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When you come out
1 Aug 2010
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“Unfortunately, violence is almost promoted by the government. You don’t have to be LGBT. You could be Kurdish. You could be Armenian. That means you deserve violence. You could be a woman. You deserve to be raped. You could be a gypsy. I try to talk about all the minorities because, you know, being LGBT is not my only identity. It’s not only LGBT rights that are being violated. Human rights in general are being violated.”

Kaos GL. Turkish LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights organisation founded in 1994, which publishes a quarterly magazine, hosts cultural activities, and runs a LGBT history library. A registered NGO since 2005, Kaos GL also organizes an annual LGBT march and holds anti-homophobia meetings on major university campuses. Interviewed August 2010.

When you come out

I started volunteering at Flying Broom. Only, I didn’t feel at home. It was also only heterosexual women. I was tired of listening to the same woman stories. It was just stories about husbands and mother-in-laws. For them it was just women’s stories, but for me it was not just women’s stories at all. I was different from them. There was no place for a woman who was different. I said this is just not the place I want to be. I searched for same-sex, and I found Kaos.

I came here as a volunteer for two years, and then I was given the opportunity to work here. Here, we do advocacy for sexual minorities in Turkey, LGBT individuals, and it’s mainly providing these individuals with services: Health, counseling or professional help, legal help. If they’re experiencing a violation of rights, they come and report it to us. If a person is beaten up, we have lawyers both in Ankara and Istanbul to follow the case.

It depends on how old the person is if we are able to help them. If she is under eighteen, we could call some social work service, but it’s not good. The service is not even good for heterosexual kids, so for gay kids it’s going to be even harder. We do have one professional staff who studied social work at school, and he has better ways of approaching these institutions, but we’re not at that level yet.

We also have a website, which is the only LGBT news portfolio in Turkey. We don’t put only news about the LGBT communities but also hate crimes against women, what happens to a woman if she’s raped, and the government’s approach to rape and the crimes. It’s also a feminist website. We write news with a language that is not homophobic, that is not sexist. We train journalists. We train them how to follow articles. We have around a hundred journalists writing for many cities around Turkey.

Kaos was established in 1994 when a group of gay people got together writing stories, and they started a magazine. It was black and white, really simple paper, and they were preparing it at home. It was handwritten. There was no technology at all. The magazine was handed out. Now, it’s colorful, hard-copy, high-class paper, nothing like the first version. Now, it’s for sale, and it’s distributed to the other cities.

In 1994, it was only a magazine, but the organization is a result of that magazine. The organization was founded in 2005. It’s the first gay organization in Turkey. It’s the first one, not the only one. They did have some problems in establishing Kaos, but there are now five gay associations in Turkey, two in Ankara.

We’re eight professional staff in the office, five men, three women. The number of people we reach on a regular basis is maybe two thousand, but about twenty-five people volunteer on a regular basis. 

I’ve been quite active since 2006. I work as the editor-in-chief of the magazine. I have to read everything before it’s published. When the magazine comes out, there’s nothing I want to read. I have read everything in it three times already. But for other people, yes, the magazine is exciting.

My main title is the editor-in-chief but my annual job is to organize an international meeting in May. The international meeting is the biggest event that we do. It’s a dedication to the Idaho day, which is the international day against homophobia. It’s a celebration of the fact that homosexuality was taken out of the mental illness list of the world health center. It’s a dedication to that day. This year, the meeting was held in fourteen different cities in Turkey and we reached five thousand people. It was amazing. We got together, academicians, students, politicians and from Turkey and from the E.U, and it was a massive celebration.

We also do marches at the beginning of that celebration and at the end. This year, the celebration took three months. It started in March and then it was March, April, May, until the end of May. We started with a rainbow march in March, and that main pride week is organized by Lambda, which is another gay organization in Istanbul. We finished the whole international meeting in Ankara, and we tried to bring a well-known speaker for this closing march. This year we brought Judith Butler[1] from Berkeley. It was amazing. Almost a thousand people watched her. It was like a concert.

