LGBT Movement in Turkey: Genealogy, Particularity and Embeddedness into a Broader Universe

LGBT Movement in Turkey: Genealogy, Particularity and Embeddedness into a Broader Universe


Observing and studying the utilization of the mass media, communication technologies and international, non-governmental organizations to promote local activists, helps us to draw a broader picture that reflects the global social movements and their universalistic politics. As the ideas and ideologies, their language, images they provide grow more universal day by day, people around the world come to apply their social contexts and form their particular politics around these universalities. Arjun Appadurai (1996), on this matter, argues that to understand the local expressions and adaptations of the global, transnational ideologies and politics, we should consider the local historicity within its socio-political context along with the development of a wide ranging mobilization. From this point on, I will examine the Turkish LGBT movement over its historical development, struggles with local political structure and ties and parallels with an enlarging LGBT politics around the world. LGBT movement in Turkey has its similarities with other local contexts of the global movement in terms of its politics and ideological language and formation as a result of the global networks it adopts. Yet, the particularity of Turkish case comes from the degree of the struggles and the components of its struggles in a local culture and politics. Without considering the social culture and the sexual norms of the Turkish society, state ideology and politics surrounding it; it would be misleading to label the formation of an activism around sexual orientation as global in all aspects. Hence, the reason I write this piece is to exhibit a crucially enlarging political identity group and their contention in contemporary Turkish politics. While doing this, it is also important to elaborate on certain historicity in the formation of the LGBT groups and contentious politics in reaction to the social cultural oppression and the state hostility towards LGBT identity in a local context while also asserting its space in the broader vision, universal struggle of the LGBT community.

Debates and Facts on a Global Scale

Despite all the ongoing arguments over globalization, the striking debate concerns whether or not it leads to homogenization arguably in all aspects of life as politics, society, and economy. Social movements, especially “new social movements” – such as feminist movement, environmental movements and LGBT movement – are considered among these unifying political culture mechanisms. Before going into the new social movement conceptualization, the reformative social movement argument seems adequately basic to define the LGBT movement and its politics. According to this account, reformative movements are those which aim at partial changes in the society and social politics to create a more just and equal understanding of the social order through which sets its resistance through the organized institutionalized means in opposition to the current inequalities and injustices (Wilson, 1973). The LGBT movement in this respect suits well since it pursues political claims through very much institutionalized manners such as international human rights regime proliferated by UN regulations and nongovernmental organizations – such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – that adopt LGBT issues into their agendas both domestically and internationally.

Along with this definition of reformative movements, Cohen and Rai (2000) favor the “new social movement” terminology to define current identity politics around the world which adopt developing communication and media technologies to achieve an overall spread through society and hence they address a large global audience. Considering the use of technology and media, Appadurai’s scapes give us a chance to elaborate on the utility of these allegedly globalizing notions. By using the term “media scapes”, he argues that through the innovations on the media technology dissemination of information becomes available to many people around the world instantaneously and through the efficiency and the speed political ideas and images (ideoscapes) are becoming more relevant from diverge places and merging in our consciousness (Appadurai, 1990). After all, looking at the evolution of the LGBT movement, it is clear that the movement tied itself with the use of such technologies, internet campaigns, petitions such as ALL OUT to create a global participatory audience for a local LGBT oppression cases (ALLOUT, 2012), or various Facebook/Twitter pages and groups, call for world summits to discuss on LGBT workplace issues on a global level (Global LGBT Work Place Summit, 2012) where they can reach many local organizations groups. Also the rise in scholarly work on LGBT issues and politics and movements express the notion that LGBT issue is becoming more and more of a global concern, capturing attentions of many diverse groups and individuals from different nationalities and economic classes.

