For years Murat has watched LGBT people persecuted in the Middle East take refuge in his Istanbul neighborhood, but now, faced with growing hostility from the government, this young Turkish homosexual wants only one thing: to leave Turkey.
“Before there was a wave of hatred and then it calmed down. But now, it has lasted for months, it is turning into a tsunami,” says this 30-year-old computer engineer with a sigh, while taking a drag on his cigarette.
Homophobic discourses are on the rise, series with gay characters are censored, pro-LGBT brands are boycotted … Animosity has shaken this community and tarnishes the image of a country long considered an oasis of tolerance in the Muslim world .
LGBT associations denounce a “hate campaign” by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make his conservative voters forget the economic problems, despite the risk of fomenting violence against a vulnerable community.
The animosity has been clear in recent weeks, amidst student demonstrations at the prestigious Bogazici University in Istanbul.
It all started with a student artwork depicting a holy site of Islam draped in a rainbow-colored flag. The authorities closed the establishment’s LGTB club in early February, which denies being involved.
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu called LGBT people “degenerate” and Erdogan said that “these lesbians, or whatever” should not be listened to. “LGTB, there is no such thing,” he declared on February 3 during a speech broadcast on television.
– “A dangerous game” –
The government launched “a hate campaign against LGTB” to discredit the student demonstrations, estimates Can Candan, a documentary filmmaker and teacher from Bogazici who advised the banned club.
“But it is an extremely dangerous game, because hate speech causes hate crimes,” he says.
“On the street, people no longer look at us only as different or original, but as traitors to the nation,” abounds Alaz Ada Yener, who is a member of the association for the defense of LGTB rights Lambda-Istanbul and defines herself as non-binary.
“Those who are going to commit a crime against LGTB people will think they have the authorities on their side,” adds Alaz.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but homophobia is widespread and, according to associations, attacks are frequent, especially against transsexuals.
There are no official figures but Turkey has not stopped falling in recent years in the measurement index of LGTB rights published by the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). In 2020, it was ranked 48th out of 49 in the Eurasia region.
Last year, the Turkish association Kaos GL counted more than 2,000 newspaper articles that discriminated against LGBT people, 40% more than in 2019.
Even before the demonstrations in Bogazici, the atmosphere was already very negative.
Last year, the streaming platform Netflix canceled the production of a Turkish series with a gay character because it did not get permission from the authorities to record it.
In June there were calls to boycott the French sports establishment Decathlon for expressing its support for LGBT people.
And in April, the country’s top religious dignitary accused homosexuals of spreading disease.
– “Eliminate our existence” –
For LGBT militants, these pressures are also due to the growing visibility of the community that has become one of the most dynamic forces in a civil society battered by repression since the 2016 coup attempt.
“It is common to see LGBT people and rainbow flags in the front row of collective struggles,” says sociologist Eylem Cagdas, a specialist in sexual minorities in Turkey.
The government “tries to stop the growing acceptance of LGBTs in society by denigrating them,” he adds.
After a spectacular gay pride march that drew more than 100,000 people in Istanbul in 2014, the Turkish authorities have banned such parades, officially for security reasons.
The government “tries to make us disappear from public space, eliminate our social existence,” accuses Alaz, from LambdaIstanbul.
Murat fears that Turkey will vote anti-LGBT laws.
“We had come a long way,” he says, stubbing out a cigarette butt. “We are going back decades.”
gkg / ezz / erl / zm