Turkey: Campaigning for LGBTI rights in school, at work and in Parliament

"You don't have rights if you are not present," is the rallying call of a new campaign headed by IGLHRC's Istanbul-based partners at Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD LGBTI). With the campaign, advocates hope to encourage active participation of LGBTI people in decision- and policy-making processes in advance of the country's general election in June 2015.

"In School, at Work, in the Parliament: LGBTIs are Everywhere!".

Turkey's general election, held every four years, uses a party-list system to divide the General National Assembly's 550 seats among elected parties. Rather than casting a ballot for individual candidates, voters choose only a party. Currently, four national parties are represented in Parliament with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) holding 312 seats, followed by the Republican People's Party (CHP), which has 127 seats.

Although Turkey does not have sodomy laws or laws criminalizing gender expression, “unjust provocation” laws are used to lighten sentences for violence against LGBTI people and the “law of misdemeanors” is used to “ legitimize daily fines, extortion, eviction, detention, and police brutality” of transgender people. There are also no laws on the books to protect individuals against discrimination or violence, based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The ruling AKP, which has held the majority in Parliament since 2002, has blocked several efforts to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in the equality article of the country's draft constitution, which is currently under review. During Turkey's first-ever parliamentary discussion on discrimination against LGBTI people in 2013 initiated by Binnaz Toprak of CHP, AKP deputies referred to LGBTI people as "abnormal" and "immoral."

At the February 24 launch of the campaign, SPoD LGBTI Board Member Erdal Partog stated that over the past 15 years, mainstream politicians have not taken the struggle for LGBTI rights seriously. Partog said the AKP-controlled government has consciously and willing hampered progress in this regard.

Partog emphasized that this is a strategy to marginalize LGBTI rights and their defenders and said: “In the upcoming general election, we aim to run a campaign independent of political parties and to strengthen LGBTIs in both political representation and political participation. We want to support LGBTI representatives and representatives who defend LGBTI rights at every level of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, to work together with them, and to tell everyone that this is a rights struggle beyond the issues of electing and getting elected. Pushing our struggle in the arena of politics—like it is in many other fields—will lead to gaining a legal and social rights framework for our demands.”

Sedef Çakmak, board member of SPOD LGBTI said, "We must actively participate in politics with our LGBTI identities in order to show decision-makers that being LGBTI is not something that needs to be hidden, shunned, treated or eliminated, to pass laws for LGBTIs, and to repair the negative associations in society. Only in this way can we ensure a truly participatory democracy in society, in the parliament, and in political parties."

Since launching on Tuesday the Mecliste LGBTİ campaign has gained over 700 followers on social media. Follow the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. Fore more information, read the full press release at LGBTI News Turkey.