24/11/2020 | Writer: Yunus Emre Demir
Persons are used to seeing LGBTI+ subjects as victims. It surprises them to see that the person they used to see as a client is now a lawyer who defends the rights there.
In our “Lavender Ceiling” series, LGBTI+ persons in labor life will speak for themselves. Similar to the glass ceiling, the lavender ceiling concept refers to the obstacles in LGBTI+ persons’ ability to be in the decision-making or representative positions that are deemed to be senior posts in labor life. We are starting our study with the hope that all ceilings will be smashed one day.
According to the findings of the research conducted by Kaos GL and Kadir Has University on the situation of LGBTI+ employees in the private sector and the public sector, LGBTI+ persons are forced to conceal their SOGIESC both in the private sector and the public sector, discrimination starts from the recruitment and hate speech is widespread, especially in the public sector.
So what do LGBTI+ persons experience in labor life? Are there differences between the sectors? How does discrimination affect the right to work? Unemployment is on the one hand and exploitation is on the other hand. What are the ways to break this? We discussed all these and others with LGBTI+ persons and experts from different sectors.
Our first guest in this series, which will be published every Tuesday and Friday for a month, is Lawyer Evrim Demirtaş. We talked with Evrim Demirtaş, a young lawyer who has just started the profession, a few days after receiving her lawyer license, about being a lawyer as a trans woman and the violations of right to work of lawyers. Evrim, whose internship was refused by a bar association and who had to complete the internship in Izmir Bar Association, talked about the discrimination she faced and the situation of the profession of being a lawyer.
Hi Evrim. First of all I would like to thank you for accepting to participate in this interview. Can you tell us about yourself?
I am Evrim. I graduated from Erciyes University Faculty of Law in 2018. At first, my internship in another bar association was not approved, I faced bad procedures, I was discriminated. Then I settled in Izmir thanks to some of my contacts and started my internship in Izmir Bar Association. I am also a transwoman. I am very happy that I can do the profession I want.
Is there a special reason for you to become a lawyer?
It would be a very classic answer, but I grew up believing that working in the legal field will make persons strong. I believed I could support myself, LGBTI+ persons and other vulnerable groups more. I studied law to be a lawyer, not a judge or a prosecutor.
I believe being a lawyer is a powerful profession. If lawyers do their job really well, they can prevent many persons from losing their rights in many issues. The humanly satisfactions that I have and can have in this profession makes me very happy. For example sometimes trans women are applying. A fine was unjustly imposed in line with the Law on Misdemeanors. They do not know how to deal with this, and they do not have the time to do it. I know this so I can protect their rights.
You are a young lawyer who just started the profession. Your internship has just finished, but in general, you have had impressions of the field both during your study and internship period. Do you want to share some of them?
Many lawyers are currently working for another lawyer, as a worker lawyer. They are under a much higher workload than a worker who is not a lawyer, there is a huge exploitation of labor, and the salary is generally the minimum wage for new lawyers. Many of them are about to lose their jobs due to the pandemic period right now, because the employers themselves are not in a position to employ the lawyer anyway.
Yes, there is always a need for a lawyer, but unfortunately very limited things a lawyer can do in Turkey. Before the number of jobs available to a lawyer increases, there are so many graduates of faculty of law... There are many graduates and the lawyers get a share of the same cake. While this cake remains constant, the number of lawyers who benefit from it is always increasing. As such, someone make money on someone else, and then labor exploitation begins.
If this cake expands, which is much bigger in the systems in Europe and America, the situation would be different. If this cake expands, the number of lawyers now will be actually insufficient. It is insufficient actually. Legal practitioners’ act in Turkey is very outdated. Whenever this law was written, the work to be done by lawyers is still the same as back then. The law never serves for the present era. Therefore, lawyers are employed like slaves with very small wages.
What do you mean by expanding the cake? What can be changed at this point?
I do not think much about it right now, but the Ministry of Justice can work on it. Things like mediation and conciliation have recently been included in the sector. Studies on these can be done. CMK wages are very low, legal aid fees are very low, and these can be increased. Their scope can be expanded.