Such global organizations, media spaces and social networks correspond Upendra Baxi’s statement that the new social movement terminology actually boils down to “socialization of grievances” for which he claims that as the individual experiences of oppression become more and more common, it leads to “submerged networks” that creates the possibility of a movement (Baxi, 1999). These technologies and the organizations that use them, entail spaces for people to communicate and witness each other’s sufferings and create a common awareness on the level of individual identities. These individual experiences of oppression towards sexual orientation give no regard to national, religious, economic diversity and hence the globalization of LGBT movements under its “transversal politics” engage in a new base for social contention with a diverse social cultural identities and become an international political force against the nation state on the basis of equality and justice (Cockburn, 2000). However, it would be misleading to read “the new social movements” argument as the emancipation of identity politics from their local contexts and their struggles within nation states towards a solely global politics and global contention. The division of old and new social movements is fragile on the matter of this emancipative understanding. For a movement to be global, it does not necessarily mean lifting its politics above the national context and the nation state polity; in contrast, as in the LGBT movement, it stages itself over the alternative policy advocacy for achieving social and political changes against the oppression of the structures and the social orders of the nation states towards sexual orientation. Thus, global politics of LGBT basically boils down to the local contexts and policy formations based on localities through the force of nongovernmental international organizations, and interstate settings, international law.

Also Appadurai states on this tendency of over-celebrating globalization and its effects that the cultural flows, occurring through the scapes at a notable speed and intensity, might exaggerate the picture of a homogenizing world (Appadurai, 1990). Namely, although the LGBT movement creates a similar pattern in different localities with its adaptation of human rights advocacy, political and cultural symbols of contention (mostly observable in the pride parades such as the rainbow flag or the slogans); the process and the mechanisms of this contention differ among localities.

What makes advocacy and the concept of LGBT global, apart from the human rights basis on which it is articulated, is the identity it possesses. Removed from the ethnical, religious or economic identities of the individuals, sexual orientations internally bear a global identity. Being gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex or anything else included in the term “queer” is not specific to any nation or group in the world; hence the problem of one group of LGBT people is likely to be relevant for others in other localities that result in the creation of transnational networks. Even so, it is questionable that whether these LGBT networks and cultural flows on LGBT homogenize people who hold this identity.

LGBT Movement: Development and Proliferation

Before going into the particularity/globality debate surrounding the LGBT movement in Turkey, it is important to discuss the historical development and general understanding of the LGBT movement on a global basis. Although the movement first appeared at a minimum level with the publishing of the first journal on homosexuality which described it as a “third sex” in Germany in 1896. The momentum did not begin to be built until the post-World War II period in the US (Ertetik, 2010). I do not assert that the US is the culture imperialist of the social movements, yet  advanced industrial conditions provided a better environment for an LGBT culture to grow and eventually offer the resistance over an establishment of political social networks (such as Harvey Milk’s political campaign) eventually. Since the term “homosexuality” first used in the journal in Germany, the LGBT communities have always been subjected to systematic pressure from governments and societies they exists, in a variety of social discursive fields such as education, demography, law that claimed to be concerned with the protection of the family values, along with the health of the society (Spargo, 1999). This picture has not changed today; politicians, and public figures, conservative groups still play on the social morality, family ethics and psychological and biological diagnosis of homosexuality worked to marginalize people with such an identity.

John D’Emilio (1983) focuses particularly on the evolution of the movement in the USA and provides an overview of LGBT from its roots in the 1940 to the 70′s as it became more and more visible.  Yet this was not a culture of invisibility, silence and isolation since it led to a mass growth of identity politics and activism around LGBT issues (D’Emilio, 1983). Within this period thousands of Americans came out as a part of political campaign where the media covered such instances and scholarly articles started to be published; but the igniter of the mass marches and mass movement was the Stonewall Riots in NYC in 1969 that was organized against the media attacks on LGBT and the US government’s political defiance towards the growing LGBT politics (D’Emilio 1983, Ertetik 2010). Events following the riots, led to the abolition of the sodomy laws in many states in the US, inclusion of the LGBT politics in the Democratic Party’s political agenda and the repeal of the psychological deficiency category defined from the APA codes for LGBT individuals (D’Emilio, 1983).