For next year, we have to find a speaker that will bring more than a thousand, but we don’t want to have just speakers that can only talk about the gay movement. That’s not what we do. We try to transform the whole society. We try to find names who can talk about social equality.

For 2012, we got a promise from an activist Spivak.[2] Actually, she’s not so much of an activist. She’s more like a queen academician. She talks about global capitalism and equality and post-colonialism and ethnicity and queer politics altogether, and she’s amazing.

For that international meeting, we organize it with the help of feminist groups. We try to get as many feminists as we can to talk about this. We really can’t do anything if we can’t work with feminists. It’s also not only women, not only feminism, but we also try to work with groups that work against militarism, too. Homophobia is also linked with militarism, yes, and also racism. Any of these ‘isms’ in Turkey. We have so many. We need to work with every possible minority that doesn’t use violence for advocacy. We should be working with them.

Unfortunately, violence is almost promoted by the government. You don’t have to be LGBT. You could be Kurdish. You could be Armenian. That means you deserve violence. You could be a woman. You deserve to be raped. You could be a gypsy. I try to talk about all the minorities because, you know, being LGBT is not my only identity.

It’s not only LGBT rights that are being violated. Human rights in general are being violated. I would say it’s the state violence. For example, a neighborhood of hundreds of people was forced to move to another part of the city by nationalist Turks, and the government didn’t do anything.

For trans-women, they have to live at night. They have to be sex workers because they can’t find jobs. When they work at night, the police stalk them. They beat them up every day. It’s just a daily life for them, seeing the police every day, being humiliated, being beat up. It’s normalized.

What else? Hate crimes. When a person is killed, the person who commits the crime has the right to use the article called “unfair provocation” which means you were provoked, which means you did not know that person was gay or trans. You found out at the last minute, so you were shocked and started stabbing that person twenty-five times. You could easily make up a story like this. Your punishment could get lowered because of that “unfair provocation” law.

Also, speaking generally, it’s hard for people to establish LGBT associations. Kaos is easily established because the government didn’t see it as threatening. It was only one single association. Then more came. The ones after Kaos, they all faced closure trials. The government wanted to close them because they were against public morality. It’s actually in the constitution, something called “public morality.” It’s the Turkish way of life. They were found threatening to Turkish way of life, whatever that means.

They wanted to close them, but there was so much pressure from the European Union. They said, “You can’t close it if you want to become a member of the E.U.” So Lambda, the one in Istanbul, was not closed, but the final decision says they’re not going to be closed as long as they don’t spread homosexuality. This is still a really problematic decision. If the judge decides they are spreading homosexuality, are they going to close?

The biggest challenge for our movement is probably the society, the politicians, and the constitution itself neglecting the LGBT community. We’re not mentioned in any way, in paperwork. We’re not mentioned in the media. If we are mentioned, it’s in a bad way. I think people are not really fairly represented in the media, visual or written media at all. If we are represented, it’s a really violent trans-person or a lesbian that is being violent on the streets. We don’t really have a good image of ourselves in any parts of society.

Then, people don’t really come out. If you come out, you could be beaten up by your father. If someone comes out at work, they can be fired immediately. They wouldn’t say they’re firing you because you’re gay. They would say they’re firing you because you’re late, even though you’re not late. It’s really easy to cover that up. It’s really easy to find an excuse with the Turkish constitution. You could just make up an excuse to fire that person, and there’s no way of proving it.

In Europe and in the US, when you say, “My rights were violated,” the person who supposedly violated the right has to prove that he or she did not. In Turkey, you need to prove that your rights were violated. It’s the victim who needs to prove all, which is almost impossible. Even if it was possible, you wouldn’t really file a lawsuit because you were humiliated just because you were gay. The judge would probably laugh at you.

