We are sharing our interview with Yıldız Tar from Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity.

Edie Fake

How did Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity come together?

Immediately after the earthquake, a general Lubunya[1] Earthquake Solidarity was established to work across the country. Apart from that, since Ankara and Mersin are the cities with the highest migration from the earthquake zone, we established platforms and networks in these cities.

Speaking for Ankara, as Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity, we are LGBTI+ rights organizations and defenders who came together to be in solidarity with LGBTI+ people who came to Ankara after the earthquake or who want to come to Ankara. We are trying to stand in solidarity with LGBTI+ people who cannot access even the most basic support due to the discrimination that has deepened since the first day of the earthquake.

As LGBTI+ associations in Ankara, 17 May, GALADER, Pink Life, Red Umbrella and UniKuir, we already had a group that we coordinated. We were acting together on issues concerning Ankara through this network. With the earthquake, we transformed this group into Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity and opened it to LGBTI+ rights defenders outside the associations.

After the earthquake, it is said that about 400 thousand people came to Ankara from earthquake zones. You also carry out activities that focus on solidarity with LGBTI+ people coming to Ankara. What are you doing in this regard?

So far, as Solidarity, we have enabled 15 LGBTI+ people from the earthquake zone to come to Ankara and provided temporary accommodation support. Our friends who came continue to stay in temporary houses. We are trying to provide nearly a hundred LGBTI+ people in the region with the materials they need such as food, clothing, medicine, supplies, tents, hygiene products. LGBTI+s coming to Ankara receive psychosocial and legal support from 17 May, Red Umbrella and Pink Life with the coordination of social workers from 17 May Association. This continues as a regular work. Kaos GL and GALADER, on the other hand, took responsibility for both peer support and advocacy. The existence of Pink Life Dilek İnce Clothes Bank has been life-saving in this process. Kaos GL Refugee Rights Program also supports LGBTI+ refugees in the region.

In addition, we are also a component of the Ankara Earthquake Solidarity Platform. Together with the Platform, we went to the Parliament and conveyed the problems to HDP [Peoples’ Democratic Party – PDP] and CHP [Republican People’s Party – RPP]. We visited trade unions, professional organizations and political parties such as KESK [Confederation of Public Laborer’s Unions], Halkevleri [People’s Houses], TİP [Workers’ Party of Turkey], HDP, Sol Parti [Left Party], SES [Trade Union of Public Employees in Health and Social Services]. We have been trying to act together with many institutions since the beginning of the process. But in this interview, I would especially like to talk about the Women’s Coalition. The existence and organized struggle of the Women’s Coalition was very important for us to reach LGBTI+s both in Ankara and in the earthquake region and to deliver the materials they needed.

The logo of Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity

Since the beginning of the earthquake, there have been news that LGBTI+s were discriminated against in the earthquake zone and that they could not even benefit from the few aids, what are your observations and experiences in this regard? On the basis of which needs do the LGBTI+s you are in contact with apply to you the most?

If you remember, just before the earthquake, there was a constitutional agenda in the country. It was artificial, but still effective. The process, which started with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s speech about headscarf in October last year, had evolved into a discriminatory constitutional proposal targeting LGBTI+s with the government’s move. The proposal passed the commission. In the justification of the proposal, which includes the redefinition of family unity in the Constitution, LGBTI+s are characterized as “deviant”. While no LGBTI+ organization was invited to the controversial commission talks, a urologist was invited as an expert. In addition, a formation called “United Family Platform” was also heard by the commission.

What did that urologist say? Urologist Zeki Bayraktar, known for his discrimination against LGBTI+s, described sexual orientation and gender identity, which are innate characteristics, as “an explosion in cases” and claimed that LGBTI+s have a shorter life expectancy. Bayraktar, who also has books published by Çıra Publications and Süleymaniye Foundation Publications, describes homosexuality as a “family mistake” contrary to scientific information in his book “İnterseks – Hermafrodit ve Eşcinsel” [Intersex – Hermaphrodite and Gay]. Bayraktar is also one of the names who spoke to Yeni Şafak’s file targeting LGBTI+s. In that file, Bayraktar targeted LGBTI+s with the following statements: “I say that LGBT activities that are exceeder should be banned. What needs to be done is to fight these excessive rampages of LGBT activity.” Bayraktar is also an anti-condom urologist. He claims that using condoms has “sexual, psychological and physical harms”.

Even this situation clearly shows where we are when it comes to LGBTI+s’ right to health and access to this right. According to hate crime research, in most cases, discrimination continues in hospitals after an attack has taken place. There are those who share their patient’s personal information on social media or refuse to treat them just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity… After the earthquake, this situation has become even more severe and vital.

The most important need for LGBTI+s in the earthquake zone is centers where they can feel safe and express their needs. A group targeted by the state cannot access state aid. In addition, there is a great need for feminist institutions and mechanisms that can be used against hate attacks, discrimination and violence in the earthquake region. On the issue of shelter, not being able to stay in collective centers due to the possibility of being subjected to violence is another problem.

What are you doing to organize solidarity with LGBTI+s in the earthquake zone?

For example, one of our trans woman friends, whom we supported to come to Ankara from Antakya, had a fracture in her foot and she came to Ankara without being treated because she faced verbal harassment when she went to public places for days. When she came here, we learned that she had a fracture when we took her to the doctor. The reason was that she came out from under the wreckage by her own efforts.

