U.S. lawmakers: Secretary of State must condemn Turkey’s LGBTQ discrimination

34 members of the U.S. Congress wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, asking the State Department to take a stronger role in condemning the Turkish government for its recent crackdown against LGBTQ events.

The members of congress called attention to the recent banning of LGBTQ events in Ankara, Turkey's capital city, and the suppression of Pride events in Istanbul.

U.S.-based weekly newspaper The Armenian Weekly quoted a statement by Frank Pallone, Jr., one of the congressmen who led the letter, as saying:

The suppression of the freedom of assembly signals an endorsement of anti-LGBTQ sentiments held by some, including President Tayyip Erdoğan and many in his Justice and Development Party.

The second lead of the letter, Democrat Congressman for New York, Sean Patrick Maloney, who also co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, was also quoted by the newspaper as saying:

LGBTQ people in Turkey have been living in fear for years. And as a result, they’ve been denied the opportunity to participate and make their voices heard at public events. That’s a basic violation of human rights that we cannot tolerate from nations who are supposed to be our international partners.

The Armenian Weekly printed the U.S. lawmakers’ letter in its entirety.

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to draw your attention to troubling reports that the Republic of Turkey, once among the most open and LGBTQ-friendly countries in the Muslim world, has taken increasingly hostile steps to crack down on public and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning. We request that the State Department and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning these actions and take every necessary step in protecting and promoting LGBTQ civil rights on the world stage.

Recently, the Governor of Ankara indefinitely banned any films and exhibitions related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Turkey’s capital city. The ban was implemented after the governor halted an LGBTQ Film Festival a day before it was scheduled to begin on Nov. 16, 2017. The following week, a district governor in Istanbul banned another LGBTQ film screening, “in order to secure public order and safety.”

Actions taken by these officials are part of a worrisome trend towards restricting peaceful assembly and freedom of speech in Turkey. The Turkish government has used physical force and the adoption of discriminatory laws since at least June 2015 to prevent LGBTQ persons from publicly gathering, citing “social values” and “public morality” as the reason for these actions. In June, 2015, Turkish police used water cannons to disperse the LGBTI+ pride march in Istanbul, injuring peaceful participants. The following year, Istanbul riot police dispersed a Trans Pride resulting in the unlawful detainment of 11 people and violence at the hands of local police.  And this June, Istanbul’s governor banned the city’s Trans and LGBTI+ pride march, citing security concerns.

This trend of suppression of the freedom of assembly for LGBTQ people and their allies signals an acceptance of anti-LGBTQ sentiments held by some Turkish people, including President Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK). President Erdogan refuses to expand, or even protect, the most basic rights for minorities, LGBTQ people and women. This regime’s flouting of international norms and its intolerance of dissent has clearly been on display in Turkey and in its interactions with the rest of the world.

The United States must not stand by as the Erdogan regime threatens human rights. We therefore urge you to publicly speak out against the ongoing abuses in Turkey and to call on the Turkish authorities to immediately revoke this ban. We must ensure that the U.S. remains committed to working with countries to protect all of their citizens, no matter whom they are or whom they love. We look forward to hearing from you regarding the Administration’s plan to address this growing concern in Turkey.