Human Rights / Labour

Legal basis of discrimination and gay public officers

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Journalist Çiçek Tahaoğlu[1] wrote for the book "Discrimination at Workplace and Fight Against Discrimination" compiled by Kaos GL:

Nusret Yazıcı, the  General Manager of the Turkish Employment Agency (Turkish: İŞKUR), was asked a question in March 2013 by a journalist. The question was on what he thought about LGBTI associations applying to the Agency; he responded, “They can come, our doors are open.”

Despite our doubts, we were quite happy at the editorial department. After all, an institution like İŞKUR answered a question about LGBTI employment. In a country like Turkey, wasn’t this already “something”? General Manager could have chosen to skip to the next question, but he didn’t. It wouldn’t be the first time someone skipped a question during an interview. Plus, his answer was not negative. He said, “They can come, our doors are open.” I bet the journalist who asked the question was as surprised as us about this answer.

Yazıcı, then, continued with the following statement:

“Let’s start with the disabled to talk about disadvantaged groups. In 2012, we found workplaces for 35 thousand disabled people. This number is 30% for women. We declared 2013 the year of the disabled and women.”

Yazıcı also added that there would be a special focus on women in 2014 and disabled people in 2015. He included the Roma people in his answers. After all, they were benefiting from over a thousand Roma people in “jobs that are beneficial to society”.  While they wait for LGBTs to come to İŞKUR, their efforts for the Roma people, disabled people and women deserve admiration.

Frankly, if we removed the title of this news, there would be not much left with regard to the status of LGBTs in employment. After all, what he said was they are not going to spend extra effort on LGBTs’ employment, but will welcome them with their doors open if they come. That and a bit of positive interpretation from us...

Following this, Mahmut Tanal, Istanbul parliamentarian from Republican People’s Party (CHP), asked Faruk Çelik, Ministry of Labour and Social Security, a follow up question about LGBTI employment. Çelik gave the following short and clear answer in January 2015:

“Our Ministry has been conducting activities for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups and taking measures against discrimination and social exclusion. Women, children, youth, ex prisoners, Roma, migrant, people in poverty, substance users and seasonal workers can benefit from these measures and solutions.”

While still thinking if İŞKUR’s answer was a real one, Minister of Labour’s “answer” brought me back to reality.

We don’t know whether Çelik is ignoring LGBTs or not classifying them as disadvantaged groups. But, in the end, we got that there is no plans for LGBTI employment in future.

Efforts on the employment of other disadvantaged groups are also subject to debate. Politics on increase in employment does not aim at empowering disadvantaged groups, but rather strenghtening families, capital etc. For instance, projects that aim at empowering women’s status in labour market are done as part of “Program on the Protection of Family and Dynamic Population Structure”. The name of the program is quite self-explanatory. As we can all guess, the program does not include lesbians, bisexual and trans women. However, it says it will increase women’s employment, a lot. According to what is said, even equality is possible! Of course equal opportunities, not gender equality. But how? The more kids women have, the more they have access to maternal leave and financial resources. They will also be given the option to work half-time so that they do not fall behind their hoursework and care. After all this, if they are still willing to work in their remaining time and if they can find someone who would employ them, they are welcomed to work. They could even fill the positions of other women on maternity leave –temporarily!

Some of you might remember, there used to be micro-credits for women. “Success stories” were printed in newspapers every single day. These women could go to workshops on certain fields that perpetuate to traditional gender roles (such as how to make jewellery) and then work from home, which the state called “women’s employment”. Numerically, women constitute half of the population, and this is all that is offered to them. Imagine the rest of state policies for the employment of other disadvantaged groups on that list...

In an era where official statements and state politics do not aim at empowering individuals, minimizing disadvantages or eliminating inequalities, it becomes meaningless and pointless to think about state’s responsibilities for LGBTI employment. The state completely fails in guaranteeing equality and comprehensiveness.

“Beware, that man has tendencies toward men”

The second phase of discrimination in the worklife of LGBTs appear after they manage to get hired without “getting noticed”. At this stage, discrimination takes the form of written rules, mobbing and even threats.

