In this blog we are posting many things about Turkey. But to hear the “homosexuality” issue from a non-Turkish individual must be more enlightening.
Michael West is an English guy and who moved to Turkey in 2002 to be with his Turkish wife.(so he’s not gay, yes)
He has recently started a blog about his experiences of Turkey and also looking in from the outside of Turkish culture – sometimes in an amusing wife. After watching the film Zenne, he decided to research a little further at the Gay scene in Turkey. He then wrote about is findings on his blog to a wider audience.
Now, on the rare occasions I wrestle the remote control out of my wife’s tightened grip, I manage to zap it to BBC Entertainment. Actually it should be called BBC ” for Christ sake not that program again”, it repeats more times then an onion bhaji!
Usually it’s not a massive problem for my good wife, as she genuinely enjoys British comedy programs. She has a tendency to forget the names of these programs though and bestows her own names for them. For example, Vicar of Dibley is the “Dibley woman”, Keeping up appearances is the “Posh woman”. A few years ago when Groundforce was forever repeated on the BBC, I was amazed one day to hear her shout ” Askim hurry up the nipply woman program is on”.
Her favourite though has to be “One foot in the grave” or as it is known in our house “Angry bald man”. She simply adores Richard Wilson. What will come as no surprise to my wife, is that this week Richard Wilson came out this week and openly admitted he is gay at the ripe old age of 76!. It won’t surprise her because she now believes that every British actor or singer is gay!. What has given her that believe is that every time she hears a song or gives accreditation to a British star, the words ” he/she’s gay” are followed up by me. Stephen Fry; George Michael, Dot Brown in Eastenders, all are recent examples.
Now here’s the thing. I put it to her one day that a great deal of the stars of her favourite Turkish soap operas and her favourite Turkish singers are quite possibly gay also. In fact, you do not have to be gay yourself to recognise the signs when watching some of the more flamboyant performers. This was met with a most definite and strong denial and it can’t be. Of course, what has given her this sense of protestation is that still in 2013 it is not socially acceptable for a Turkish star to openly announce to the world “I am a homosexual human being”.
Of course, the liberalisation in the UK has rightly made it socially acceptable to practise your sexuality whatever its orientation. That acceptability is still lagging far behind in Turkey, still caught up in the barbed wire of what is theologically and socially acceptable. According to the 2011 UK census, over 500,000 people identified themselves as Gay or Lesbian. As the genetics of sexuality does not come with an “opt out” option then one can only conclude that similar numbers exist in Turkey. Although, no real definite numbers exist. What does exist though is the closeted and underground nature that homosexual Turks find themselves in.
Even though some see Turkey as a strong Islamic country, albeit a secular one ,homosexuality in Turkey is actually not a crime, There is an age of consent of 18 between two consenting adults as it is with two heterosexual people. However, what does linger in the Turkish penal code is the the vaguely worded ” offences against public morality” which has often in the past been bought into practice to curtail and harass anyone showing homosexual tendencies or behaviour.
Notwithstanding that, for most Turkish families having an openly gay or lesbian child would be seen as a disconcerted stain on the family. In July 2011, in a report by the World Values Survey, revealed that when Turkish citizens were asked ” what type of people they would not like seeing in their neighborhood” a whopping 84% answered “homosexual people”, the list continued with people with aids, unmarried couples and atheist!. It shouldn’t come as a shock though and I for one do not blame the Turkish people for their reply. Whereas, most of the free thinking world are educated on sexuality, even going so far as to teach it’s youth in schools that homosexuality is far from something to be ashamed. In Turkey, that level of social and sexual education is zero and is likely to remain zero for a very long time to come.
There is a popular adage in Turkey, “every Turk is born a soldier”. It seems though that the reality is every Turk unless you are profess to be an a fully practising homosexual. In a country which has the largest conscripted army in the world, homosexual men are barred from service. The disturbing stories of the demonising of homosexual men into proving their sexuality to army officials are legendary. In the past, some were asked to demonstrate by photographic evidence that they were involved in gay activity. In extreme cases men were also committed to humiliating examinations to prove that they had been penetrated. Thankfully, these practises have mostly subsided although they are still committed to intrusive questioning about their private life. Less we forget though it was only in the year 2000 that the British forces uplifted a ban on people from a non-heterosexual orientation.