The relative success of the LGBT politics in the US also affected the contemporary politics in Europe. The publishing of the novels, scholarly articles and media coverage all played an important role in the spread of the movement in similar veins. LGBT communities such as Queer Nation in the US and many others in Europe came together with groups from other movements -  such as feminists – and started to organize pride marches, anti-homophobic education workshops, visibility in heterosexual spaces campaigns, coming out solidarity groups and art and media exhibitions to challenge the right wing counter politics to undermine the LGBT culture (Ertetik 2010, Spargo 1999). Then, the global vocabulary of the movement was of pride, not of pathology; of resistance, not of self-effacement and the society, social system and social politics were the cause of the oppression over the different sexual orientations therefore the targets of the LGBT activism were social norms, social policies, nation states that provides these policies (Spargo, 1999). So the movement began to prevail in all the spheres of social life which gave its power to spread globally through such media as art, literature, academia, politics and religion in which they were traditionally condemned.

On the other side, Kelly Kollman, a political scientist at the University of Glasgow, looks at the same sex marriages and the globalization of policy trends in nation states of the advanced industrial societies. Although, the scope of the article is limited to the countries of the North, her explanations are important for observing how the roots of a form of policy to be globalized. Talking basically about the political elites, she draws the attention to transnational European networks’ influences on local policy debates especially after Denmark became the first country in Europe to adopt same sex union policies in 1989 (Kollman, 2007). The regulations concerning LGBT rights and the process of the debate show similar patterns in every country where the LGBT groups have formed around claiming social political and economic rights and these rights were used to contend against the conservative groups on the basis of human rights (Kollman, 2007). Further  I could argue that forming politics around human rights debate, actually paved the way for easier negotiations for the LGBT groups with the policy elites because international institutions such as UN and EU were enforcing their social policies over the member states on the basis of human rights and democratic discourses. Yet the ease with which is accomplished depends on the degree of the nation states applications of these human rights regimes to their constitutions and political practices. Those political demands based on human rights, equality and justice for LGBT people were adopted by many transnational human rights NGO’s, intergovernmental organizations, domestic political actors that pressured nation states through their networks and organizational power (Kollman, 2007). Interestingly she, further in the article, mentions “social learning” claiming that the practices of these organizations within the national contexts resulted in a learning process for other countries and the activists and policy elites in these countries through the expansion of the academic works on the issue along with the transnational networked practices during the post-World War II period (Kollman, 2007). Although she focuses on the “Western democracies”, I believe as the scope of the communication and the media developed, the learning process reached other countries and this can be traced by the political language that the local groups adopt in their struggles in different countries. Nevertheless, local actors, in this process, became more and more global in the sense their practices and political discourses, sources of information came to resemble the transnational practices and human rights language and became linked to these organizations on the basis of a global solidarity (Kollman, 2007). Yet, the adoption of the human rights language was not an open path for LGBT organizations. Until the 1980’s none of the human rights organizations included sexual rights to their political agenda (Kollman, 2007). Discussing the strong national and transnational interconnected networks among the LGBT communities and human rights supporters without which the policy formations are less likely to occur favorably; she touches upon the non-Western societies as well and depicts the importance of the culture vis-à-vis LGBT contentions (Kollman, 2007). Her basic claim is that the political norms around human rights and LGBT rights are formed mostly on the basis of Western formulation; hence the clash is most likely with the non-western cultures (Kollman, 2007). Although local cultures are significant in defining the global politics and their local applications, this statement seemed rather narrow considering homophobia itself draws from a wide range of discourses present both in the North and South. If there is a division between these countries then the scope has to be the human rights practices and social policy differentiations in terms of to what extent the liberties are given, citizenship rights are recognized regardless of sexual orientation.

LGBT Movement in Turkey: Differences and Similarities in a Broader Context
Historical Overview

In discussing all these arguments concerning the globalization of an identity movement and its local diffusion, focusing on a case country will provide a clearer image on how certain social movement paradigms penetrate into local activism introducing a global vision and shape the particular policy formations perceived through broader political vocabulary. Examining Turkey’s experience with LGBT politics, I do not intend to argue one way or the other on the movement vis-à-vis what happens on the global arena; rather this analysis will refer to how the social political activism formation occurs on a dynamic between global and the local.