According to Article 125 of the Public Servants Law, persons who “commit shameless acts might get dismissed from work”. The administrative power can label anything they find “immoral” as “shameless” and use it as an argument to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

One of the most common things we hear is police officers getting fired for being gay. The reason why we hear often about this is because of not only the sexism within the police department but also its “tabloid” journalism values. After all, gay referees, gay police officers are alarming problems of manhood...

In 2012, in a news[2] on Vatan Newspaper, the title said, “Police during the day, ... at night”. Apparently the “police officer F.B. was using the name ‘Fettan Ceyda’ in his transvestite life at night”. The article is full of gripping as well as shaming messages. This is how the event takes place: A police station gets a call that says a police officer is working as a “prostitute in the form of a woman at nights”. Officers from the Morality and Gambling Police Department enters his house as customers and bust him right there. Ceyda gets fired immediately, and faces charges for “providing place for prostitution” and a jail sentence up to 4 years. However, the next day in a news with the title “Jet Acquittance for Fettan Ceyda” [3], we learn that the court decides the person cannot be charged with “providing place for prostitution” as he technically cannot offer his home to himself. In this article, there are bits of information about the city he lives in, the police station he works at and his name initials. Yes, he does not have to go to jail for 4 years, but he gets fired and outed in front of an entire nation.

Osman[4] is another police officer who got fired for being gay. Another police officer who got dismissed after a phone call to the police department. His case and personal testimonies help us understand better how gays are treated in the police department and how the department handles such “crimes”.

“I was newly appointed as intelligence officer. However someone told the office, ‘Watch out, he has tendencies toward men’. After this, my phones were tapped illegally. My colleagues had even e-mailed information about my relationships to the Security General Directorate.

“One night, I received a phone call at around 22:00. Police officers told me they needed to see me. When I went down the stairs, they said we needed to go to the station and nothing else.

“At 23:00, they had me wait at the entry door of the Police Security branch office. I never forget, a song by Hande Yener was playing inside. After questions like, “Do you know why you are here?” and “ Do you have any guesses?”, they started to insult and swear at my sexual orientation. I asked for a lawyer, they said, “No, no lawyer should hear this disgrace.

“In the police reports, a police officer and someone from the Morality Unit made it look like they took my testimony during the day, not at night. And they made me sign it.”

Discrimination, illegal tapping on phones, arbitrary detention, forgery in official documents... They don’t only want to fire him, they also want to scare and insult him. Osmay says, “They insulted my honor at my homecity. When I left the city, I could not say goodbye to anyone out of shame.”

That’s not the end. When they “catch” someone, they continue hassling the entire station. To add more pressure on them, a friend of his is taken under detention too.

“They told me they think he is gay. They listed the names of 4-5 more people. They told me to give their names in my written testimony. But I told them I knew of no one else. And that it was their own private matter. But I did admit that I had a different sexual orientation.

“In the meantime, they took into custody a friend of mine for talking on the phone with me. His situation was as miserable as mine. They beat him up, insulted him, asked him quetions about me. They threatened him with telling everything to his family. The two of us had no sexual relationship. We just shared our problems with each other.”

Respect that comes with being an official...

According to the Sanitary Conditions Regulations[5] of the security department, any staff who has psychiatric problems must appear in front of the health unit. This unit decides on the categorization of the illness of staff and rules on whether or not this will become a problem for their performance. The ratings of this Unit go from A to E, E representing very serious illnesses. Homosexuality falls into the category of D. Anyone who is classified within D either changes the position, or is forced to retire. People in this illness category cannot even be the “guards of a market or a street”. And yes, there is such a term in the official documents...

After testimonies, reports and everything else, Osman too goes in front of this unit. From what he tells, his illness was identified with the D classification however this did not pose a threat to his job. Actually, Osman tells the unit that he lives his identity secretly and convinces the unit that this will in no way affect the police department. Osman changes his job but stays in the police field.

Still, they don’t give up. The police department starts disciplinary actions against him. They force a friend of his to testify against him. Crime proof? “Osman checked into a hotel with a man.”

