Introduction (Elif Sarı)
On 9 November 2017, Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP) Chair and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech during the forty-first meeting of neighborhood representatives. Targeting the one-fifth LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) quota held by the city council parish committee of Bursa Nilüfer Municipality, Erdoğan said: “As a party bearing the ‘main opposition party’ title, the CHP has become so distant from our national values that now it imposes a homosexual quota in the ratio of one fifth for the election to be held in the parish councils of the district municipality neighborhood communities. May Allah lead them to the right path.”
Bursa Nilüfer Municipality is among five municipalities that had signed the LGBTI Friendly Municipality Protocol prepared by Social Policies, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD). Only a few days after Erdogan’s speech, Nilüfer Municipality and LGBTIs began to be targeted by local and social media for being at odds with national values. Not long after, in a different city, Mardin, the eleventh leg of the Gender-Based Journalism workshop, carried out by the International Press Service (IPS) Communication Foundation with the collaboration of Kaos GL and bianet, were targeted by pro-government media outlets such as Sabah, Güneş Daily, HaberVaktim, and Yeni Akit. The workshop that was scheduled to take place on 18 November has been postponed as a result of hate speech and threats against members of the LGBTI community.
As news and social media campaigns targeting the workshop in Mardin still continued, the same media outlets began to target the German LGBT film days that was planned to be held in Ankara on 16-17 November. This was followed by social media campaigns titled #LGBTfilmgunleriyasaklansin (LGBT film days shall be banned) and #İstiklalimizeKaraLeke (disgrace to our independence) as well as a press release organized by IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation in Ankara calling for cancellation of the event. Not long after, the Governorship of Ankara banned the film screenings, arguing that they “could incite hatred and enmity towards another section of society” and that there was a “clear and imminent danger of being targeted by terror attacks.” Within a few days, similar LGBTI+ events in Izmir, Kocaeli, and Bursa were cancelled de facto, without written notices.
On 19 November 2017, the Governorship of Ankara announced a blanket ban that seems to apply to all LGBTI film screenings, panels, and exhibitions for an indefinite period, citing concerns of “social sensitivities and sensibilities,” “public security,” “public health,” “public morality,” and “protection of others’ rights and freedoms” as reasons to ban all LGBTI-related activities and gatherings. Further, On 25 November, Istanbul Beyoğlu District authority banned a one-day festival that had been set to showcase LGBTI-themed short films in the Pera Museum, in collaboration with Pink Life LGBTT Solidarity Association-QueerFest and the British Council, claiming that the event posed a threat to “public order and safety and others’ rights and freedoms.”
Several lawyers, human rights organizations, and LGBTI+ activists in Turkey have already called these bans unconstitutional and illegal. Pink Life and Kaos GL in Ankara have filed a lawsuit against the Ankara Governorship’s indefinite ban, demanding that the court lift the ban and stay implementation immediately. LGBTI+ activists across Turkey have also established Reverse LGBTI Ban in Turkey Platform (LGBTI Yasaklarını Geri Çekin Platformu), launching numerous campaigns on social media to raise awareness of these bans.
As part of our commitment to analyzing ongoing political events in Turkey, we offer the following roundtable, published in both English and Turkish, as a series of initial responses to the recent bans, as well as the state of LGBTI+ rights and freedoms in Turkey.
What Exactly Does Public Security Secure? (Evren Savcı)
The recent ban on all events organized by LGBTI groups in Turkey’s capital Ankara discursively relies on what has become the go-to excuse for the Turkish government: public security. This is not the first time that public security has been raised by local administrations as a reason to cancel LGBTI events. The Trans Pride March for the last two years, and the LGBTI Pride March for the last three, have also been banned by the Istanbul Governor’s Office using similar, though shifting claims: while in 2015 the LGBTI March was cancelled because it was going to take place during Ramadan, citing the religious sensitivities of the public, the declarations of the governor’s office regarding the 2016 and 2017 marches highlighted public security concerns at large, including concerns for the safety of those who would attend the march, as well as the security of the tourists in the area.