Most significant political act in the history of Turkish Republic, concerning the politicization of the queer identity, is the establishment of the Radical Democrat Green Party with the leadership of Ibrahim Eren after 1980’ military intervention.

The party’s political agenda was addressing a wide range of political activism such as feminism, ecology, LGBT, anti-militarism and atheism (ILGA 2004, Duru 2002).

The formation of such a political group actually did not happen spontaneously; their consciousness was shaped through 1970’s when all kinds of “new social movements” were being formed and developing as such (ILGA 2004, Duru 2002). This not-very-late collaboration with the world wide social movements was parallel with the forms of radical and green parties in Europe as the party founders were experienced during the period they spent in Europe (Duru 2002). Although the party could not perform efficient politics in Turkish society as it existed through the late 1980’s, their inclusion of the LGBT terms and politics was significant for the visibility and politicization of a global trend in the local social political context. ILGA-Europe’s (2004) article on the history of the LGBT movement in Turkey provides sufficient information on the process and formation of the political struggle. After the ineffectiveness of the Radical Democrat Green Party, LGBT groups gained a political voice to some extent and went ahead with protests, hunger strikes (as in 1987), and organizations of the LGBT conferences in 1993 despite a government ban, and partially became successful considering the acquisition of the legal status for transsexuals in 1988 and establishment of the first LGBT magazine and organization, Kaos GL in Ankara in 1994 (ILGA, 2004). After the establishment of Kaos GL group, other groups and organizations, student forums began to sprout due to the momentum the LGBT movement gained in Turkey. Also LGBT issues began to be voiced in the media, magazines (1994), radio shows (1996), public libraries (2003) the LGBT issues were becoming voiced. However, the state suppression, discrimination, violence against the new visibility of LGBT community was also increasing. This was particularly the case towards transsexual individuals as in the Ulker Street case in 1996 right before the United Nations Human Settlement Program meeting in Istanbul as many transgendered people were displaced and driven out of their homes, subjected to investigation, arrests and torture (ILGA, 2004). Through the first pride march in June 2003 in Istanbul, the movement’s ties with global contemporaries were becoming intense. Local groups and organizations were taking part, exhibiting and presenting the movement in Turkey in the international conferences and congresses held in Istanbul and Ankara (ILGA, 2004).

Along with the rise of activism in Turkey, the state’s cultural and political repression has grown gradually. Despite the certain advantages gained and visibility and political momentum sustained through 1980’s to present; the image of the LGBT people in society at large did not change much in terms of their place in the social hierarchy and politics. Being LGBT have long sense been associated with psychological disorders and perversion by the society and state in Turkey, in particular transsexuals and transvestites are subjected to severe violence, killings and social economic deprivation (Ertetik, 2010).

It is in this environment that the LGBT communities, groups and individuals gained a political understanding of what they were exposed to and formed political struggles around it, because mourning and pitying would put people into more desperate position. Groups such as Lambda Istanbul and Kaos GL paved the way for the establishments of other groups in other cities such as Biz GL (later renamed as Siyah-Pembe Üçgen) in Izmir through late 1990’s, Hebûn LGBT Diyarbakır in 2011 (a Kurdish LGBT group in the southeast Turkey), MorEl LGBT in Eskişehir, Voltrans transgendered people’s group in 2007 in Istanbul, Intersexual Şalala in Istanbul and Listag LGBT Family Group Istanbul. Along with these groups, student groups also started to be formed in many universities in Turkey such as Lubunya in Boğaziçi University-Istanbul, Istanbul Technical University Cins Arı, Istanbul University Radar LGBT group, ODTU LGBT in Ankara.

