15/02/2005 | Writer: KAOS GL

Homosexuals in Turkey believe the European Union has failed to lend them adequate support and expect Brussels to speak out in favor of their struggle for equal rights in the mainly Muslim nation, activists said Tuesday.

Ali Erol, a member of one of Turkey's leading gay and lesbian groups, KAOS GL, told a conference that the EU, which Ankara is seeking to join, has failed to react to discrimination against homosexuals as strongly as it does to other human rights abuses in the country.

"When it concerns homosexuals, the issues are passed over in silence, maybe because there is no penalty" for homosexuality in Turkish law, Erol said.

He gave as an example a penal code reform last autumn. The government dropped from the draft a provision that would have made discrimination "on the basis of sexual orientation" a jailable offence.

"While everything is being questioned in the EU, no one bothered to ask where the (article on) sexual orientation vaporized," he said.

Even though the homosexual movement in Turkey is still in its fledgling stages, gays and lesbians have become increasingly outspoken in recent years.

Tuesday's conference marked the completion of a KAOS GL project, sponsored by the British embassy here, which provided training for human rights activists on how to incorporate the long-neglected issue of homosexual rights into their campaigns.

Activists agree Turkey is far ahead of other Muslim nations when it comes to tolerance for homosexuals.

Most Muslim countries punish homosexuality -- some with death -- whereas in Turkey same-sex relationships have never been criminalized and homosexuals today figure among the country's top celebrities.

Still, prejudice is strong in daily life.

Activists say most of them risk their jobs if they disclose their sexual identity, with no laws to protect them. Police are notoriously harsh with transsexuals and transvestites.

Kursad Kahramanoglu, the Turkish co-head of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), expressed hope that Turkey's EU accession process would strengthen efforts to stamp out discrimination.

"I would hate to see things happening in Turkey because the EU is forcing its hand, but we have to use this opportunity," he told the conference.

Original link: http://www.eubusiness.com/afp/050215193340.vicnn8am

Tags: human rights