In moments of crisis such as earthquakes, a hierarchy of needs inevitably emerges in people’s minds. But everyone constructs this hierarchy from themselves, from their own position. For a cis-hetero man, for example, the need for pads is not urgent. He assumes that something that he does not use or does not see as a basic need is the same for everyone. The aid and solidarity campaigns determined by the cis-hetero male mind do not only ignore the needs of women and LGBTI+s, but also trivialize them. This is obviously a blatant overstepping of bounds.

Similarly, access to hormones was not considered when planning all aid processes. Our trans friends who have to stay in the region contact us and tell us that they cannot access hormones. We are trying to deliver them as much as we can and to solve the problem by contacting the institutions in the region, but it is not enough. Currently, all health needs in the region are solved by artificial respiration from Ankara. The insensitivity of the public  means this: Don’t die but live a life of great misery.

Are there refugee LGBTI+s among your applicants? How do their needs differ?

In the earthquake, we experienced the consequences of the AKP-MHP [Justice and Development Party-Nationalist Movement Party] government’s policies of rent, plunder and looting. Instead of confronting the consequences of these, a very serious racism was organized with the call of so-called opposition figures like Ümit Özdağ, who are clearly rooted in the state, and the institutions they own. We have encountered so many problems, from lynch attempts against refugees to their displacement by state policies. A perception like this was wanted to be established: “There is a crisis, resources are limited, citizens should benefit from these resources first.”

Only the first part of this sentence is true. Yes, there was a crisis. And that crisis is the state putting money and the interests of capital above human life, as it has been doing for years. The reason for the limited resources was not the refugees, but this very understanding. And expecting citizens to benefit from these resources first is racism in the purest sense of the word.

In such a situation, LGBTI+ refugees, who were already refugees within refugees, experienced even more than double discrimination. Most of them are deprived of family support, condemned to loneliness, resettled in cities where the LGBTI+ movement is not organized, and trying to survive in the cities where they are located, and we understood from the interviews with LGBTI+ refugees that it is, colloquially, the state of “not being able to wangle out of one identity even if they can wangle out of the other”.

Here we see the limits created by family-based aid and solidarity. The calculation of heads when helping people affected by the earthquake, the assumption that supporting one family will support all family members is itself problematic. First of all, if there is no equality within that family, how do we know that support will reach family members equally? In a family structure where the man is seen as the head of the house, the needs of women and children cannot even be voiced. When you are LGBTI+, you cannot reach anything because you have already been exiled from that family.

During the earthquake process, serious problems were experienced not only for refugees but also for Dom and Abdal people living in the region. Their neighborhoods were destroyed, they were buried under wreckage, they were expelled from other cities, even their eating became a problem.

Do LGBTI+s who were affected by the earthquake and came to Ankara face discrimination in accessing rights and supports?

The two most important needs for LGBTI+s coming to Ankara are housing and employment. It is obvious that homeowners and real estate agents saw the earthquake as an “opportunity” and raised rents. Ankara is one of the most migrated places and rents have doubled or tripled in a month. Our friends who arrived are still staying in temporary houses. Since families are prioritized in the houses opened for solidarity purposes and in the services provided by the municipalities, we have not been able to place anyone anywhere other than our own homes. The other issue is finding temporary or permanent jobs. Considering that LGBTI+ unemployment is at peak, the most difficult part for us in Ankara is finding a job.

What can be done against discrimination against LGBTI+s affected by the earthquake in the earthquake zone and in other provinces of Turkey?

Normally, in a normal country, this question would be answered in terms of the steps the state should take. But unfortunately, we are not in such a country. In conditions where the only expectation from the state is that it should not stand in the way, we issued a call as Solidarity in the past few days. I would like to quote from it:

  • You can share the contact of Ankara LGBTI+ Earthquake Solidarity ([email protected]) with your members and volunteers and indicate that there are many areas they can support, from opening their homes to food and clothing support, from urban transportation to intercity transportation.
  • You can draw attention to discrimination against LGBTI+s in your earthquake coordination activities, you can call on LGBTI+s to contact you directly by stating that your organization is against this discrimination.
  • If you are going to the earthquake zone, taking part in aid distribution or establishing living centers, a rainbow flag that you can put in a corner, a rainbow scarf that your volunteers will wear, will surely give LGBTI+s morale and motivation to reach you.
  • After the earthquake, LGBTI+s often had to hide in secluded corners rather than central places. They may not even know about your center and you. Therefore, as you expand your aid distribution efforts, you can plan to include LGBTI+s.
  • You can contact us before you send your aid from Ankara and get information about LGBTI+s in need of support in that city.
  • LGBTI+s who want to leave the region often cannot access transportation and may hesitate to use public transportation. You can open your vehicles to LGBTI+s on your way back.
  • Almost none of the LGBTI+s who contact us have any regular income or family support. Although official family-based work is very valuable, it excludes LGBTI+s. For this reason, if you have questions about how to include LGBTI+s in your solidarity efforts, you can contact us.
  • LGBTI+s coming to Ankara are currently staying temporarily in the houses of other LGBTI+s. In their search for permanent housing, we face discrimination as well as rising rents. For this reason, you can consider LGBTI+s when sharing your housing opportunities.
  • Another problem intertwined with housing is employment. Considering that there is no family support, there are obstacles in accessing social assistance and LGBTI+ unemployment has reached record levels, you may consider prioritizing LGBTI+s when employment opportunities arise.

These are the first things that come to mind. We know that there are many more problems waiting to be solved. We are ready to talk and discuss with all friendly and comrade organizations in Ankara in order to fight all these together.

Through which channels can those in need of support reach you?

Those in need of support can reach us via [email protected].

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için


Translator: Gülcan Ergün

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

[1] A term, which emerged from slang terminology, having a close meaning to queer and describing LGBTI+s in Turkish.


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