The short press release issued by the Ankara Governor’s Office regarding this most recent ban finally marries so-called religious sensitivities and security concerns explicitly, by stating that the events organized by LGBTI groups might “provoke one group of the public with traits of a particular social class, race, sect or region into hatred of and animosity toward another group, and therefore create an open danger against public security.” The vague reference to societal/social sensitivities (bir takım toplumsal duyarlılıklar) further down in the text does not explicitly cite religion, and religion and sect are listed among other factors such as class, race, or (geographic) region. Even then, one wonders about this inclusive list, since marching during Ramadan has historically been the only clear example of why “some groups” might feel provoked: each year since 2015, the ultra-nationalist group Alperenler has publicly declared that they would not allow this shameful event to take place during the holy month of Ramadan, if security forces failed to prevent it. In response, the 2015 Trans Pride marchers carried a banner that declared “Şaban’la Recep’in aşkına Ramazan engel olamaz” (“Ramazan cannot prevent the love of/come in between Recep and Şaban”–citing the order of the three consecutive months in the Islamic calendar which are also assigned as male names). Those who carried the banner were then charged with up to one year in prison for having ridiculed three holy months of Islam and with an indictment that stated that individuals’ freedom of thought exists as long as it does not violate freedom of religion and conscience. Those who faced the charge were later acquitted.
Of course, Turkey is not unique in providing “security measures” as a reason for increased curtailing of various freedoms in the name of “protecting freedom.” This cyclical relationship between freedom and security has been analyzed by Foucault (2008) in his lectures at the College de France, where he argued that because liberal governmental practice needs freedom (freedom of the market; freedom to buy and sell; the free exercise of property rights etc.), it has to produce freedom (i.e., what liberal governmental practice says people need in order to be free). Further, while liberalism produces freedom, this production comes with a system of constraints, as well as costs. The principle of calculation of the costs of manufacturing freedom is called “security.”
This is why security functions as a blanket justification for any liberal government measure as something we cannot not want, to cite Spivak. When I state that security functions in this way, I am not arguing that it works to ensure LGBTI activists in Turkey or anyone else interested in participating in the cancelled events believe that the government is preoccupied with their well-being. I am merely suggesting that in international neo/liberal systems, security works as a governance rationale because it registers as legible and legitimate. Not only does security work, but securitization turns out to be a logical, inevitable outcome of liberal systems turned neoliberal. The more “freedoms” we are presented with, the more we will find ourselves paying the price of these so-called freedoms with security.
The Turkish government today marries a particular Sunni Islamic morality regime with neoliberal values, and serves us an image of a public with social sensitivities ready to be “provoked” or “incited to hatred.” Therefore, this securitizing scheme effectively produces those who have societal, or religious sensitivities while appearing to be simply condoning existing sensitivities. As “security” undeniably reveals itself to be the new name of modern authoritarianism, we will have to find ways to not want security. This will also require that we confront the links between so-called freedom and security under liberal and neoliberal regimes, and that we are willing to also not want freedoms as defined by these systems, and think of new configurations and definitions of freedom. Since under current systems we are being presented with freedom as the protection of the individual against the collective, and with security as the protection of collective interests against individual interests, this new definition of freedom will inevitably have to question, and undo the “individual versus collective” binary.
 Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France 1978-1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).
Homophobia and Transphobia: State-Sanctioned Rights and Freedoms? (Sinan Göknur)
The official announcement of the ban on all LGBTI+ events by Ankara’s governor reminded me of a previous attempt at suppression back in 2006. At the time, the LGBTI+ movement was seeking legitimacy and recognition through gaining official status within civil society. During 2005 and 2006, four LGBTI+ organizations in three cities, İstanbul, Ankara, and Bursa, had obtained official association status. Shortly after, the governorates in all three cities brought these organizations to court and asked for their dissolution citing violation of public morality. In response, the LGBTI+ movement drew attention to the ambiguity of the term public or general morality, questioning whose values count as public morality and who gets left out. In doing so, the aim was to expose the hegemonic distortion and manipulation of the term against those who seek legal protection against, and societal freedom from, patriarchal as well as heteronormative oppression.
In 2006, the LGBTI+ organizations from İstanbul, Ankara, and Bursa gathered for a protest march and a press statement against the court cases in Bursa. The march received governmental permission; however, leading up to it, the head of an association for local tradesmen ran a homophobic social media campaign and provoked a group of football hooligans to stop the march. On the day of the march, the police cited security threats and supposedly provided protection by cancelling the march and effectively locking the LGBTI+ activists in the organization’s building for hours while merely watching the hooligans yell slurs and throw stones at the building.
