LGBTI+ Rights in Turkey
Defending LGBTI+ Rights in Turkey: “We are in the Same Storm but not in the Same Boat”

by Marcel Tuğkan Gündoğdu (SPoD)
Fighting LGBTI+ Rights in Turkey
© Brett Sayles from Pexels


Turkey’s civic space has lately been shrinking due to the tense political climate and the deterioration of the democratic institutions. The climate of repression became more tangible during the state of emergency instituted just after the failed coup attempt in July 2016. According to Amnesty International’s report on Turkey, since the coup attempt, the government has suspended 160 media outlets and 370 NGOs, including three lawyers’ associations with a human rights focus, and women’s rights and humanitarian organizations in the southeast of the country. At the same time, Turkey has become the world’s biggest jail for journalists, with 175 journalists currently imprisoned, and many other media workers facing criminal charges.

During the state of emergency, the Turkish government succeeded, with narrow popular support, in changing the country’s constitution and replacing its parliamentary system with a presidential governance model, lacking democratic institutions and self-control mechanisms for abuse of executive power, many of the functions of the parliament being turned over to the president.

Using this growing stranglehold on the country, the ruling party repressed civil society leaders, civil society actors, and organizations which are part of Turkey’s democratic integrity and fighting against human rights violations in the country. Multiple reports from international and regional human rights bodies have expressed an extreme and growing concern regarding attacks on a range of human rights defenders (HRDs). The oppressive climate has greatly affected the rights of LGBTI+ people, human rights defenders and organizations working in the LGBTI+ rights field, who find themselves working in an increasingly conservative environment dominated by discrimination, bigotry, and hate. LGBTI+ organizations have been a target for the government, especially since the 2014 Istanbul Pride March when 100,000 people gathered in Istiklal Street and Taksim Square, following the Gezi Park protests when millions of people went out onto the streets to protest against the government’s authoritarian, anti-democratic and corrupted policies. While the crackdown on Turkey’s LGBTI+ movement began with the first ban on Istanbul Pride March in 2015, it became more concrete in 2017 with an indefinite ban on all LGBTI+ themed events in Ankara, the capital of Turkey, and the ensuing wave of bans happening around the country. Ongoing state-wide demonizing and criminalizing policies resulted in an LGBTI+ ban phenomenon across the country by the local authorities and governorates, affecting pride marches and LGBTI+ themed events including workshops, film screenings, panel discussions, and press conferences which usually take place during the pride weeks. Right now, it is likely to be impossible to organize a public LGBTI+ themed event in Turkey.

The oppressive atmosphere adds to the already existing struggles of LGBTI+ organizations and activists. LGBTI+ organizations and rights defenders face different challenges and barriers under the new circumstances. These challenges and barriers can be listed as: limited room for activism, increasing hate speech and censorship, the conditions under the current pandemic, organizational challenges, an unsustainable lack of financial and human resources and the lack of access to public services.