Also, if you want to file a lawsuit in court, it means you come out to your parents too. It could happen that you come out to the whole society. That happened to a gay referee on TV. He was on TV with his face was covered up talking about how hard it was for him to be gay in the futbol federation. The people were making fun of him on TV. He just said, “I’m going to take this mask off because I can’t live like this. It’s me. It’s my identity.”

He didn’t intend to come out on TV but the way they were talking just made him come out. He said, “I don’t want to be living with this shame and ashamed of my identity.” He was amazing on TV and got really popular too. But it was almost an unwilling "coming out" to the whole country. It was really shocking.

Even his parents found out about it from TV. Can you imagine that?  Your son coming out on TV. He said his mom called. His father and his uncle, no one spoke to him afterwards, but his mom called and said, just crying, “You’re my son.” So you could be coming out to your parents on TV. That’s an extreme case, but when you press charges for discrimination, you would have to come out your parents and your workplace.

Generally, he did get some positive reaction because he lost his job. That was the idea. It was like, “Poor guy, he lost his job,” empathizing with that situation rather than the identity. He didn’t get his job back, but he got another job afterwards, some friendly people. 

I see this and I can’t really judge people for not coming out. On the other side, I think people should come out because this is where the politics is. Politics is only done when you come out. Personally, that’s the only way I can do advocacy for myself.

Also if more people come out, we have more images of LGBT people. Then, we don’t really worry about what is a good gay person and what is a bad gay person. We don’t need to worry about this representation thing. A gay could be a criminal or a hero. We would have so many examples of the different lives of LGBT, just like there are all different types of heterosexual people. What I personally think, I want to break that chain of isolating LGBT communities. LGBT people are starting to live as a ghetto. I want to combat this. We don’t want to live in small places. We do not want to live as a community where people are the same. We’re not the same. We’re poor, we’re rich, we’re educated, we’re not educated. The variety that society has is in the LGBT community as well. We shouldn’t be just living as a small, isolated group of people.

Here at Kaos, we do talk to students. It’s only university students, and we have to get an invitation from the academician first. We can’t just go in, but we do get some invitations from university teachers. It depends on the teacher, actually. 

Schools can be threatening to sexual minorities. If there are LGBT centers at schools, the centers are not open by the schools itself. Maybe like five schools have such clubs and they have a hard time. For example, when they want to host us at school, they have to get these permissions that other clubs don’t have to.  Sometimes the schools don’t let us onto campus, and sometimes they cancel the event on the same day. This happens all the time.

I also have a friend who’s been going to university for almost ten years. She just doesn’t want to go. She doesn’t want to finish. She’s been canceling classes, dropping classes. It’s just a nightmare for her because she’s an open person on campus. We don’t know when she’s going to finish school. At her house, it’s the same. At her workplace, it’s the same. You don’t want to be known by your colleagues and especially by your employer.

Even so, I think compared to how it was even five years ago, I think there is a big change. I mean, we never thought it would be possible to bring five thousand people together in three months. Another success is that the civil society organizations in Turkey finally understand they can’t do human rights without including LGBT rights.

Organizing meetings, international meetings, trying to bring some media attention, bringing people together, talking about this creates a big alliance. It’s not just the gay community but also heterosexual people too. It works to create an environment where people can talk about these issues. There were times we were refused by the human rights organizations. Now, they don’t need to openly support us, but they know they can’t ignore us anymore.

That was the biggest success in our society because the civil society organizations themselves had no idea about LGBT rights. That made them homophobic. Now, more people are talking about this. More academicians are coming out as gay-friendly and invite us. Sometimes it’s not as bad as it is in other parts of society. For example, when we talk to students, half the class just leaves and half the class stays. That is a success.


[1]Judith Butler: An American post-structuralist philosopher, who has contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, political philosophy, and ethics.

[2]Gayatri Spivak: Indian literary critic, theorist, and professor, best known for challenging colonialism. She often focuses on texts of those marginalized by dominant western culture: Immigrants, the working class, and women.

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