Local Context on Global Terms

Although many of these organizations mentioned above were shut down by the government many times and their activities were banned; they continue to raise awareness and political action through strong local and international networks. Going through all their websites, blogs and articles written for them it is observable that these groups, as well as they are connected to other left wing social groups in Turkey – such as feminist groups and labor groups and NGO’s like SPoD (Social Policy association) – are working in a networked fashion together with the other groups in many countries around the world. For example, on the homepage of the Listag’s website they present their connections with other family groups in the world in list of various groups from Italy, The US, Jamaica, The UK, Mexico, Argentina and many others (Listag, 2012). Also, Lambda Istanbul’s webpage demonstrates a comprehensive list of the networks that the LGBT groups in Turkey are associated with such as ILGA, Amnesty International, anti-militarist international groups and so on (Lambda İstanbul, 2012).

To create a network within a solidarity function, certain beliefs and values should be shared among the components of these networks. In the LGBT movement in general, the beliefs, ideas and values promote politics around the queer identity are formulated human rights claims. Disregarding the sexual orientation of individuals entails an overall oppression of people’s lives, practices and relations among each other and their participation in the society where the human rights concept is mainly concerned with. The language of basic freedoms, human rights, political and economic rights, equality, justice and recognition has been adopted since the early turning points of the LGBT politics in the world history.

Queer Nation and many other pioneering groups formed their actions around these universal claims which in response the queer politics emerged around certain identity concepts (Bernstein, 2005). The movement in Turkey, in the light of these early politics evolving around 1970’s and 80’s, utilized a similar formation of groups and activism, adopting the language of human rights (Kaos GL 2005, ILGA 2004, Ertetik 2010). Taking on the human rights claims, local groups developed networks with the international, nongovernmental human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and interstate institutions such as European Human Rights Court where they sought asylum and partnership and association. Due to the intensification of the LGBT politics in Turkey, the attention of these transnational organizations was also driven towards Turkey and the local groups.

Here perhaps we should consider Sassen’s arguments in terms of the global – local dimension of a formation culture and social movements. Sassen’s (2001) critical contribution to the debate is a useful one as she claims the fact that certain processes entailed by certain entities in nation states would be localization of the global instead of a national process and entity. For this matter she focuses on what she calls “the global cities” and the internalization of the global flows within these cities (Sassen, 2001). Although it is debatable whether or not we could call the main cities in Turkey global or not; the roots of the spread of a global LGBT phenomenon represents what she has been discussing in terms of the possibilities that these spaces offer for certain notions to be applied. The use of the media, internet and communication in larger, more developed cities of Turkey that are more economically and socially mixed and enhanced with a variety of audience such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and some others; exhibits the improvement of the LGBT culture and politics within the nation state borders. Considering this utilization of global factors in the local arena, I could address to the increase in the number of representations on the LGBT issues in the Turkish mass media. For example, the articles issuing the politicians perspectives on LGBT people in Radikal (2012) arguing the physically and politically, or a report wise article on the homophobia in Turkey, the process of the policy formation within the ruling party and analysis of its politics towards LGBT people. Also as in Milliyet (2010), another prominent newspaper in Turkey, the reports on the political negotiations between LGBT groups and the government in the context of EU membership; and many other media examples. The rise of the visibility of LGBT issues in the mass media representations also lead to certain social debates through the individual comments by the readers under the articles online or the polls, surveys that these reporters design to address understanding towards the LGBT politics. While these tools that are used by LGBT people to bring their politics new spaces, let us witness the process and progress of a movement on a local basis, they also purvey the root of discussion over the local context vis-à-vis the general process of the LGBT movement in the world in terms of human rights, education and work opportunities, health issues and citizenship debates that would cast in a different mold than the rest of the world. Also Martin Albrow (2005) supports the idea that the locality would have traces of global notions in terms of the sources and partners in making sense of the world. If we consider the sources and materials, partners of the LGBT movement in Turkey social networks, communication technologies, face to face interactions, academic gatherings and country specific reports of international nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International sustains the global conditions in a local dispute. The use of technology, internet, personal blogs, social networks etc. prevents the isolation of the local movement paradigms from its global contemporaries. These resources and tools are the factors of linking LGBT (Albrow, 2005); on the basis of the LGBT people and their experiences of oppression in the local social political context that helps to raise an awareness of the national LGBT issues in other parts of the world.

