Equal Rights for LGBTI+ are a Win-Win-Solution
Today is a very special day: Every year on December 10, we celebrate Human Rights Day. On this day, back in 1948, the United Nationals General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a milestone document as it proclaims the inalienable rights every human being is entitled to – irrespective of race, color, religion, gender, language, political affiliation, social status or other status.
The principle of the universality and equality of human rights has particular resonance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. It is no coincidence that on Human Rights Day we raise our voices to remind the public that not all is well concerning the rights and the situation of the LGBTI+ communities – and that much needs to be done on their behalf.
We at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) celebrate Human Rights Day with numerous activities and special events in all corners of the world. We make use of this occasion to highlight our campaigns against discrimination and for equal rights for LGBTI+ people.
Promoting Human Rights and particularly the rights of minorities have been and continue to be a core objective of FNF in Turkey. We are proud to associate with KAOS LG and the LGBTI+ movement in a broader sense.
Basically, FNF is an educative institute. Our Foundation supports programs that aim at promoting liberal values and principles by means of civic education. Topping the list of liberal values and principles is the freedom of the individual, tolerance and equality before the law.
From a liberal perspective, we would assume that these values are common sense, that every reasonable person would support them. The reality in our societies – and here I mean societies throughout the world – is very different, however. Liberal principles and values are questioned and fought not only by authoritarian rulers. They are discredited and denigrated in a media universe that has increasingly fallen victim to misinformation and fake news.
At FNF, we see this global development with great concern. We have dedicated this year’s global campaign on this topic. I am grateful that also regarding this theme we have substantial contributions from our Turkish partners.
The media is full of vicious content targeting LGBTI+ people. Particularly the Internet has given space to hate speech and malicious reports. Unfortunately, these have an impact on the public discourse and public opinion – and ultimately the political decision-making process. Misinformation campaigns operate by repeating again and again “alternate facts” – you may also call them myths. Eventually these stick in the heads of the recipient target audience.
I will share with you four often heard myths applied to denigrate, yes insult LGBTI+ people – and confront them with the much-needed reality check: I have found this material in a very useful handbook published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) titled “Advancing Human Rights and Inclusion of LGBTI+ People: A Handbook for Parliamentarians” (2017). The selection of the cases is subjective. In my eyes, the myths I will refer to are relevant in a Turkish context also:
Myth Number One: Homosexuality is a Western phenomenon.
Reality: I have heard this assertion throughout my career at the Foundation, particularly serving in Egypt and the Middle East. Claims that same-sex attraction is a Western practice are false. LGBTI+ people are everywhere. They live in all corners of the world, among all communities and have done so for a very long time.
Myth Number Two: Depriving LGBTI+ people of their human rights can be justified on the basis of religion, culture or tradition.
Reality: Discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation can never be justified on any basis. Human rights are universal. It is not at least on Human Rights Day that we celebrate this basic understanding of modern civilization. While culture and religion are important, all states have a legal obligation to promote and protect the human rights of all members of society. This includes the rights of LGBTI+ people.
Myth Number Three: LGBTI+ people are not normal; they are a creation of modern times, their identity is a “trend”.
Reality: Sexual orientations are not a current trend; more or less every country has a recorded history of people whose behaviors bear resemblance to what we call today heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality and transgender identity.
Myth Number Four: Homosexuality is an illness or a health issue. Reality: More than two decades ago the World Health Organization (WHO) has clarified that homosexuality is neither a disorder nor a disease. It has also emphasized that homosexuality is a natural and non-pathological variation of human sexuality.
Confronting these – and many other - myths is a cause that remains a major challenge. One area that is particularly relevant – and where discrimination and marginalization remain rampant – is the workplace. It is common that until this very day employees prefer to hide their gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex orientation for fear of discrimination or social stigmatization. From a liberal – and basic human – perspective this is a scandal!
Since 2015, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom’s Turkey Office has cooperated with KAOS GL and the Gender and Women's Studies Research Center at Kadir Has University for surveys and reports that focus on the situation of LGBTI+ employees of the public and private sector in Turkey. These surveys look into the hiring processes, the general working conditions, and document personal experiences of discrimination.
The surveys show that the circumstances allow for direct or indirect and open or hidden discrimination of LGBTI+ employees. The encountered circumstances also stand in the way of optimal performance of employees, thereby decreasing productivity at the workplace.
In line with these important findings, this year’s research comes along with the demand to enact laws that prevent discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation and gender characteristics at the workplace. It is the right of all LGBTI + workers to enjoy a peaceful and productive work environment. Steps need to be taken to improve the discriminatory practices. Civil society has an important role to play.
It is our hope that this research project and the multiple discussions and campaigns associated with it may lead to an improvement of the situation. Giving equal rights to LGBTI+ people is a win-win-policy and a pressing issue particularly in the workspaces.
This should be one important message on this very special day as we celebrate the universality of Human Rights. It should also be our call in the future.