Osman goes in front of inspectors again. He speaks about his private life to the most detailed extent. He tells them about all of his romantic and sexual relationships. He tries to legitimize his existence in the eyes of the state.

Result: Inspectors send the file to a disciplinary unit, saying “apart from service, he jeopardized the respect that comes with being an official state officer”. Osman then continues, “In the unit, there were the same people who followed me and took my written testimony. When they were supposed give me a 6 month seniority reduction, instead they sent my file to the Minisry of Interior because my acts were shameful.”

The journey of his file to the Ministry of Interior is another adventure. This “adventure” reminds me of a note in the Sanitary Conditions Regulations  of the security department: “Psycho-sexual disorders”, which is homosexuality, transsexulity, and transvestism. Here is what it says: “Statement: People who fall in this category must have a visible sexual disorder and this should be effecting the office environment negatively.”

It’s like a joke but the discrepancy in the language is like a reflection of Osman’s story.

“My file was supposed to be sealed for privacy, but they had my documents in their hands, waving like a flag. There was no single person who did not hear about this, in the end. Actually, because everybody knew about me, this is how they managed to force me into resignation.”

Of course, they outed him on purpose, with the goal of making sure everyone knew about his case. He goes to the deputy secretary of the Ministry of Interior. The deputy says, “Son, I do not call this a crime. Tell me.” And Osman tell his story again:

“First, I did not accept who I was. When I started to work in Istanbul, I had two girlfriends. I failed them both. I was contradicting with myself and I was unhappy. I felt like I had two different personalities. Finally I managed to say, “This is who I am”. After all, I was not living my identity in front of people. Plus, in a place like Turkey, we do not have that luxury.”

Osman gets fired two months after this. He filed a court case to stop the procedure from continuing. His case was followed by Human Rights Watch, SpoD LGBTI and Lambdaistanbul Associations. His lawyer was a former police officer. The lawyer said from the beginning that, instead of basing his defence on universal human rights, he was going to tell his story and try to gain sympathy to win the case. He told the court that his client did nothing to hurt the honor of his job, meaning, he did not live his private life in public, unlike what was claimed.

Ceyda, the person I mentioned at the beginning of this article, said something similar to the newspapers: “Because I was a police officer and continued to have feminine behaviors, I had to do it secretly. I always did it secretly to not hurt my job’s responsibilities.”

These people, even after being discriminated against and accused of shameless acts, continue to care for the “respectability” of their institutions despite everything. They don’t do anything that jeopardizes this principle.

During this period which lasted for months, Osman had to keep it secret from his family that he has been removed from his job. He says he had to do this not for himself but for the security of his family. He struggled with temporary and low-paying jobs. But apart from all, the psychological pressure he was under challenged him the most. First time we talked, he said he has regular nightmares of the night he had to spend at the police station. The endless darkness into which he was being dragged was eating him.

Does a police officer who is discriminated against go to unions?

Osman said, “After getting fired, I made in-dept researches. Was I going to be alone in my struggle? Or were there similar victims like me?”

After interviewing Osman, I got countless e-mails from other police officers. They were fired, investigated, and at other phases of the exact same procedure. I advised them to seek help from human rights organizations but they were hesitant. Because they were police officers. They committed a “disgraceful offense”. Who knows, maybe they were thinking LGBTI organizations won’t be able to defend them that well, since the only time these two groups meet are at demonstrations. Those who asked for the contact details of LGBTI organizations were mostly interested in the legal services they provide. Or at least, they were asking for the name of a lawyer who could help them. But mainly, they were trying to contact Osman himself.

Shortly after, I heard that there was now a small gay police group. Their goal was to come together with other police officers with similar experiences and share their feelings. If they were not police officers, the first thing I would do was to tell them to go to a union. But is this possible for a police? Could they go to, let’s say, Eğitim-Sen Union after their colleagues discriminated against them and insulted them? Would a gay organization protect the rights of a police? Is is possible to raise awareness in an institution which classifies homosexuality as a psycho-sexual disorder in “Section D”?