Therefore, the LGBTI+ movement in Turkey is already familiar with the manipulative distortion of concepts such as morality, security, and protection to legitimize suppression. In this most recent ban, however, in addition to these more familiar excuses, there seems to be a new addition, which is the particular manipulation of the concept of “rights and freedoms.” Ankara’s LGBTI+ ban cites an ambiguous threat to “the rights and freedoms of others” posed by the LGBTI+ themed cultural and political events. The most apparent interpretation of this assertion suggests that Ankara’s governor endorses homophobia and transphobia as an extension of the state-guaranteed rights and freedoms. This move resembles the right-wing evangelical Christian strategy in the United States that in the recent years started to push for a distorted interpretation of the constitutionally protected freedom of religion in the service of homophobic discrimination. Also recently, white supremacist groups in the United States started adopting a similar strategy that frames racial oppression within the realm of rights and freedoms. According to this logic, discrimination and oppression based on race, gender and sexuality should be considered amongst state-sanctioned rights and freedoms, and therefore, any effort that resists such social ills, calls for justice, and seeks protection against as well as freedom from harassment constitutes a threat to these nonexistent rights and freedoms.
On the bright side, this shows that oppression based on race, gender, and sexuality must have finally received enough attention and societal acknowledgment as a phenomenon that people invested in perpetuating such oppression have had to develop a new playbook. Otherwise, I am not sure why they would be at such a position to seek reestablishment or reinvention of a sense of legitimacy through tricky misrepresentations of certain—or, in Ankara’s case literally uncertain—rights and freedoms.
At the end of a roughly two-year judicial process between 2006 and 2008, the court cases were dismissed in favor of the LGBTI+ organizations, and since then various other LGBTI+ groups also sought and acquired official status. In the last couple of years, however, the government returned to an aggressive posture towards the LGBTI+ movement. The police forces have been consistently attacking and dispersing the Istanbul LGBTI+ pride marches since 2015, and now we are witnessing a stream of unlawful bans and cancellations of LGBTI+ events in Ankara and most recently in İstanbul. Among the LGBTI+ activists that I talked with, the prevalent sense is that the movement is going through a historical low point with the state and a historical high point with the society. If nothing else, more than ten years of organizing has increased LGBTI+ recognition in society and put a remarkable dent on its previously taboo status. The LGBTI+ organizations in Ankara are going to the court for the cancellation of the ban. Considering the 2008 decisions, it should be a no brainer that the court should revoke the ban, but we are yet to see the effects of the past decade on the judiciary system in terms of LGBTI+ access to justice.
 In Turkey, non-governmental organizations are called Sivil Toplum Kuruluşu (STK) or Sivil Toplum Örgütü (STÖ), meaning civil society establishment or civil society organization, and hence preserving the emphasis on civil society.
The LGBTI and the Rhetoric of Repression (Mehmet Sinan Birdal)
On 15 November, the governor of Ankara issued a decree banning the German LGBTI film days organized by Pink Life QueerFest, German Embassy, and Büyülü Fener Movie Theater. The decree stated that the governor was informed about the organization of the screening of certain movies containing “social sensibilities and sensitivities.” The hendiadys, exhibiting the characteristic vagueness of Turkish bureaucratic and legal language, is a formulaic expression of state-sponsored homophobia in modern Turkey. Franz Neumann demonstrated in the context of the rise of German fascism how legal “general clauses” created the illusion of generality for arbitrary decisions. Concepts such as public morality, social sensibility and sensitivity, and national security are usually evoked to create exceptions to the rule of law eventually leading to the rule of exception, i.e., the whim of political will. More prohibitions followed in Bursa, Kocaeli, Mardin, and İstanbul. The decisions, taken by governors and district governors and crafted in a purposefully ambiguous language, claim that these events cannot be protected from potential attacks, yet, they effectively ban LGBTI activities and should be considered as breaches of freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and free speech.
In 2002, the newly incumbent prime minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was asked about his views about the recognition of rights of homosexuals in a television show where college students pose questions to guests. “Homosexuals also need to be legally protected within the context of their rights and liberties,” he said. “We find inhumane certain behaviors that they are sometimes exposed to on television screens.” Over the years this ostensible expression of goodwill, which could only be given from a position of privilege, failed to deliver its claim. This is hardly surprising for careful observers of Turkish politics, who pointed out that the recognition of LGBTI rights was a challenge for AKP’s so-called conservative democracy.