We say rights for everyone, lawyers for everyone, freedom to defense; but they do not have money. Persons cannot benefit from legal aid, because the conditions of legal aid are very restrictive.
At the same time, political oppression on lawyers has increased a lot.
5 April was Lawyers’ Day, but this needs to be discussed a little bit. Unfortunately, we have some lawyer colleagues who have been arrested for doing their profession. Laws are amended by the circulars.
Lawyers’ relations with their client falls within the freedom of defense. It is an indispensable part of the right to a fair trial. But lawyers unfortunately can be afraid of facing this kind of situations when doing their profession in Turkey. They have to reject certain clients. Actually, what we will do there is very simple; we defend the rights of the client on that issue. My defense of the client’s rights does not mean that I agree or disagree with the client, it cannot be. But unfortunately there is such a perception in Turkey. They believe that they strengthen justice by oppressing the lawyers but no, this will be their utopia, but it will be Turkey’s dystopia.
Law is for everyone, also for minorities. Violation of law and rights starts with the minority. There are minorities at the bottom of the pyramid, but as they go up they notice the problems in the legal system. Then they say “what happened to justice, where is the freedom of defense, where is the right to a fair trial”.
Do you think the field of law is LGBTI+ friendly? While evaluating this, I also want you to look at it with the following perspective that sometimes some places can be gay friendly but not transgender friendly, I would be glad if you take into account this perspective.
The legal system is unfortunately very patriarchal and male dominated system. The law faculties are the same. If we do not include LGBTI+ persons, it is still a profession that excludes women even in the simplest equality between men and women. Therefore, they cannot sense the presence of a trans woman or trans man in the courthouses, courtrooms, law enforcement offices, and police stations.
There is an incredibly large prejudice. They act as if the brains of trans and LGBTI+ subjects work differently and this brain structure is not suitable for lawyers. Therefore, there is a huge discrimination regarding this. I experienced a lot of discrimination while looking for a job. I found it easy to do my internship but when I was looking for a place to earn money, I went through incredibly terrible things. They never believe you can do this job.
If a cis-hetero person is working on one case, you need to work on 10 cases to prove yourself. You need to put much more effort, know much more. You have to prove yourself this way. Persons have a bias about you when you are a transgender.
They do not know, they do not have awareness, and this causes them to have prejudices. The trans perception and LGBTI+ perception in their minds is funny, enjoyable or something. They can do a lot of things; There is a perception that they can make persons laugh, they can do sex work, they can work in clubs, but they cannot act as a lawyer. When it comes to being lawyer, they are discussing such things “being lawyer is a hard profession, even women can have a lot of difficulty in client relations, how will this person be able to do?” LGBTI+ subjects cannot be well suited to this profession, according to them.
I do not think the profession is definitely LGBTI+ friendly. Even in the minds of the most contemporary lawyers, “Can a LGBTI+ person do this, can a transgender person do this?” There are such question marks in their minds.
If we compare transgender persons with homosexuals and bi+ persons, yes trans persons face more difficulties. Of course, transgender persons are more discriminated, but nobody can say that gays, lesbians and bisexuals are very comfortable. I have many friends with open identities and I know very well what they are going through.
Persons think this is a situation to be disclosed. The profession is in such a terrible situation that the lawyers across you can harm you suddenly on account of your sexual orientation. They can hurt or upset you.
Unfortunately, transgender persons are not visible enough in the profession. Of course, I do not know who knows who is trans or not. But in terms of visibility, the sector certainly does not know this. They are not used to this, they become so surprised.
When I entered the hearing at the Enforcement Court, the judge was shocked. The judge did not understand from my physical appearance, my id had not changed, the judge stopped while speaking and asked me to I look at my id. I gave the ID, she was very surprised and she could not understand it.
The same happens in police stations. The sector is not used to it. The sector does not know this. Persons are used to seeing LGBTI+ subjects as victims. It surprises them to see that the person they used to see as a client is now a lawyer who defends the rights there.