Ministry on Family and Social Politics offers trainings on gender equality to police officers and soldiers, which got quite a lot of coverage in media. I asked[6] Meltem Ağduk, United Nations Population Fund Project Coordinator and one of the trainers, whether or not they touch the LGBTI issue in their training materials. She said, “Until now, we did not talk about the LGBT issue in detail, except for one session on education. Of course it is strange to not tak about sexual orientations when we are talking about gender roles. But, I’ll be honest, even women’s equality generates a lot of negative resistance. This resistance is ten-fold when we talk about LGBT people.”

Osman won his case. But what about others?

We heard a short time ago that Osman won his court battle. This gives hope. Obviously the tactics of the lawyer who was an ex police worked in this individual case. But it is unclear whether or not Osman’s case will help other victims and pose a sample case for similar violations.

From the beginning until the end, the procedure is full of forgery; plus, the regulations are used as the basis arguments to justify discrimination. In short, as long as these regulations and minds don’t change or get updated with scientific and fair views, LGBTI workers will continue to be fired.

As long as discrimination has legal justification, can a single court victory solve the problems of all the victims? How acceptable is it for a worker to be discriminated against despite countless international laws and then to be forced to seek justice in courts? Can Osman’s victory and gain of his job back heal all his memory and pain? And what about the people who are going through Osman’s situation right at this moment? What if their judges decide that the Police Department had all the rights to fire them? Can human rights violations be left up to the personal opinions of judges?

Burcu Karakaş’s interview with another fired public servant on Milliyet Newspaper[7] might answer some of these questions. In the case of this police officer, the police department gets a phone call, very similarly to the previous cases. They raid his house. When they find documents in his computer about him being gay, they fire him. He too opens a counter court case to stop the procedure from advancing furher. However, the case gets dropped after the court decides there was nothing illegal about the procedure. His lawyer takes the case to the State Council; however the answer of the Legal Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Interior brings the case back to where it started: “There is no doubt that individuals citizens will lose their trust in the state if public service is done by public servants who lost the necessary respectability. In order to eliminate such danger, such people need to be dismissed from their positions and combed out from administrative body.”

If we were to go back to the beginning; we have a Minister who avoids using the word LGBTI. Inclusion of the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are rejected from entering any form of legislation, including the draft of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç recently mentioned about LGBTs, but with the aim of humiliating the opposition parties. Here, Arınç is not able to say “gay”. He only says, “Lesbians, bisexuals and trans gave their votes to Demirtaş.”[8] Because gayness involves two men. Demirtaş’s 9% voting rate probably shows that Arınç does indeed recognize the presence of LGBTI people, however, not as equal citizens. A newspaper brings clarification to this statement: “They are trying to have CHP and the ruling party open more opportunities for LGBTI people. By doing so, deviancy will be legitimized in the conscience of public and, even further, gay parliamentarians will enter the Parliament.”[9]

It seems very unlikely to see legal measures for the elimination of discrimination in employment and in other areas. However, we will continue to remind the state of its responsibilities. After all, reminding the state of its responsibilities became our own responsibility.

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

 


[1] Journalist, Bianet.

[2] http://www.gazetevatan.com/gunduz-polis--gece----463475-gundem/.

[3] http://www.haberturk.com/gundem/haber/757969-fettan-ceydaya-jet-beraat.

[4] http://www.bianet.org/bianet/toplum/152458-meslekten-kovulan-escinsel-polis-anlatti

[5] http://pa.edu.tr/?app=5FD4334C-2ADB-4AD4-B65E-71BD0F9D268E.

[6] http://www.bianet.org/bianet/toplumsal-cinsiyet/144724-ordu-ve-polisteki-egitimde-konu-lgbt-ye-gelemiyor#.

[7] http://www.milliyet.com.tr/bu-tur-memurlar-hemen-ayiklanir--gundem-1897738/.

[8] http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/27933017.asp.

[9] http://www.habervaktim.com/haber/405084/hdp-sapkin-asigi.html

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