GAY PRIDE IN TURKEY
Although ninety percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim and conservative in view, Turkey was the first majority Muslim country to hold a Gay Pride march back in 2003. Organised amidst strong opposition and without the support of the government or municipality, the procession went ahead with just 30 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in attendance. This marked a significant changing point for Turkeys LGBT community, helped raise awareness and acceptance of same sex relationships, and gave confidence to many LGBT Turkish citizens. Other marches followed in Ankara in 2008, and again in Istanbul in 2011 where over 10,000 attended.
LGBT HISTORY AND MOVEMENT IN TURKEY
Views are gradually changing, but Turkey is today still a society with a largely traditional outlook. The 1990s saw the most notable changes. LGBT battles against government bans on their conferences led to Lambda International being set up, a group dedicated to fighting for LGBT acceptance and rights in Turkey. They were officially recognised as an organisation in 1996 and then legally ordered to be dissolved in May 2008 on grounds that their principles were “against the law and morality”. Media surrounding the issue was rife. Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch both publically criticised the ruling and helped bring international media attention to the subject resulting in the organisation being re-instated again that November.
This negative press, coupled with reports of violence against transsexuals and the first gay honour killing in 2008, led the European Commission for Enlargement to write the following in their progress report on Turkey’s accession to the European Union on 14th October 2009:
“Turkey’s legal framework is not adequately aligned with EU acquisition.” It continued, “Homophobia has resulted in cases of physical and sexual violence. Courts have applied the principle of ‘unjust provocation’ in favour of perpetrators of crimes against transsexuals and transvestites”.
These comments highlighted LGBT issues and hit home with the Turkish government. They started to recognise the community and in September 2011 Fatma Sahin, the Minister for Family and Social Policy, met LGBT leaders to discuss a proposal to accept LGBT citizens officially in the New Constitution. For many in power this is still a very controversial policy. It has been met with a lot of resistance and likely to take time to implement but this does represent a giant shift in government awareness and a real step in the right direction for LGBT rights.
GAY MEN AND THE MILITARY
It is compulsory in Turkish law that all male Turkish citizens between the ages of 18 and 41 conduct a military service period of between 6 and 15 months. Strangely, active gay men and bisexuals are allowed to serve their country, passive homosexuals are openly discriminated against and are not. Passive gays are encouraged to pronounce themselves as “sick” or fear undergoing what Human Rights Watch describe as “humiliating and degrading” tests to “prove their homosexuality”. This is in violation with the European Convention on Human Rights and is an issue LGBT movements and organisations fight against constantly. Hopefully with a greater international awareness the policy will be abolished in the near future.
THE REALITY OF BEING LGBT IN TURKEY
Turkey is slowly becoming a modern Muslim country but still fairly traditional in view. It is legal to be homosexual in the Republic of Turkey, but civil rights laws don’t recognise same gender relationships, marriages or civil unions. The Turkish Council of State says that children should not be under the custody of homosexuals but recently exceptions have been made. The legal age for heterosexual and homosexual consent is 18 and sexual encounters see to be best kept private and behind closed doors. Same sex kissing on the cheek in Turkey is considered a normal greeting, but same sexes holding hands or getting passionate in public will cause attention and does often offend Turkish citizens with more traditional views. The reality is that the larger and more cosmopolitan towns and cities are far more accepting of the LGBT community than the smaller, off the beaten track villages where the community is very traditional. There are a growing number of organisations, hotels, bars, restaurants and clubs that are gay only or gay friendly. LGBTs do sometimes receive harassment and discrimination, especially regarding public shows of affection, but thankfully the government are starting to recognise this and put measures in place to limit incidents. In general, the majority of tourist resorts are safe and modern in view with a small but growing LGBT community. A growing number of foreign homosexuals are now moving to Turkey permanently and there is a growing gay ex-pat community especially in Istanbul, Bodrum and Fethiye.
Gay bars and clubs are on the increase in cities such as Ankara, Istanbul, Antalya and Izmir and popular tourist resorts like Bodrum, Marmaris, Kusadasi and Fethiye. There are not many gay only bars and clubs in many of the resorts but most popular bars are gay friendly (see information on specific areas). The following applies to Istanbul only but please advise us if you know other gay only venues in other areas we should include, or if the information is inaccurate.
Istanbul: The gay scene can mainly be found in the central areas of Taksim and Beyoglu. Clubs and bars include:
Prive, Taksim. Located near the Cartoon Hotel. (22.00 – 04.00)
Tek Yon, Taksim. Found on Istiklal Caddesi. (09.00 – 04.00)
Queen Bar, Taksim. Situated behind the French Consulate. (21.00 – 02.00)
Secret Club and Lounge, Taksim. Near the Square featuring well known DJs regularly.
Deja Vu, Beyoglu. Near the Greek Consulate. (21.00 – 04.00)
Ekoo Bar, Beyoglu. Close to the British Consulate.(21.00 – 03.00)
TURKISH LGBT ORGANISATIONS
Lambda International was the first LGBT organisation set up in 1993 in Istanbul.
Kaos GL. Similar to Lambda International and set up in Ankara in 1994, it also produces a gay and lesbian only magazine of the same name.
Siyah Pembe Ucgen Izmir was set since 2000 and is based in Izmir.
Pembe Hayat (Pink Life) is run by transvestites and transsexuals in Ankara
MorEl (Purple Hand) predominantly deals with LGBT issues in Eskishir.