Brushstroke by brushstroke, Seyhan Arman gets ready to perform in one of her plays during Istanbul’s Pride Week. She’s a 37-year-old transgender woman who makes a living writing and performing. Arman, who hails from southern Turkey, says she always felt “different.”
Arman, who hails from southern Turkey, says she always felt “different.”
“Being an actress is what saved me. Basically, there was a path designed for me as Seyhan regarding gender identity. Acting freed me from that,” she told The Associated Press.
For several years, Pride Week in Istanbul attracted tens of thousands of participants including Arman, making it one of largest gatherings celebrating gay, lesbian and transgender rights and diversity in the Muslim world. That suddenly changed two years ago, when authorities, citing security concerns, banned gay and transgender pride events, chasing away shocked participants trying to converge on central Taksim Square with tear gas and water cannons. The reversal, activists say, coincides with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shedding his reformist past, taking an increasingly authoritarian line and raising Islam’s profile in the officially secular country.
Up to 100,000 people took part in a march in 2014, making it one of the largest LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and /or Intersex) Pride events in a Muslim nation. The following year, authorities banned parades in a surprise move citing public order and dispersed the crowds.
In 2016, the events were again banned amid a spate of deadly attacks blamed on the Islamic State group or Kurdish militants. Still, LGBTI activists tried to converge on Taksim leading to skirmishes with police. Organisers believe that the celebrations in 2015 and 2016 were banned because they coincided with Islam’s holy month of Ramadan.
Turkey’s LGTBI community is braced for another confrontation with police during Sunday’s Trans Parade March which has been banned by the Istanbul governor’s office. June 25 also coincides with the Muslim Eid holiday and also comes as Turkey is under a state of emergency following last year’s failed coup attempt, which allows authorities to ban public gatherings. The post-coup state of emergency has aggravated conditions for LGBTI individuals. The emergency powers have been used to sack more than 100,000 people from government jobs – among them thousands of academics including a large number of whom were minority rights defenders.
“The fact that the existing government is not making necessary changes to the constitution (in favor of LGBTI individuals,) and the fact that there is negative discourse against us, may encourage people who are already (trans) phobic,” said Arman. Unlike other Muslim countries, homosexuality is not a crime in Turkey. However, lesbian, gay, transgender activists say they lack legal protections and face widespread social stigma in the nation that is heavily influenced by conservative and religious values. D
eniz Sapka, a transgender woman originally from the southeastern Turkish province of Hakkari, is concerned about the lack of legal protection for her community. Sapka is not her real surname but an alias she uses to maintain privacy. She requested her face not be revealed to avoid recognition by family members.
“We can’t fight (for the community’s visibility) that much because the state is not developing new policies in this regard (LGBTI rights) and because there is no legislation (prohibiting) discrimination, no fundamental rights and freedoms,” said the 27-year-old who works in the non-profit sector.
The Turkish government insists that there is no discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation, and that existing laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity or religion protect all citizens.
*This content was originally published by The Associated Press.