To understand the embeddedness or “partial embeddedness” of the global in the local requires a more complex understanding in terms of LGBT movement in Turkey. Therefore to analyze the degree of globality and locality in the movement, the nature of the negotiations and relations between the international, intergovernmental institutions and the Turkish state should be analyzed. This is because the LGBT organizations address their politics in terms of human right regulations that are projected by the UN resolutions and the sanctions of the Human Rights Court on the Turkish state (ILGA 2005, Kaos GL 2012). This is not to disregard the local activism and local transactions between the groups and the government but to assert that the process of the LGBT movement in Turkey goes two-ways. There is a continuous transaction between the local and international components of the movement and the Turkish state and international forces, organizations as well as the direct struggle between the state and the community.


Lastly, to elaborate the discussion over the global and local factors on the LGBT movement in Turkey, I will present international country specific reports on Turkey’s LGBT issues by Amnesty International (2011), ILGA – Europe (2010) and UNHRC (2011) and compare them with the overview of the LGBT issues in Turkey prepared by Kaos GL and Lambda İstanbul (2005). I do this to exemplify the significance of the similarity of the language and the particular approaches to the locality of the issues in the former.

Although there are other reports made by the local organizations, these specific ones is important to analyze since they present an overall historicity of the LGBT movement and the global language that is adopted to promote the politics around LGBT issues along with the perceptions over the culture and religion of the society contributing to their arguments.

The report that Amnesty International published “Not An Illness Nor A Crime” in 2011 attracts the attention towards the state violence as well as the social cultural violence against the LGBT people in Turkey. The hostilities observed in the report depict the systematic promotion of these atrocities by the government and the lack of humanitarian legislation (Amnesty International, 2011). Whilst, the Turkish state’s manner on the forming of the anti-discriminatory laws exhibits to what extent the European Convention of Human Rights’ decisions have failed to be implemented, the state continues to be a party to this convention (Amnesty International, 2011). The violence, open and systematic, discrimination has been strengthening by the social cultural discourses on the social order and morality, family values and religion. As the Amnesty International addresses the Turkish state directly in its report, the state has been condemned both internationally and internally which gives an important and fierce voice to the LGBT sufferings and struggles. Eventually, this report suggests alterations in the local legislations and judiciary as well as reconsidering the international laws and their binding forces over nation states (Amnesty International, 2011).

LGBT individuals being oppressed in almost every spheres of life in Turkey have attracted the various groups and organizations from the international arena. The violence that transsexuals are subjected to is the most observable one. Although they gained their legal status and recognition by the state, the social norms still not changed and continue to cause deprivation, murders and economic seclusion. The judicial system in Turkey keep ignoring the cases of transsexual killings or being ineffective in their prosecution. On this matter, ILGA-Europe (2010) has reported some of the incidents of murder and states oppression against transsexuals and transvestites in Turkey. While ILGA reports the insufficiency for the state protection for the transsexuals, they call for solidarity and action from the various international and local groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, IGLHRC, and Pink Life etc. and demand for the prevention and protection on the part of the state (ILGA-Europe, 2010). As a result, they wrote a letter directly to the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the parliament considering these issues and demanding solutions by the state. Also as they made the letter available on the internet, many other groups and organizations reached and voiced these demands creating stronger links.

Apart from these nongovernmental transnational groups, also interstate institutions started to matter sexual rights in their human rights regulations. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2011 published a report on the prevention of the “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity”. This report, as it highlights the importance of the binding international standards, implies the need for attention on the notions as universality, equality and non-discrimination in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR 1948, UNHCHR 2011). The Article 3 of the declaration “everyone has right to life, liberty and security of the persons” and Article 20 (1) “everyone has right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association” are the highlighted notions to compel nation states to protect individuals regardless of their sexual orientation (UNHCHR, 2011). So overall, the report proposes an efficient international institutional mechanism and asserts the need for the UN Human Rights Council to organize a binding international legislation over member states along these terms (UNHCHR, 2011).

