Human Rights / Labour

Impact of heterosexist discrimination on gay, bisexual and trans lives

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From the book "Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination" compiled by Kaos GL.

There are three sexual orientations that are identified so far: Homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality. Homosexuality is romantic and sexual attraction toward a person of same sex; bisexuality is attraction toward both males and females; heterosexuality is attraction between persons of opposite sex.

Transsexuality, on the other hand, is not a sexual orientation but a gender identity. It is possible to define trans identity as the wish to change the biological sex and the steps taken for this change. In Turkey, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about homosexuality, travestism and transsexuality. Some people believe homosexuality is undergraduate school, travestism is masters degree and transsexuality is the doctorate. These three terms are independent from each other. Travestism is the act of wearing clothes that are associated with the opposite sex. However, in Turkey, this term is used for people who have not “completed” their gender reassignment. For male homosexuals, the term “gay” ise preferred, while “lesbian” is used for gay women. On general terms, we try not to use the term “homosexuality” as it has more of a medical background.

We believe sexism, which legitimizes itself by means of male hegemony, is also heterosexist. This is why we use the term “heteronormativity” to describe the world we live in where all social structures and institutions assume everyone to be heterosexual.

Transgender reassignment process is used to describe the medical and psychological dimension. A person does not become a trans only if she/he has completed the gender reassignment process. She/he enters this process for already being a trans. Gender reassignment process has three stages: Hormonal, psychological and physiological transition.

The term “LGBT” to cover all lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people can be used to address discrimination. Because LGBTs face discrimination in all segments of life! I normally do not prefer to use the abbreviation “LGBT”. The term contradicts with the liberation and collective struggle claims of the movement. When we say “the liberation of homosexuals will also free heterosexuals” in our Magazine motto, we want to underline that heterosexism victimizes heterosexuals too. Therefore, a collective struggle against heterosexism can be done regardless of the sexual orientations and gender identities of the members of the movement. “LGBT” refers only to the names of identities, failing to look at the broader picture.

Historical background

The answer to the following two questions tell a lot about the journey of homophobia: “When did homosexuality turn into a social problem” and “In what ways is it a problem?”. Defining homosexuality outside norms emerged with the rise of religious institutions in society. This was when homosexuality was defined as a sin that needed to be punished like other sins. At this point, the judiciary system was the Church. Homosexuals were sent to Church prisons. In the following phase, the concept of “law” emerged which continued to define social order based on norms. However, this meant a shift from “sin” to “crime”. And gays were taken from church prisons and put in state prisons. In the following stage, around 1850s, homosexuality was classified as an “illness”. Considering the conditions of the time, the classification of homosexuality as an illness could be considered “revolutionary” because this was the first time homosexuality was not seen as a “voluntary” act like sins and crimes. It basically meant homosexuals should be accepted as sick people instead of getting punished for being sinful or criminal. But of course, like every illness, homosexuality also needed to be “cured”. Going from Church prisons to state prisons, homosexuals ended up in psychiatry clinics in the final stage.

What followed next was gay organizations prior to the 1st World War. With the 1968 generation, the gay/bisexual/trans liberation movement became even more visible. In 1972, American Psychiatry Association and in 1994, World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of “mental illnesses”. In the meantime, gays in the 1968 started to use the word “gay” to describe “happiness”, just like our slogan in Turkey: “Neither a crime, nor an illness, long live gay love!” Gays of the time said, “I don’t care if you think I am sinful, a criminal or a sick person. I am happy the way I am. So stay away from me!” With the HIV/AIDS breakout in the 80s, it was clear that gays were not that “happy”. Because around the beginning of the 80s, gays in Northern America and Western Europe believed equality would come if gays could be on equal terms with heterosexuals. However, with the HIV/AIDS breakout, it became clear that the notion of equality was merely an illusion. And those who criticized the state, psychiatry, medicine, society and religion by saying “I am gay, and I am happy” became the target of criticism themselves. The discourse changed to the word “Queer”: “We are not sick, sinful or criminal; however we are not happy either. We are poor, HIV+, old and disabled.” This is how the gay movement created its own category and underlined the fact that sexual identities are too big and diverse to fit into certain categories.