When we look at the existing legal system in Turkey, we cannot say that there are sufficient developments for the realization of the ideal of human rights. Also, there are no regulations regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. For example, if you are a woman who is at the beginning of the gender confirmation process and the process is not officially finished, you have to have your license photo taken by wearing a tie. My photo on the license is wearing a tie because I have not had the financial means to officially finalize my confirmation process, and I could not receive my ID. Since the state issued me an ID card that is assigned male, I had to take photos with a tie. This situation made me very sad. The same is true for trans men. No human being should have to undergo any surgery to do the job. It should be thought that this is person’s own preference, own view of life. Persons should decide whether to undergo surgery within the framework of their possibilities and wishes, but since there is no regulation in the field of gender identity, transgender lawyers are exposed to intense discrimination in that regard.
Are you worried about being unemployed because you are a trans woman, not being able to find clients even if you can open your own office or not be able to work in the fields you want?
Of course I am very afraid of not being able to find a job. I had two terrible months because I could not find a job in Izmir. But since I am a trans woman, I am not afraid that I will not have a client. Still, I want to be a worker lawyer right now because I cannot cover the expenses of an office because I do not have the necessary financial resources.
Besides, unfortunately, I do not believe that I can find many LGBTI+ clients. Especially the middle-aged generation does not believe in themselves and therefore does not believe me either. Sometimes they make it feel and sometimes they say it openly. For example, I had a dialogue today with a trans woman friend of mine who called me about the discrimination that trans women working in the brothels were subjected to. She was also biased while calling me. I gave the information she needed, and she was quite surprised after that. I am sorry for their confusion. I believe this is harming the field in itself. We cannot make other persons believe in something that we ourselves believe. If I had not believed this today, I would not have gone to Izmir.
We subjects have to believe in ourselves, believe in each other.
I want to ask the following in connection with the issue of your internship being rejected by a bar association you mentioned before: Do you think that do Bar Associations and Union of Turkish Bar Associations make the things that they should do? Are your professional organizations sufficient enough?
I do not think the Bar Association is doing what it has to do. We see more than just thinking about the things they already do. They never stand by its LGBTI+ lawyers, lawyers with disabilities and so on, even by its lawyers who are the majority. I do not think they are standing behind them.
When we examine bar associations specifically, contemporary bar associations do not really distinguish between their lawyers. It does not do this whether or not the lawyer is republican, conservative or from right wing. I experienced this example in Izmir Bar Association. The Izmir Bar Association even protects the rights of its lawyer which is a minority, of course, there are points I can throw shade, but it also protect the rights of the lawyer who is from the majority. I observe this.
This is my observation of course. Maybe another friend sees and tells about something else, but that is my experience. I am an open and proud trans woman and I did not even see positive discrimination. I liked this so much.
How was the process of the rejection of internship?
The bar association refusing my internship did not provide any legal justification for rejection. It was anger towards the minority. It was an anger felt towards a subject being an open LGBTI+ person. They did not notify me with a written document. I know only that there were 3 votes for rejection.
I actually did not want to start my internship in this bar association. I knew I might have faced trouble there. When a few of my friends said you would not have any problems in contemporary bar associations, I applied in the city where I live. I immediately started working in an office. I waited for a long time, but my confirmation document did not come. This was not sent to the Union as well, I do not carry out the process for identification or something. And nobody told me that there were 3 rejecting votes that would go to the Union and I would start after the confirmation for the internship comes from there. I realized that there was a shady process there then, because the time given in the law had also exceeded. I later learned that I was rejected.
The rationale behind this was my gender identity, that I am a trans woman. When I recall this, I get very upset. I have experienced discrimination at school, I have experienced discrimination from my professors, I experienced discrimination by the right-wing groups, but none of them affected me that much. I thought I could not do my dream job. That discrimination I was experiencing had incredible psychological consequences on me, I am still getting through.
I still do not understand why it went to Union and what the reason behind this was.
The part regarding justification was empty.
How would it go to Union? How would Union of Turkish Bar Associations evaluate this?
I do not really know that either. My colleagues, whom I consulted, told me that there was no such thing to burn my bridges; only Union would examine my documents. It is so unreasonable...