Lastly, to have a look at the local groups and how they perceive themselves in this global context of LGBT movement, Kaos GL’s overview on LGBT issue in Turkey provides the global images, ideas that are adopted by the local activists and local resolutions on the basis of the LGBT suppression in Turkey. Their demands are not very different from the Amnesty International’s and ILGA’s as they pursue the politics towards nondiscriminatory social legislation regardless of sexual orientation of individuals. They thus envisioning the human rights claims and exposing the issues in various spaces of social life such as education, work life, private life and matters regarding military (Kaos GL, 2005).

Taking the Kaos (Ankara) and Lambda (Istanbul) groups as prominent organizations of LGBT in Turkey, interestingly the report addresses the efficiency of the internet in defining the process of the LGBT movement in Turkey and claims that the social networks, personal blogs, websites of organizations, e-publishing enhanced the politics of the movement towards mobilization and organization of individuals (Kaos GL, 2005). These technological tools also paved the way to communicate with the international groups and eased the associative solidarity among local and international organizations. Besides, touching upon the issues of transsexuals and lesbians in Turkey, they basically claim the local weakness of the feminist movement and the lack of understanding on the female sexuality among the activist groups in Turkey (Kaos GL, 2005).

The report also implies the advantages that the movement gained through the EU politics of the Turkish state and states that this environment presents hope for the future of the movement since Turkey started to take further actions towards human rights concerns (Kaos GL, 2005). Comparing Turkey with other Muslim populated countries in the Middle East, it states that Turkey stands for better in terms of politics of sexuality regarding its relations with Europe and those other Muslim populated, pro-Europe countries such as Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania and so on (Kaos GL, 2005). The report also states that being LGBT has never been a crime in penal code; however, this is not to assert that a positive image on the situation in Turkey (Kaos GL, 2005). In a parenthesis, this rather implies the progress of the hostility of non-recognition before the emergence of LGBT politics in Turkey and as the LGBT culture and politics revealed in society the Turkish state’s violence becoming more and more visible through its legislations, police patrols on transsexuals and public speeches as of Aliye Kavaf, former state minister responsible for women and family affairs, insisted on being LGBT is a biological disorder and should be treated as such (Bildirici, 2010).


All the reports exhibited before stands critical for which it gives a strong momentum on the LGBT politics in Turkey, yet it is not clear to what extend their suggestions and even the international laws have a binding force over nation states considering the sovereignty issues in globalization discussion which poses a further debate. To assert the local activism globally strong in terms of LGBT movement in general, the local and international dynamics of the movement should be clarified within the nature of Turkish state’s manner in the international arena.

The Kaos GL’s and Lambda’s overview (2005) is actually presenting a framework of how the very local issues can be addressed and solved together with a global network and ideology behind it. It rather creates the feeling of a practical envisioning of the global politics vis-à-vis the contentions with the state and society. Embracing the EU norms and regulations and Turkey’s actions towards them, this report actually lacks a detailed analysis over the regulations of the human rights norms within the European nation states, regarding their practices on LGBT people and communities. It is very obvious that the organizations of the movement in Turkey regard other groups and organizations around the world as an important factor and actor determining their practices and politics. To establish a notion of the locality of this contentious politics of sexuality in Turkey, further research should be designed to analyze the historicity of state politics vis-à-vis the society and its ways of oppression on the sexual minorities. To frame the oppression in Turkey against LGBT people as non-recognition and adverseness will clarify the notion of the contentious politics. Together with the contemporary components of the LGBT movement all around the world, the LGBT politics in Turkey is towards universal claims on human rights and justice. Adopting a universal language to form politics places the local movement on a global stage, whereas the use of this language towards what kind of oppressive mechanisms, characteristics of the political and social oppression, will entails its local particularities. In Turkey, this localization of a global language stands for the struggle against social morals and politics specific to Turkey. The ways of local groups such as Kaos GL, Lambda Istanbul, Pembe Hayat, Listag to sustain themselves on the politics of sexuality and their organizational feature together with the struggle against the state, changes in different periods of politics in Turkey, yet the language they use, the claims they entail stays similar to what has been claimed globally.