Of course this is the Western version of the gay movement... It is not very easy to find an answer to what was happening in non-Christian georgraphies at the time. In the case of the Ottomans, there are bits of documents that show events around the banning of homosexuality. For instance, in order to damage the Mevlevi cult, there were accusations of them being gay. Secondly, in 1858, anti-sodomy laws were annulled by sultan Abdülmecid. And finally, during Tanzimat, there was a fatwa by Şeyhülislam on keeping away from pederasty which sparked debates. These were happening at a time when the Ottomans were embracing not only Western science but also Western culture. A few journalists complained by saying, “Yes, we are taking their science. But are we going to give up on pederasty too?!” In the beginning of the 2000s, at the rise of European Union (EU) negotiations between the EU and Turkey, Erbakan said, “Yes, we will enter the EU. But are we going to take homosexuality too?!”, expressing his anti-EU views by using homosexuality.

Gay, bisexual and trans rights in Turkey!

When it comes to the rights of gays, bisexuals and trans people’s human rights, the state always fails! Either by violating those rights directly, or by not providing protection, watching it happen, jeopardizing access to justice and not punishing perpetrators.

Organizing since the 90s, lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people turned their face to monitoring and reporting human rights violations in the 2000s. With this, violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity gained visibility not only in the movement but also within the mainstream civil society. Some of the alarming forms of discrimination were: hate crimes against especially trans women and gay men, problems in access to justice, lack of punishment of perpetrators, torture and ill-treatment of trans women by police forces, problems in access to services in education, health, employment and social services. Plus, there were countless problems in the field of family, media and mental health.

Gay, bisexual and trans organizations faced closure cases by the state for going against “Turkish family structure” and “general morality”. “Turkish family structure” and “general morality” are two vague terms which are often seen in the Constitution; due to their vagueness, they can be arbitrarily interpreted by the judges or administrative chiefs. There is no definition of what “general morality” is. There are also additional terms such as “obscenity”, “shameless acts” that are used to control and punish the lives of gays, bisexuals and trans people. For instance, in the case of Lambdaistanbul’s closure court decision, the court ruled that as long as the association did not spread homosexuality, it could remain open. This is one of the proofs that the juristiction still thinks homosexuality is something that passes from one person to another.

Ahmet Yıldız was killed on July 15, 2008. This was shocking for the community because 1 year prior to his death, he had filed a case against his family, saying they were threatening to kill him. He even wrote about this in Beargi Magazine. He sent that same article to Kaos GL later on. Ahmet Yıldız’s case is still pending. Perpetrators are not caught yet.

Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ case is a case about discrimination at workplace: A referee was not allowed to rule football games after people found out that he did not go to army after obtaining a report. This report says he is gay, which is why he was no longer seen as a good “fit” for the referee job. His case is still continuing.

All the campaigns against closure cases and the pending Ahmet Yıldız and Halil İbrahim Dinçdağ cases did raise awareness about the rights of gays, bisexuals and trans people. However, they also show the justice has not been served. This perpetuates to the lack of trust the community has in national justice system and human rights mechanisms.

Impact of discrimination on gays, bisexuals and trans people

The forms of discrimination gays, lesbians, bisexual and trans men and women vary dramatically. For instance, lack of access to housing for a trans individual may not mean the same thing in the life of a lesbian.

Trans people usually have to pay more to be able to get an apartment and live in certain neighborhoods. Whereas, lesbians and bisexual women have easier access to housing; however, they become the “honor of the neighborhood” that needs to be “protected”. It is very difficult for two gay men to be openly gay and rent a house together, especially if they passed their university ages. It is possible to give more similar examples.

Generally, when it comes to lesbianism, it is possible to say men have more tolerance and acceptance. One of the reasons behind this is lesbianism is heterosexual male fantasy and a relationship between two females is not so much of a danger. However, there is still endless negative media coverage of lesbians. Lesbianism too poses a threat which is why the level of oppression and violence toward lesbians is growing.

One of the direct forms of violence against gay, bisexual and trans women and men comes from the police force and the army. These institutions continue to classify homosexuality as “psycho-sexual disorder”, which is why if a professional soldier or a police officers comes out as gay or “gives away”, he/she gets fired based on sexal orientation or gender identity.

Awareness on sexual orientation and gender identity has benefited heavily from the field of education. One of the major discriminatory fields for gay, bisexual and trans people is education: “Heteronormative education atmosphere, homophobic attitutes of teachers, school administration and school counselors, bullying at school jeopardize the quality of education for gay, bisexual and trans students. Additionally, the school curriculum ignores all non-heterosexual sexual orientations and identities and punishes gay acts with disciplinary means. Trans women, in particular, experience difficulty in accessing quality education. Education is ultimately related to access to employment, which leads to trans women not being able to choose their professions and are obliged to work as sex workers.

