Turkey's LGBT+ community faces ‘tsunami of hate’

Turkish government officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been targeting the country’s LGBT+ community for several months, creating an atmosphere of hate in the country, according to pro-Kurdish news website Rudaw.

Last year began with Turkish courts rejecting appeals against a ban on the Istanbul Pride march. In early 2021, Erdoğan urged his party members to “nevermind the lesbians”, saying there was “no such thing as LGBT”.

The community is accustomed to such targeting, but the latest wave of hatred has not receded like it did in the past, rather it is “turning into a tsunami,” Murat, a member of Istanbul’s LGBT+ community, told Rudaw on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu labelled LGBT people as deviants after they played a prominent role in protests against Erdoğan’s appointment of a party loyalist as the rector of the country’s leading Boğaziçi University in early January.

Comments by government officials amount to a hate campaign aimed at discrediting the protests, Can Candan, a professor at Boğaziçi and an adviser of its LGBT club, told Rudaw.

A study of Turkey’s political and social tendencies by Kadir Has University in Istanbul in 2018 found that LGBT people were the least tolerated among various disadvantaged groups, with 54 percent of participants saying that they did not want them as neighbours. The group headed a list that also included refugees, drunks, unmarried couples, non-Muslim communities, foreigners, Arabs and divorced women.

Turkey has not passed laws criminalising homosexual acts since the establishment of the republic in 1923. However, negative attitudes are prevalent in society. That perception has worsened under Erdoğan’s Islamist governments of the last 18 years, an activist said.

“People no longer look at us as just different,” Alaz Ada Yener, a member of LGBT association LambdaIstanbul, told Rudaw, “but as traitors to the nation.”

Ali Erbaş, head of the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), Turkey’s top religious body, said in April last year that homosexuality brought “illness and decay to lineage”. That prompted the Ankara-based Human Rights Association (İHD) to file a criminal complaint, according to news website T24.

The community now fears that worsening social conditions for them in Turkey could be underpinned by legislation. The government is trying to erase the public presence of LGBT people, Yener said. Murat said he was fearful that the government could start passing anti-LGBT laws through parliament. “We’re going back decades,” he said.