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Joining the EU: Turkey Must Ensure LGBT Rights

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The fight for LGBT rights in the United States has been ongoing for decades. Recently, the subject of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military has taken center stage. Many have pointed to DADT’s continued existence as indicative of the United States’ backwardness in the area of gay rights. Continued victories and defeats in the arena of same-sex marriage have only furthered this point. Although U.S. policy is not the most progressive in the world, other regions are even further behind in providing equality for their LGBT communities.

A recent article in Foreign Policy labeled four key countries as hot spots in the struggle for LGBT rights and equality: Uganda, Malawi, Pakistan and Turkey. Of the four, Turkey has been acknowledged as one of the most tolerant counties in the Middle East. Within the region, only Turkey, Jordan, Israel and Iraq have legalized gay sex.

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was banned within the Turkish Freedom and Solidarity Party in 1994. The party then went on to nominate Demet Demir as the first transgendered candidate to run for local elections in Istanbul.

In June 2003, the first Pride march in Turkish history was held by Lambda Istanbul, a member of ILGA-Europe (The European Region of the International Lesbian and Gay Association). In July 2005, KAOS GL, the major LGBT civil-rights organization in Turkey, was given official  legal recognition by the Turkish government. In addition, media-wise, same-sex themes are becoming more common.

Despite the progress the country has made in encouraging equality (in Istanbul the LGBT community is thriving), Turkish laws and a steady string of hate crimes over the past few years have emphasized the fact that the country is still in the nascent stages of the struggle for rights in its gay and transgender community. 

If Turkey hopes to join the European Union, it needs continue to modernize its society’s stance on LGBT rights.

In May 2008, Lambda Istanbul was dissolved based on the argument that its functions were “against the law and morality” of Turkish society. (The ruling was overturned in January of last year.) In 2005, the Ankara Governor’s Office accused KAOS GL of similar “violations” against the “law and morality” of the country and attempted to shut it down. Other similar organizations have recently been subjected to the same accusations.

In violation of its duties under the European Convention on Human Rights, Turkey does not allow persons to conscientiously object to military service. In order to be exempt, objectors must undergo examinations to “prove their homosexuality.” According to the 2009 report of the European Union Commission on Enlargement, the Turkish military “defines homosexuality as a ‘psychosexual’ illness and identifies homosexuals as unfit for military service.”

Currently, there is no law banning discrimination in employment, education, health care or housing based on sexual orientation. This is where the Turkish government and LGBT organizations should focus their attention.

Change Article 10 of the Constitution of Turkey to include protection against discrimination due to sexual orientation.

If Turkey wants to modernize its government and join the European Union, these sort of changes must be made.


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