Turkey’s LGBTQ community alarmed by Erdogan’s ‘family’ vision


President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s push for constitutional change aimed at ‘strengthening the family’ and public affronts to same-sex relationships have left Turkey’s LGBTQ community on edge, with many fearing the controversy will embolden discrimination and crimes of hate.

A draft prepared by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) would have introduced an explicit reference to “man and woman” instead of just “spouses” in a constitutional article on the family.

Erdogan openly presented the planned change as a movement against same-sex relationships. In an October 22 speech, for example, he said, “Can a strong family have anything to do with LGBT? No, that’s not possible. … We need a strong family. … Let us protect our nation together against the onslaught of deviant and perverse currents.

Erdogan raised the issue as part of a campaign for a constitutional guarantee of the freedom of female civil servants to wear the Islamic headscarf. He made the proposal earlier this month to counter the main opposition leader’s efforts to reach out to conservative voters in the AKP’s traditional base ahead of next year’s crucial election. Erdogan and the AKP – in power since 2002 – face their toughest electoral test in June amid economic turbulence that is eroding their popular support. Observers say Erdogan may be trying to polarize the public on burning issues in a bid to shore up his base and bring disgruntled voters back.

Although homosexuality has never been criminalized in Turkey, existing laws define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. What might change in practice if this standard is enshrined in the constitution remains unclear. Rights activists fear such a move would only deepen discrimination against LGBTQ people, and even if the decision fails, the current rhetoric from government leaders alone could fuel hate speech and violence.

“We all know that LGBTI people in Turkey are not equal citizens – they have no rights under any law,” said Yildiz Tar, an activist with gay rights group Kaos GL, pointing out that even the President and Minister of the Interior had come to openly target the community. “A constitutional amendment would formalize the state’s denial of civil rights to LGBTI people,” Tar told Al-Monitor.

Could the planned amendment pave the way for some form of interference in same-sex couples living together?

IO, a gay man from Ankara who has shared a house with his partner for three years, decried the amendment plan as a “terrible” move that would “roll back Turkey and formalize discrimination”, but he doubted it would lead to direct interventions in the lives of same-sex couples. “There is a very advanced LGBTI movement in Turkey today. The internal dynamics of the country and the democratic level [society] has reached are unlikely to allow that,” the 35-year-old said.

IO, a consultant with a degree in political science, and his partner EA, an engineer, describe themselves as “married”. Unlike many LGBTQ people whose education and professional lives were hampered by discrimination, they progressed in their careers and were able to buy an apartment together.

“Private space is the main need for gay people in Turkey, and many cannot afford one,” IO said. “We were lucky to buy a house and get rid of complaints from owners and neighbors.”

Young adults and teens are considered the most vulnerable in the LGBTQ community. Dozens of parents in Ankara have overcome the stigma and joined the Rainbow Family Association to support their children against homophobia.

Nedime Erdogan is one of them. “How are our children going to cope with all this? she asked, alarmed by the recent controversy. “There are a lot of people who would take it upon themselves to act on the rhetoric of state officials and commit hate crimes.”

Love and affection make a family strong, she said, adding, “Our children have made our families stronger.”


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