This turbulent and often hidden subject of homosexuality could be showing signs of transformation though. In 2012, the Istanbul Pride march, mostly known as Gay Pride, attracted 20,000 people.A marked increase from its 2003 inaugural march, which attracted the grand total of 30!. The 2012 March, even attracting politicians from different factions and is now seen as the biggest Gay Pride event in Eastern Europe. Although, still non-supported by central or local government.
|Istanbul Pride march 2012
In recent weeks in a landslide judgement, a judge in Istanbul ruled that gay sex was a natural act. In a case bought to Judge Mahmut Erdemli, a street vendor was caught in his possession over 100 pirated DVD’s with a view to selling them. The pornographic nature of the videos included those showing men and woman in homosexual activity. An earlier ruling by the Turkish supreme court, noted that homosexual videos should be classed as “unnatural sexual activity” along such activities such as bestiality and necrophilia. The crime carried a four year prison sentence. Thankfully for the vendor, Judge Erdemli, saw it as a natural act stating that sexual orientation had to be respected and could not be considered as unnatural. The street vendor still was sentenced to eight months in prison though for piracy!
Last year, to much international critical acclaim, a film was released to the world. “Zenne Dancer” was made, produced and directed in Turkey. Based, on the true story of Ahmet Yildiz who whilst driving to an Ice cream parlour in Istanbul in July 2008 was shot and killed. Ahmet was a 26 year old graduate from the ultra conservative Eastern area of Turkey. Openly and unrepentingly gay, Ahmet was shockingly murdered for his homosexuality and openness. The gunman was no other than his own Father!. . It is widely seen to be first case of Gay honor killing in Turkey. Ahmet’s Father has never been caught for the crime!
Zenne Dancer, focuses mostly on three openly gay characters and their battle with society and family over their sexuality. The battle with conscription being at the centre stage of the story the film ends with Ahmet’s sad and disturbing murder.
The English trailer for the film can be seen here, and the film is widely available with English subtitles. I fully recommend that you watch it. A truly moving film.
On it’s showing at the Antalya film festival, widely seen to be the equivalent to the Turkish Oscars, the film received a standing ovation from a 1200 strong audience. Although, it has to be said the audience at these events are made of the more modern end of Turkish society. One can only surmise what would have been the reaction if the film was first shown in the higher conservative areas of Turkish society!. It’s quite telling that the film slogan is “honesty may kill you” as was the tragic case of Ahmet Yildiz. The film though, has widely opened up to Turkish society the discrimination that a section of it’s society face everyday of their life’s .
As much as this discrimination has been laid open, Gay and Lesbian rights hang on the coat tails of the rest of Europe. In 2002, the then newly elected leader of the AKP party, Recep Tayip Erdogan was interviewed by a TV show called “Genc Bakis”(Youth look). He was asked by a university student ” As you know In Turkey we have Lesbian and Gay Citizens; do you think of recognising their rights as in Europe, what is your personal opinion, should they be recognised or not?”. Mr Erdogan replied ” it is essential that Gay and Lesbian rights should be protected by the law. From time to time the treatments that they face by TV scenes are inhuman”.
This answer in the affirmative raised high hopes. Unfortunately though those hopes have yet to be acknowledged fully eleven years after the interview.The true answer for progress though, lays in the acceptance of society in a culture well documented for its conventional outlook. Unfortunately that level of acceptance still seems generations away.
Turkish society readily knows that Turkish gays and lesbians exist, they readily know that gay and lesbian activity is practised. Turkish society readily knows that the gay and lesbian issue is never far from the surface and like a giant carpet that covers the nation, homosexuality is firmly swept firmly underneath it. The carpet is slowly becoming bare though!