processes and workplace among trans women is much lower than the overall rates in the sampling. Despite this, the rates of encountering discriminatory attitudes or practices are highly above the overall rates in the sampling. These data suggest that the strategy of concealing is more difficult for trans women, which increases the risk of discrimination.

Maybe lastly, I must underline that the research we have conducted makes possible an analysis of the employment status of LGBTI+ workers who have already joined the registered workforce. It should be noted that access to education that will pave the way for labor life and even a qualified form of labor life has become a separate challenge in itself, especially in cases where the strategy of concealing is more difficult for various reasons. For example, in the process of gender confirmation and after the legal recognition of gender identity, trans persons face major obstacles and difficulties in labor life. Especially in countries like Turkey, where there is no empowering policy for the rights of transgender persons, how the unemployment rate become higher among transgender persons are pointed out. This phenomenon also causes results that need to be investigated separately in terms of discrimination, especially for trans women, such as working unregistered without socially insurance, and being forced into sex work. Therefore, finally, I would like to state that the findings of our research can shed light on only a small part of a multi-layered picture of labor life and discrimination against LGBTI+ persons, and that the increase in the number of research studies and publications on different aspects of the issue is of great importance in terms of advocacy.

Translation: Özge Gökpınar

Tags: human rights, labour