Here I must underline another issue: Children who do not fit gender norms are perceived to be “gay” and therefore are sent to school counselors as “problems”. They can even be outed to their parents by their teachers, school administration and school counselors. Education is done with the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and children have no access to sexual health and sexual growth information. The lack of mechanisms that protect children from homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors leave them vulnerable. Teachers and school counselors fail to protect children from bullying by their peers.

In school curriculum and parallel regulations, terms such as “morality”, “shame”, “chastity”, “honor” often used. Such terms which are vague and not defined clearly pave the way for discrimination in the lives of students. In addition to these regulations, terms such as “balanced in terms of morality” are used in disciplinary codes. Heterosexist morality codes gay, bisexual and trans lives as “immoral”.

Employment is one of the most problematic fields for gays, bisexuals and trans people; however, it is also the most invisible and least debated one. People cannot express their identites and their true selves with the valid fear that they will be discriminated against on the basis of their identities. When gays and bisexuals experience discrimination, they do not make any formal complaints due to the fear that, if they do, they cannot find another job in the same sector because their complaint will out them. Trans women, in particular, are forced into sex work after a failed education service they receive. Trans men and women in public sector can experience discrimination during their gender reassignment processes.

There are serious problems in the field of health too. Health professionals interact with patients in a way they assume all patients are heterosexual. This has a negative impact on the quality of health services LGBT people receive. Homophobic health professionals perceive homosexuality as a sicknes therefore they insist on offering “remedies”. Instead of supporting individuals in their decision to come out, they become extra burden on them. At the same time, recently, there is a growing number of health professionals who capitalize on so-called “gay therapies” and “gay cures” and victimize gay, bisexual and trans individuals.

During trans transition, we look at Article 40 of the Civil Code. This articles regulates gender reassignment operations however it requires the person to lack reproduction capacity. This is why reassignment surgeries become a fertile ground for discrimination: People are insulted in hospitals, outed and called by their ID names in hospitals. This is why many trans people avoid their transition processes or do not use any services until the day they start their transition. Stigma around HIV/AIDS and the notion that HIV/AIDS is a “gay illness” have a negative impact on the quality of services the community members receive. On the other hand, there is little or no awareness about lesbians and bisexual women. This causes discrimination when women see their gynecologists.

Social work is a field that operates behind closed doors. In social work, gay, bisexual and trans people are subject to discrimination, outing, getting blacklisted and even put on trial and punished. Children, youth, adults, elderly and disabled people who stay at boarding institutions can have gay, bisexual and trans members among them. However, like other professionals, social workers discriminate against these members when offering service. Discrimination does not always happen in the form of fully-aware acts. It can also take the form of acts of “good will”. Intimacy between youth and their self-discovery in relation to sexuality are seen as threats by these institutions. As a result, these young individuals are subject to disciplinary actions, including on judiciary level. The Ministry that is in charge of protecting its youth becomes one of the major perpetrators who victimizes and marginalizes youth.

One of the fields where gays, bisexuals and trans people are subject to different treatment are prisons. Especially trans women and men are placed in prisons based on their “identity” changes. This limits their access to the facilities offered by the prison. In recent years, the Ministry of Justice announced that they are working on prisons only for gays and trans people. However, this is not a solution. The solution is making sure gay and trans prisoners have proper access to services wherever they are, and for this, obstacles need to be eliminated. The solution should not lead to isolation in another prison.

Coming out and families

We have two cases in front of us: Ahmet Yıldız and Roşin Çiçek. They were killed by their family members. Relationships that gay, bisexual and trans people build with their families are vital for their survival; however, in the case of Turkey, it is a seriously problematic field. The processes of self-realization and self-acceptance can be painful in young ages. Most gay, bisexual and trans youth go through self-denial, ignoring, blaming people around, blaming families, blaming themselves during the process of self-acceptance. Sometimes this order may change. Naturally, families too can go through similar stages when they find out their children are gay, bisexual or trans. Usually, as the first thing, they take their children to mental health professionals for “treatment”. However, homosexuality is neither is a sickness nor something that can be cured. Therefore, a health professional should not only say “There is nothing we can do. Homosexuality is not an illness” in a best case scenerio, but should also offer families mechanisms and remedies which will comfort them. Luckily, in Ankara, Istanbul, İzmir and Eskişehir, there are family groups who offer support to other families. They comfort other families by sharing their own stories and their own “coming out” processes as the family members of gay, bisexual and trans children.