Even at the height of the AKP’s self-styled liberalism between 2002-2010, when the party ideologues and leaders were trying to sell their politics as the only democratizing force in Turkey both to domestic and international audiences, their stance towards the LGBTI was far from ambiguous. Presently discredited party ideologue Yalçın Akdoğan stated very clearly that liberal pluralism and tolerance were predicated upon “national values,” indispensable to the unity of the nation. A conservative definition of family and public morality constituted the core of these values and as such, the values themselves were not open to deliberation or negotiation. In other words, the recognition of LGBTI rights and LTGBI visibility was perceived as a threat to national unity. The AKP’s public intellectuals did not refrain themselves from openly condemning LGBTIs, and their discussions focused on whether homosexuality should be treated as a disease, a sin, or a crime.
However, in the face of the euphoric Western support for the AKP’s struggle with the nationalist/Eurasianist military and judicial bureaucratic factions, warnings about the democratic credentials of the AKP fell on deaf ears. I remember how a British scholar dismissed my points about the recognition of LGBTI rights in Turkey as a luxury item on the democratic agenda. For many Western observers–curiously, including some fashionably postcolonial scholars–the AKP was bon pour l’Orient. The LGBTIs had not even achieved full equality in the West. How could we, Orientals, ask such a thing? The important democratic struggle was taking place between the people’s AKP and the deep state. In the Realpolitik of liberal democracy, the rights of the LGBTI had to take the back seat, if any seats were available.
Nevertheless, with the Gezi uprising of 2013 the LGBTI visibility in Turkey reached an unprecedented level. Not only did the protestors adopt LGBTI slogans, but they participated in the pride march of 2013 making it the most massively attended pride march in the history of the country as well as its region. In the following weeks, many locally initiated self-beautification projects inside and outside of Istanbul included painting of staircases, walls, and curbs in rainbow colors. Moreover, the main opposition parties, the HDP and the CHP included LGBTI demands in their electoral platforms and LGBTI individuals in their candidate lists. LGBTI recognition became the sine qua non of progressive politics in Turkey. It is in this context that one should view the current wave of repression against the LGBTI.
The AKP’s unwillingness to recognize the results of the general elections of 7 June 2015, in which the party lost its parliamentary majority and was left unable to form a single party government, eventually led to a regime imposed by emergency decrees. The terrorization of the population through a series of terror attacks and a coup attempt was followed by purges in the bureaucracy and the academia, repression of media outlets, and suppression of democratic opposition. Two and a half years later the country looks more fragile and more insecure than ever, and once more the LGBTIs are being targeted not only for what they are, but also what they represent: a pluralistic democratic political community living in peace.
 Der Funktionswandel des Gesetzes im Recht der bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, No 6, 1937, pp. 542-596.
Resisting Against the State of Emergency with Love (Demhat Aksoy)
It was when I understood what it meant to “turn” that I actually began to believe this struggle needs to be waged. “Turning” is not merely passing from one place to another. I am talking about turning in the complete sense. About applying it to every bit and piece. Whenever I say the word or utter it somewhere, some people think it is an intersexual turn. This way of thinking is one that belongs to the heteronormative system imposed on us. I am actually talking about a turn against this way of thinking: namely, about being surrounded by norms while growing up and yet standing against them—to be exact.
In this sense, I can say the trans movement has transformed me, it has turned me. Indeed it seems to me that the movement has the capacity to turn not only me but all others. To be frank, the fact that it is so comprehensive is exciting. My most recent years came into being with this excitement which still exists. I have always been drawn to everything and everywhere as long as there is excitement involved. And by the way there is this thing they term “state of emergency”. It is a kind of thing that aims to kill our excitement, lock us in our houses, standardize all, and say “you don’t exist” to us. A game it is. But one needs to know that every game has an end. And the end of such a terrible game is eventually terrible for them, isn’t it? Don’t you think we, who resist with love, could win against evil once again with love? Just look at those who have waged a struggle of love in history and check the results – it has always been love that wins. The attitude of the LGBTI+ movement against those who want to kill our love has always been the same: resist! But our resistance is not that of norms but that which is resistance par excellence. With love, that is.
Speaking about the word FORBIDDEN most recently: I am calling it a word because for me “forbidden” is nothing more than a word. “Femininity is forbidden,” said my family and I ran away, turning back to my own self. “Running in the classroom is forbidden,” said my teacher and I organized all the kids and then ran. “Women are forbidden to laugh and to go out on the street with miniskirts,” said some and I laughed even more, hanging out on the streets day and night with my miniskirts. And now those who think they are “masters” say “LGBTI+ activities are forbidden”. One first needs to remind them the banner held during Gezi events: “What ‘forbidden’ ayol!” I said we are “turned” ayol. And we think we won’t be able to turn these people?! See what I have turned the manhood and the power burdened on me into.