It is really a surprising situation. In what situations do they normally send it to Union?
In the legal practitioners act, there are conditions for admission to internship and admission to practice of law. In very exceptional cases, if you do not meet these conditions or you have committed the crimes specified in the law, you may not be accepted for internship. There are situations such as being sentenced above a certain year. I did not have any of this. That is why I had a lot of paranoia after my internship until I got my license.
During that period, persons made this decision with their own hatred and reflected their discrimination in their job.
What happened then?
Then I went to Izmir. I mean, I did not want to stay here anyway, but it was not possible to change cities economically. The rents were also very high. While you could sit here in a good place with such money, Izmir was much more expensive than here. I left the city where I live, there were situations like I would receive very little money anyway during my internship, I had hard times.
My plan was to do my internship in the city where I normally live for 5-6 months, collect some money and move after creating circles in other cities. But when it happened like this, I had to make a very quick change because here I would still have been an intern if I had waited for the decision from Union. It was a waste of time...
I took a bag and went to İzmir.
Sorry to hear it again. You were on the LGBTI+ Rights Commission in Izmir Bar Association. The establishment process of the commission and the work it did excited everyone. Would you like to talk a little bit about that?
I got involved after the commission was established. I am currently the coordinator of it together with Ekin. Commissions in bar associations work on a voluntary basis. For this reason, we cannot find many opportunities to work on a case-by-case basis. Our aim is ensure lawyers and bar associations to recognize and support LGBTI+ persons. Our next goal, of course, is to help persons in these matters if they are exposed to discrimination due to being LGBTI+ persons. But we are not able to get into the studies as associations do. We cannot get into these anyway; we do not have enough equipment for this yet.
When we look at the field of law, I see that the law itself is very masculine. And what you are actually doing is trying to find an air within this patriarchal cycle. Is it possible?
It is really hard to breathe. If I really did not want to do this profession, I would have quit 6 months ago. Courthouses are so masculine that it is very difficult to breathe and it is very difficult to get out of the way. If you are a man, you can speak up. If you are a woman, you are a LGBTI+ subject, you are not taken too seriously and you have to fight for it.
For example, I had a fight with the police in my first week. I did not have an identity card, but I have the document. They did not allow me in from the lawyer entrance! Interns normally go through with this document. “Who is to say that you did not fill out this document yourself?” the police stated. As if I forged the official document to enter the courthouse. The more masculine the state is, the more masculine the courthouses become.
I am really confident in myself. I trust my legal knowledge and hard work. When you say this, you still seem strange by the same patriarchal cycle.
How do you stay well in this cycle?
My motivation is high and I have a dream. I visualize my dreams about my professional successes. Where do I see myself in 5 years? I answer this question myself by writing. I write my plans, write down the good and bad things that I am likely to experience I am reaffirming my belief that these things will not psych out and intimidate me.
Last year, I wanted to see myself as a lawyer in one year. That was my motivation. I focused completely on this. I lived in Izmir just for this for a year. That motivation is very good for me.
Yes, I sometimes experience serious discrimination. For example, one day, when I walked into the trial at the enforcement court, a male judge really insulted me, saying, “Do you believe you can do this job?” He said this out of nowhere. I said, “Yes, what is your basis when you say this? How is it related to the case?” I replied. He said “I do not believe you can do it, I even had difficulty”. Because he is a man, therefore “even” he…
That day I came home, I was crying. I guess I cannot do it, I cry because I do not want to be subjected to this discrimination. I have not earned any money anyway, and I constantly cry. I burned out in 1 year. Then I was motivated again so that this discrimination by someone does not affect me. I decided to give myself 3 hours of depression when I face such moments.
But I have to say that there are persons who approach very positively. Sometimes I come across such cops that, for example, they tell me “well done!” In a hearing, for example, when the opposing party leaves out, there are those who say, “I hope you will climb the ladders as you deserve, Well Done!” This also motivates me. I remember I am not alone, and that makes me happy.
Translation: Özge Gökpınar
Tags: human rights, women, labour