© Reuters. Cayan Hakiki studies for the university entrance exams at his home in Ankara, Turkey, on June 19, 2021. REUTERS / Cagla Gurdogan
(Corrects how Hakiki identifies and makes clear references to the broader LGBT + community rather than the transgender community)
By Ece Toksabay
ANKARA (Reuters) -Cayan Hakiki cut his nails and took off his polish last week so he could take Turkish university entrance exams undisturbed, as advocacy groups say LGBT + people face discrimination every more open.
“I didn’t want any problems at the entrance,” Hakiki, 23, told Reuters at his home in the capital Ankara. Hakiki is identified as “lubunya” in Turkish, a term that refers to people who identify with the LGBT + culture but for whom there is no direct translation.
“We are subject to all kinds of violence from the moment we began to exist as an LGBTI + person, whether from people on the street, from the government or from the police.”
Advocates say the crackdown on Pride events and other restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly reflect the government’s tougher hand, including recent open complaints from the LGBTI community.
The government of President Tayyip Erdogan has rejected such accusations of discrimination and says the police are upholding the law against “illegal” protests. In other cases, the government has denied the existence of LGBTI people or has said that the concept was imported from the West and represents a threat to family values.
Transgender Europe, a network of organizations advocating for rights, says that 54 transgender people were killed in Turkey from 2008 to September 2020, the highest rate in Europe. Reuters has not independently confirmed the figure.
Unreported cases mean the number is likely to be higher, he said, adding that transgender people face discrimination, including being denied jobs, housing, health care and education.
Last week, when international Pride month ended, Turkish authorities, including police in riot gear, detained about 100 people who were taking part in parades and demonstrations across the country.
Police used tear gas to disperse some of the hundreds who had gathered, and the government said they were responding in part to the vandalism.
Such events have been banned in recent years, although thousands of people have participated in the main Istanbul Pride parade in the past.
When asked to comment on claims that government rhetoric and policies increase personal risk for transgender people, the Interior Ministry and the Presidential Palace did not immediately comment.
The European Union’s human rights concerns have hampered Turkey’s accession process, which has been languishing for years after the bloc informally suspended accession talks.
For the third year in a row in 2020, Turkey ranked second lowest in the “Rainbow Index” which measures respect for LGBTI human rights in 49 European countries, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA -Europe).
Advocates like Hakiki, who is part of the Ankara-based Pink Life LGBT + solidarity group, say examples of discrimination, such as difficulties finding housing and work, are multiplying.
In February, amid protests by students and professors over the appointment of an Istanbul university rector, Erdogan and other officials seized the campus display of an image that combined Islamic images and rainbow flags.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu called the students “LGBT deviants” and Erdogan praised the youth wing of his AK Party with Islamist roots for not being “LGBT youth.” More than 100 students are facing trial on charges that include obstructing the police, conducting protests without permission and inciting violence, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
The Interior Ministry and the Palace did not immediately comment on claims that the government’s rhetoric amounts to discrimination against transgender and other LGBTI people.
Last month, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic sent a letter to Turkey’s Ministers of the Interior and Justice expressing concern about the rise in homophobic narratives of some officials, and asked them to change the course and protect LGBTI rights.
“I want to stay in this country and continue our fight for rights,” said Hakiki, who is of Kurdish origin and who has completed entrance exams and aspires to study performing arts management in Istanbul.
“If there is going to be a change in this country, it will be led by the LGBTI + movement. It is the government that fears this movement, and not the other way around,” they said.