I don’t give a damn to any of these. There are surely those who revolt where there is violence and oppression. Wasn’t the family such a place? I have been beaten hard so many times by my elder brother just because I was walking with a twist. And what did I do? I built my own life and I’m living – living with the identity and the body I like. A spirit covered with struggle never gives up. Giving up is not “in our nature”! They shall be frightened, for the turned and fags are coming with love.
[Demhat Aksoy's contribution was translater from Turkish into English by Müge Atala]
 In Turkish the verb “dönmek” is “to turn”. In the Turkish context “dönme” mostly denotes a person who, biologically born male, has become a trans woman.
 “Ayol” is an exclamation attributed to women and perceived as a feminine expression. The same exclamation has long been embraced by the LGBTI movement in Turkey.
 In May 2014 the then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan commented on the coal mine disaster that took 301 lives with the following words: “It happened here. It’s in its nature. It’s not possible for there to be no accidents in mines.” Here Aksoy is making a subverting reference to Erdoğan’s infamous comment.
“Foreign Powers,” Colonialism, and Homophobia (Elif Sarı)
The recent bans on events organized by LGBTI+ organizations in different cities are a clear breach of fundamental rights and freedoms, especially the right to organize and the freedom of thought and expression. The bans are also yet another example of how the state uses and abuses vague phrases like “public morality,” “public security,” and “public health” to justify discrimination, hatred, and violence against LGBTI+ citizens. These empty and vague phrasings have gained even more currency under the ongoing state of emergency, implemented in the wake of a failed military coup attempt in July 2016. Thus, administrative units have acquired enormous discretionary powers to cancel or ban anything that is believed to pose a threat to public order, public security, or public health, without specifying who, and according to what criteria, decides what counts as such threat. Indeed, we have been witnessing the increasing use of similar vague formulations of the concept of “threat” to shut down numerous rights-based civil society organizations, ban political demonstrations, deport or detain refugees and migrants, and marginale, and eliminate all dissent under the current emergency rule.
The bans also crystalize the increasing xenophobia in Turkey in the wake of the coup attempt. The AKP government has emphasized from the beginning that the coup was not executed just domestically, but rather orchestrated by “foreign powers.” With the use of the rhetoric of “foreign powers,” a widening web of suspicion and surveillance towards international organizations has started to dominate the Turkey’s political landscape. Immediately after President Erdoğan situated Nilufer Municipality’s LGBTI quota as being at odds with “national values,” pro-government media outlets as well as Islamist and nationalist groups on social media have begun to target Turkey’s growing LGBTI+ activism and visibility as yet another pernicious instance of the West’s cultural imperialism and colonization. They have portrayed all collaborations between Turkish and Euro-American LGBTI+ groups, as well as solidarity statements and financial support provided by non-Turkish institutions, as “evidence” of this Western conspiracy that aims to attack Turkey’s independence, national values, and national security. By doing so, they have simultaneously positioned their violence and hatred against LGBTI+ individuals as an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist struggle.
These discourses, of course, ignore the fact that in many countries, anti-gay legislation and institutionalized state-led homophobia have their roots in Western colonization. Second, they assume a West that is free from homo/bi/transphobia, welcoming non-normative genders and recognizing sexual rights—which is hardly true given the high rates of violence and discrimination against LGBTI+ people in Euro-American countries.
Perhaps the most important problem here is that these discourses draw a unidirectional relation between a so-called West and the East, positing Europe and the United States as the original sources from where sexual concepts and knowledge flows to non-Western geographies. In doing so, they portray all LGBTI individuals in Turkey as passive recipients of Western identity categories and sexual concepts. What they dismiss is, however, that different LGBTI+ activist groups in Turkey negotiate, retool, and transform Western conceptions of homosexuality and queerness, and strategically deploy them to fit into the priorities of their own local struggles. In other words, LGBTI+ activism Turkey, like in other non-Western geographies, is never an appendix to a pre-existing Western queer movement. Quite the contrary, forms of knowledge, resistance, and community that LGBTI+ people in non-Western geographies and diasporas have built over time are generative and transformative not only of gender and sexuality regimes, but also of contemporary social movements, emergent popular cultures, and new political alliances and counter-publics.