The debates over locality and globality of social norms and social movements is still on the academic debate yet a strong notion on the duality of processes that the social movement gain in terms of local and global development, prevails in my examination of the LGBT movement in Turkey. The use of technology, media, internet, the formations of associations, solidarity among them, and the scope of the ideas that reaches across borders all identify the global paths of a social movement to spread. Whereas, the application of this widespread languages of movements differs in localities in terms of what kind of the contentious environment they are forming their politics and mechanisms they use against.

The politics and actions of international groups as Amnesty International or ILGA-Europe on the local context and state administration are such as to have a “watch” function that would expose the Turkish state’s practices and in devotion to the international human rights regime to a larger international audience. Even when a local contentious politics on sexuality addresses large audiences and have global roots and implications of the universal ideas, it does not take movement out of the scope of the state’s formal historical, social, political and economic ideology and context. The movement in Turkey works through local issues and state practices on the basis of the social cultural violence. In this scope I do not view international solidarity and accompany as a global concept free from its localities. It is a dynamic process after all.

Serkan İlaslaner, Postgraduate Student, Sabancı University, Turkey

Please cite this publication as follows:

İlaslaner, Serkan (April, 2014), “LGBT Movement in Turkey: Genealogy, Particularity and Embeddedness into a Broader Universe”, Vol. III, Issue 4, pp.25-42, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (


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Ördek, Kemal. 2011. “Görünmeyenin Yükselen Sesi: Uluslararası Trans Hakları Hareketi”. Kaos GL Dergi. Sayı 118. p. 44-45-46

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Sparago, Tamsin, 1999. Foucault and Queer Theory. Icon Books, UK.

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Anon., 2010. Discrimination Will Be Banned, Draft Law Says. (online)17 March. Available at:<> . (Accessed on 23 Nov 2012).

Bildirici, Faruk, 2010. Eşcinsellik Hastalık, Tedavi Edilmeli. (online)7 March. Availabe at:<>. (Accessed on 5 Dec 2012).

K., Tugay, 2012. Homofobinin Türkiye’si. (online)9 Nov. Available at: <> . (Accessed on 9 Nov 2012).

K., Tugay, 2012. Türkiye’nin Narsist Tablosu: Surekli Yıpranan LGBT. (online)10 Nov. Available at: <> (Accessed on 10 Nov 2012).

Kılıç, Şevval. 2011. “Türkiye’de Trans Olmak ve Trans Hakları Mücadelesi Üzerine Şevval Kılıç ile Söyleşi” interviewed by Sema Merve İş, Fahriye Dinçer. Kültür ve Siyasette Feminist Yaklaşımlar. 2011, sayı 14.

Patrick, M. Steward, Kaminski, Ryan, 2011. The Global Effort for Gay Rigths. (online) Available at: <> (Accessed on 10 Dec 2012).


Amnesty International, 2011. “ Ne bir Hastalık Ne de bir Suç, Türkiye’de Lezbiyen, Gey, Biseksüel ve Transeksüel Bireyler Eşitlik İstiyor”. (online) Amnesty International Ltd. (accessed on 16th March 2012).

Human Rigths Watch. 2010. “Turkey: Stop Violence Against Transgender People Multiple Murders Highlight Inadequate State Protection”. (online) Available at

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Report 2011/17/19/HRC of 17 November 2011 on the discriminatory laws and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

ILGA, 2004. A Brief History of the LGBT Movement in Turkey. (online) Available at: (Accessed 10 December 2012).

ILGA-Europe, 2010. Turkey: Stop Violence Against Transgendered People: Multiple Murders Highlight Inadequate State Protection. (Online). Available at:<> (Accessed on 20 October 2012).

Kaos GL, 2005. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights in Turkey: An Overview of Issues. (Online). Available at:<>. (Accessed on 23 Nov 2012).

Websites Mentioned in the Text and for Further Information


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