Populism in Turkish politics and the LGBTI community

LGBTI people are still become the victims of honor killings in Turkey. Now that a narrative of hatred against LGBTI people is gaining traction in Turkish politics, harder days await members of the community.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan lashed out on LGBTI community on Monday. He said, “Again, they are insidiously attacking our national and spiritual values. Throughout the history of mankind, they have been trying to poison young minds by normalizing cursed perversions.” Erdoğan called on people to “react” to those he described. In other words, he basically meant LGBTI people.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a Turkish trans influencer, Selin Ciğerci. In my piece, I tried to explain how, on one hand, the existence of trans and gay people has been internalized by Turkish people. However, in countries like Turkey, contradictions do exist. While people enjoy watching Turkish trans diva Bülent Ersoy for example, they tend to react negatively if someone in their family is gay or transgender. LGBTI people still become the victims of honor killings in Turkey. Now that a narrative of hatred against LGBTI people is gaining traction in Turkish politics, harder days await members of the community.

It all started with a statement by the head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet). In one of his Friday speeches, Ali Erbaş explained how Islam condemns gay people, and he claimed gay people are one of the causes of illness from the pandemic. This was at the end of April and everybody was concerned about COVID-19. Erbaş’s statement caused concern among democrat members of society. As negative reactions ramped up, AKP politicians rushed to defend Ali Erbaş. Statements defending Erbaş came one after another, and the hashtag #YallahHollandaya (Go to Holland) even started trending on Twitter. Tweets with the hashtag were calling people who don’t agree with Ali Erbaş to go live in Holland, where gay marriage is legal.

One of the harshest reactions came from the Ankara Bar association. In a written statement, the association likened Ali Erbaş’s outburst to the witch-burning ceremonies of the Middle Ages. The statement caused even more of a negative response by Erdoğan. After the statement was made by the Ankara bar, a new law was introduced in the parliament that enabled the establishment of plural bar associations in major cities. 

During pride week, hate speech against LGBTI people peaked. The head of Kızılay, the Turkish Red Crescent, Kerem Kınık, tweeted:

“We will protect nature and the mental health of our children. We’ll fight against those who violate healthy creation, who make the abnormal look normal by using their power of communication and impose their paedophiliac dreams cloaked as modernity on young minds.”

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the network of the organization’s national groups and on which Kınık serves as one of the five vice presidents, tweeted their reaction to Kerem Kınık:

“The views expressed by Dr. Kınık do not represent the views of the IFRC: these words are both wrong and offensive,” it said, adding that it was assessing its next step.

“The IFRC has a clear code of conduct which forbids any form of homophobia, hate speech or prejudice, and all staff and representatives are bound by that code, including Dr. Kınık.”

The Turkish Presidency’s communication director Fahrettin Altun jumped in and wrote on Twitter that “LGBT propaganda poses a grave threat to freedom of speech,” adding that the IFRC “became complicit in that attack by targeting” Kinik. “We won’t be silenced!” he wrote.

However, the harshest remark came from President Erdoğan when he called people to negatively react to “deviances.” The inconsistency of Erdoğan’s stance in this matter is also unbelievable. Just four years ago, Erdoğan invited famous trans diva Bülent Ersoy to an iftar dinner. Photographs of the dinner that showed the Erdoğans and Ersoy enjoying a chat and dinner were shared with the public. 

However, this is not the first time Mr. Erdoğan has changed his stance on a topic by 180 degrees. But his call for a negative reaction is likely to have serious consequences. In a country in which gay and trans people have been the victims of honor killings, Erdoğan’s call may result in even more bloodshed.

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