We need to remind everyone that a society where LGBTI+ people are not safe cannot be safe enough for anyone.
The decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, although a snap decision, was not unexpected. After the decision to withdraw from the convention, we have seen and continue to see that hate speech against LGBTI+ people is frequently reiterated by the state officials. What do you, May 17 Association, think about the impact of the ongoing discussions in the field?
We were predicting that Turkey would pull out of the Istanbul Convention but the way it was done surprised us as much as everyone else. Because Turkey suddenly pulled out of the Istanbul Convention over one night. Considering the course of events from the flourishing of the visible LGBTI+ movement to today’s political atmosphere –that is, when we look at the hunger strikes in Gezi Park, the political attitude of the Süleyman, who was the chief police then, towards all queers but especially trans women in the early 1990s, and what was discussed about queer rights in the early 2000s– the country we live in has never been free from hatred, discrimination, violence, and phobia towards the LGBTI+s. However, what is different today is evident in the institutionalization of anti-LGBTI+ policies which import-substituting right-wing populist governments learn from and outdo each other. At this point, the fact that LGBTI+s are placed at the center of the Istanbul Convention discussions with a load of rubbish discourses causes all LGBTI+s living in Turkey to have serious security concerns about their lives. Although the queer panic sweeping the right-wing alliance leads to an increase in the queer-friendly masses, we need to remind everyone that a society where LGBTI+ people are not safe cannot be safe enough for anyone. While defending the Istanbul Convention which is still in force, we need to emphasize that masses defending the convention should come together as equals and that any Istanbul Convention defense that disregards LGBTI+s will eventually side with the opposing camp. For queers, half a century of struggle is full of experiences through which queers will be empowered. However, leaving queers alone in this process will indicate that the whole country may lose whatever has been gained so far in terms of human rights, democracy, and contemporary values. In this respect, women’s movement and LGBTI+ movement as well as all democratic forces should unite all the more closely and by using these points of contact they should not allow non-sense discourses to gain currency.
The Istanbul Convention does not include articles directly related to LGBTI+ rights, but the convention includes an article which clearly states that no one can be discriminated against due to their sexual orientation and identity. How do you evaluate the discussions on the withdrawal from the convention being conducted in terms of LGBTI+ hostility?
We anyway do not have a legal system that legally protects LGBTI+s and stands by them against fundamental human rights violations. Due to the male-dominated legal system of the hegemonic cis-heteropatriarchy, its forms of institutionalization and identification, there are no mechanisms and human resources to protect LGBTI+s, unfortunately. The apparent ignorance of the technocrats, who are supposed to secure justice about LGBTI+ existence, sadly reveals, especially in the last period, the judicial system’s approach to us. The rubbish discourses and masculinist manipulative maneuvers produced regarding the term “orientation” in the Istanbul Convention, which is the only legal document whereby LGBTI+s living in Turkey are legally taken into consideration and to which LGBTI+s can refer to for legal protection, are in fact seeking for a “legitimate” ground for the institutionalization of anti-LGBTI+ attitudes by criminalizing queers and rendering their existence a crime. However, the main contraction here is that LGBTI+ people are everywhere. For that reason, we need to willfully and persistently remind everyone that we are everywhere against the approach that sees us as a means of realizing their bigoted aspirations which are embraced only by a certain section of the society. All these discussions show us every other day that cis-heteropatriarchy is nothing but a paper tiger. In the face of attempts to disseminate phobia all over society, especially non-queer masses must dare to stand up and say “we are all queers” against this bigotry and face their own internalized homophobia. A world free of phobia is full of opportunities where everyone can enjoy a free, just, and equal life.
How do you think we will experience the impacts of the withdrawal from the convention in practice? What would be the effects on women’s and LGBTI+ peoples’ struggles for eliminating violence?
Everyone sees that there has been an increase in violence against women and queers since the beginning of the discussions about the Istanbul Convention. The current dominant mindset, in order to consolidate its own power, gives shoulder to the domination of a group of oxygen thieves. I don’t think this domination will hold long, but I think it will be too late when they realize that they have opened the door of the pit of hell. In the face of this increasing spiral of violence, women and LGBTI+s must act shoulder to shoulder more, learn more from the history of united struggle, and insist more on this struggle by acting together. As distinct from other rights struggles, the rights struggle for women and LGBTI+s is intertwined with women’s and LGBTI+ people’s right to live. Our survival entails struggle in all walks of life. This violence will not be eliminated by not reporting murder and violence news in the mainstream media; this scorpion will eventually sting itself. However, in this atmosphere of turbulent democracy, all we can rely on is our self-strength, organized power, and persistent struggle.
The groups that were campaigning to pull out of the convention have already started their campaigns against legal regulations and international agreements such as Law No. 6284, CEDAW, and Lanzarote immediately after the decision. On the other hand, the presidency pointed at a “section trying to normalize homosexuality” as the reason for pulling out of the Istanbul Convention. How will these statements and campaigns lead to backlashes?
I think there will be an increase in the organized attacks by a very small bigoted section of the society and an increase in the attempts to criminalize LGBTI+s. However, the whole society sees that this alliance, which endeavors to destroy our existence with various rubbish discourses and manipulations, exposes itself at every step it takes. The only way out of this siege of bigotry is not leaving queers alone. It is crystal clear that if queers are left alone, this bigoted roadmap will be realized step by step, and this siege of bigotry will suffocate everyone. Curiously, while the executive, legislative and judiciary powers coalesce with a marginal, bigoted minority, these discourses do not resonate with a great majority of people. What is crucial here is that these queer-friendly masses should organize and not leave queers alone. Of course, there are silver linings, but this is not enough. Here, I don’t mean to create a normal-versus-abnormal dichotomy but we need to act shoulder to shoulder against the normalization of the nonsense that tries to criminalize our existence and insults humanity’s common sense.
May 17 Association aims to strengthen LGBTI+ community and activism against the increasing oppression. Considering all the steps taken forward for eliminating discrimination as well as backlashes in this period, and, of course, in the light of previous experiences, do you think that this decision is different?
Among all that has happened, this decision is a benchmark symbolizing the zeitgeist of this period. It turns into a manifestation of the fact that the Republic of Turkey, in violation of its own constitution and the international conventions to which it is signatory, will implement discriminatory policies against a significant majority of the population and will not legally secure their right to live. I do think that we do not have any other remedy for this situation but to embrace the genius of queer. We will continue to protect our lives with what we have learned from our own history and the history of women’s movement until we win our rights and until all queers are free.
How do you plan to continue your struggle? Do you have any messages to women and LGBTI+s?
Since our establishment, we have been thinking about the ways and methods to strengthen LGBTI+ subjects, their community and activism as well as to increase their opportunities and their general well-being. We continue to diversify the methods that will increase the general well-being of queers and will not jeopardize the safety of any queer living in the farthest corners of the country. The genius of queer resembles the spectrum of white light, and the ways of protecting and advancing our existence are in at least as wide as spectrum. We don’t think that the masculine reason clinging to nonsense has the capacity to cope with the genius of queer. In such an atmosphere, against those who fear the empowerment of women and LGBTI+s in tandem and the transformative power of them being shoulder to shoulder, we must be more united and learn more from each other. We need to be alert and act strategically vis-à-vis any internal and external influences that try to prevent the two movements from coming together. Because none of us can tolerate losing one more person.
Translator: İpek Tabur
Proof-reader: Müge Karahan