“We Adore Bülent Ersoy* But Our Homosexual Neighbor is a Monster”

This article first appeared in Hurriyet.com on May 25, 2013

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s Outspoken award was this year, for the very first time given to a Turk – the honoree was the CHP Istanbul parliamentarian Dr. Binnaz Toprak. Dr. Toprak wants to accomplish political changes when it comes to homosexual rights, but she is anxious when it comes to the voters.

Conservatism, the pressure of the neighborhood ... You are used to being seen in these discussions. But when did you become interested in issues relating homosexual rights?
Actually, rights of minorities have always interested me. Last year, families of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) individuals came to visit me at the Parliament. The stories these families told me... They have really been through trauma. People in the society need to show empathy. I want to share and tell their stories with the Parliament.

You want to, in fact, you actually did request a proposal…
Yes, in order to have better investigations regarding all of these [LGBT] issues, just like the “Darbeleri Arastirma” Commission was created, I proposed to create another Commission to investigate the issues. 59 people signed it. On normal conditions, discussing this with the resolution of 800 members on my own is nearly impossible. But the General Assembly has promised to give priority to our Acting Director- General. I, at least, want the issue to be discussed and considered at the Parliament.

How are the other parliamentarians regarding this?
Whoever I found that day, I asked them to sign the proposal. The majority signed it, a few of them rejected the proposal. Of course some of them refused because they were too afraid of what the voters would say. 90 % of LGBT individuals are unwanted in Turkey. To remove this prejudice, political agreements are required. Once a decision has been made, things will be accepted. There is no reason to not accept this proposal.

What kinds of results are being expected when the matter has reached the General Assembly?
The AKP party will probably reject the establishment of a new Commission. The ruling women are more empathic though. They might say “God forbid, I have children, this could have happen to me as well” but last year, they were the ones, due to LGBT individuals, suggesting the word “gender” in the “Protection of the Family and the Law on the Prevention of Violence Against Women.”

How do other opposition parties regard this matter?
The BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) members are very positive. Both CHP (Republican People’s Party) and BDP Parliamentarians wanted to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” to relevant articles, however this was rejected by the other parties.

What do you think is the reason behind this?
In Turkey, people who are different, are not within the standards, and minorities face great prejudices. These problems exist in other countries as well, but here, the majority has fought against the prejudices and removed them.

In your opinion, what problems do homosexual individuals face in Turkey?
Those with different sexual identities and different sexual orientations are excluded from labor. As soon as they show their identity cards, they lose their jobs immediately. This often forces them to become sex workers in order to survive. A business, which is supposed to be a private one between two adults, instead becomes a matter of a social problem. At the same time, they face huge difficulties when trying to find housing. Police violence exists. Among people [the society] there is also a terrible hypocrisy. People embrace artists such as Bülent Ersoy or Zeki Müren, but they treat ordinary people like monsters.

How about in comparison to other countries?
- Very bad. Here, organizations such as Kaos GL struggle for the right to live. Those with different sexual identities are beaten up by their own families, insulted in the streets and harassed by the police. The violence against transgender people is more common. Even the former Women’s Affair Minister, Aliye Kavaf, said that homosexuality was a ‘disease’. However, any educated person knows that these people are born this way, and will die this way.

France legalized homosexual marriages this this month. Is this possible in Turkey as well?
- There is not even a request like that here. The president of Kaos GL, Yasemin Öz says “We are already opposed to marriage in general. We see it as an institution of capitalism.” What they want is educational opportunities, health services and to be entitled to the same fundamental rights like the other citizens. Categorically, there is a problem that most people cannot find work.

Recently there was an incident where a homosexual couple had adopted a Turkish child, which caused some serious discussions. What are your thoughts in regards of this topic? Children in Europe are not always taken from Turkish families for the rights reasons. This is a matter of culture and it is very difficult in Turkey.

Is the work of NGO’s for gay rights sufficiently effective in Turkey?
- When comparing the situation to the past, there has been progress. For example, the proposal I requested would not even be imaginable 15 years ago. NGO activists say “We at least get our voices heard.” Last year, ten thousands of people joined the parade, which only a few, very scared people, used to join in the past.

Homosexual Representatives Could Exist Now as Well

Are you getting any reaction while working on this issue?
A magazine, “Yeni Akit” published a picture of me, saying “Protects psychos”. I get angry. These people say they are Muslims, but within Islam, discriminating and not showing compassion for all people God created is not what a Muslim does. I do not understand how they can behave in this way, with so much disgust and hatred.

Have you ever though “I am doing this in vain”?
At the most recent parliamentary meeting both CHP and BDP came up with a motion to 'ban hate speech”. Everybody with a conscience said "Yes," but the whole AKP said "No". How can people say no to such a thing?

In the future, could there be homosexual parliamentarians?
There is a possibility for that even now. In general, our population consists of homosexual individuals, so it is likely that there are homosexual individuals in the Parliament as well.

Award from Miranda

CHP Istanbul parliamentarian Dr. Binnaz Toprak was presented with the award by the Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon. Nixon was in a relationship with a man and had a child when acting in Sex and the City; she later came out as a lesbian.

* Bülent Ersoy is a transgender Turkish celebrity and popular singer of Ottoman classical music. Over the years, Ersoy has become a symbol for the increased tolerance for LGBT figures in Turkey. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BClent_Ersoy