Turkey: 'The government has begun to tackle the red lines of the LGBT+ community'

During the election campaign and in his victory speech, Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked sexual minorities. Tan Yorulmazel, an economics student, is part of the leadership of the LGBT commission of the opposition Workers' Party of Turkey (TIP).

Tan Yorulmazel on the campus of Istanbul Technical University (ITU). © RFI/Aurore Lartigue

Text by: Aurore Lartigue Follow


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Interview by our special envoy in Istanbul,

RFI: How would you describe the state of LGBT+ rights in Turkey when Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just been re-elected?

Tan Yorulmazel: The current period reminds us of the period of the rise of Nazism in Germany. At that time, Berlin was an important center in Europe for the homosexual community. The city was home to organizations that protected LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people. And the Nazi power wiped them all off the map when they arrived. The pressure on the LGBT+ community had reached a significant level even before the elections. But here, we risk passing a course. We expect to see an increase in attacks on associations, new means of repression, such as the closure of associations, the prohibition of meetings in LGBT clubs within universities. And activists are likely to increasingly face police violence.

During his victory speech on Sunday evening, May 28, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made LGBT supporters boo by saying: "Is the CHP [the party of his opponent, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu] LGBT? Is the [pro-Kurdish] HDP LGBT? ». The crowd nodded, roaring. Why, in your opinion, is the LGBT community brandished as a bogeyman by the Turkish authorities?

In view of the election campaign, it was expected that the pressure would increase after this election, this speech only confirmed our fears. Erdogan has been very successful in stigmatizing a part of society. He saw that this strategy of demonization, criminalization was paying off during his campaign, so he continues. And across the community, he attacks opposition parties saying they are all pro-LGBT+. It is a way to consolidate one's electoral base by designating an enemy. It also makes it possible to forget the economic crisis.

What regressions have we seen in recent years in Turkey in terms of LGBT+ rights?

Since 2015, Pride marches have been banned and there is still violence against activists. Last year, there were more than 300 arrests, a record to my knowledge. There is also a lot of pressure on LGBT+ student clubs within universities. During the protest movement that broke out at the University of Bogaziçi [in 2021, to protest against President Erdogan's appointment of one of his loyalists as rector, editor's note], we saw a lot of hostility towards LGBT+ students. [The protest gained momentum after the arrest of four students accused of displaying a poster on campus featuring the colors of the rainbow flag alongside the Kaaba, Saudi Arabia's holiest Islamic site.] The Minister of the Interior called them "degenerates" on social networks. Then Erdogan added to it by saying that the protesting students were "vandals" all affiliated with the LGBT movement. At that time, the opposition parties did not support them.

Are you afraid?

At the moment, there is no legal threat, but we will see what happens now. For the moment, it is mainly the political speeches that scare us. But of course there is a fear in the community, because the AKP has started to attack the red lines of our community: the rights we had obtained throughout these years. And the entry into Parliament of parties like Hüda Par [the political showcase of the Turkish Hezbollah, editor's note] and the New Welfare Party (YRP, ultraconservatives) is of course very scary to us.

How do you live when you are gay, lesbian, bi or trans today in Turkey?

In Turkey, it is very difficult to appear in public places as LGBT+. We only feel comfortable in places where we know we are protected: student clubs, LGBT+ hidden bars, friends' houses...

Are some considering leaving?

Unfortunately yes, some want to go abroad. Of course, I understand that they are afraid. But I think we have to stay here and be strong together to fight for our rights.

Even if it is no longer allowed, a Pride March will be held again this year?

Yes, the date is not yet known, but it will take place despite pressure. And of course, I will participate.

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