Invisibility of violations against lesbians and bisexual woman!

The problems and needs of lesbians and bisexual women continue to be overlooked. This is why, when we talk about human rights violations of the community, priority should be given to the experiences of lesbians and bisexual women.

In the process of monitoring human rights violations, we observe that women face serious violations, however they are not able to take collective actions against this situation. One of the resons behind this is women are not only subject to homophobia but also sexism for being women. This causes serious damages and traumas in the lives of lesbians and bisexual women.

If the support we offer only focuses on those who are vulnerable visibly, then we will fail in helping lesbians and bisexual women as well as trans men. We will perpetuate to the invisibility of their status in society as well as within the movement.


Media is one of the key institutions that justifies disctimination against gays, bisexuals and trans people. The language they use, titles they pick and the image they give have an impact on how readers feel about the community. For instance, in the 90s, media almost always used the term “transvestite terror” in news that involved trans people.

On the other hand, lesbians are presented as pornographic objects in media. Gay men and and trans people are usually in news that are related to crimes involving judiciary or the police. When reporting hate crimes/murders, the testimony of the perpetrator is given priority in the language of the news.

When we started to monitor media’s language closely in the beginning of 2000s, there was almost no difference between the hateful language of mainstream media and alternative media. However, with close monitoring, giving feedback and news written by our own news portal to other media organs made a dramatic change and the difference between mainstream and alternative media grew bigger. One of the reasons for this is the politization of gay, bisexual and trans identities. However, there are still newspapers who have the policy of disseminating and promoting hate via their news, such as Akit and Vahdet.

When monitoring media or getting in contact with them, we are well aware that media is not independent and free but rather under the hegemony of investment groups and the ruling party. In the meantime, we use our own media portals Kaos GL Magazine and news site, which are now the media platforms of the anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia movement. These platforms produce their own news and serve them to other media organs. The advantage of this system is that the language of these news are selected carefully and filtered from prejudice, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. This eliminates the risk of hateful news and articles reaching to readers and gives us the change to play an active role in how media is managed. This is why we believe Kaos GL’s media organs play a crucial role in the transformation of Turkey’s media in general.

What do we do against discrimination?

We organize as gay, bisexual and trans people and urge/help people do the same. We organize with heterosexual people in this movement against heterosexism because we believe the system harms and victimizes not only the community but also heterosexual people.

We do regular and committed monitoring in media, health, housing, employment, education, army and social work, all of which are fields where we are discriminated against.

We also promote good examples and ideas of actions from Turkey and all around the world. For instance, Kaos GL Magazine and are two good examples for media. Other good examples are the LGBT shelter of Istanbul LGBTT Association and the Dilek İnce Clothing Bank of Pink Life Association which distributes clothes to prisoners and trans immigrants.

We also collaborate with workers from other professions, labor unions and organizations. We promote and support the establishment of anti-heterosexist networks and commissions and we work with them. For instance, at Eğitim-Sen (an education union) in Istanbul and İzmir, we have two LGBTI commissions. Similarly, there is an LGBTI commission at the Istanbul office of Association of Social Workers. And finally, we work closely with women’s commission at Turkish Journalists Union.

In parallel to this, we give trainings to a wide range of professional groups, including but not limited to journalists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, school counselors, psychologists and unionists. We also support their capacity and services by providing them with useful and informative documents and kits.

Lastly, we offer an anti-discrimination school curriculum. We visit each and every university in Ankara and give lectures on the forms of discrimination gay, bisexual and trans people face on a daily basis and inform students about how we can take actions collecively. As part of our International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) programs, we visit more than 30 cities and organize academic and social events. IDAHOT events are one of our three major events we host in Ankara. The other two are International Feminist Forum every March and Symposium Against Discriminations every December (in dedication to International Human Rights Day). With these events, we aim at raising awareness among public, strenghtening the LGBT activists and expanding our anti-heterosexist movement by means of solidarity and networking.

Editor note: The articles of “Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination” has been translated into English by Nevin Öztop.

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