Meeting Up With Turkey’s Transgender Community

Istanbul, Turkey – a city of over 2,500 mosques, is the next stop for the “Walk with Pride” project.

While the city’s major Gay Pride parade will be taking place later this month, Chad and I are here to document the struggles of the local transgender community as they get ready for Turkey’s first Trans Pride.  The group hosting the pride is Istanbul LGBTT.   Started in 2007 by a group of 15 trans-rights activists, this independent grass roots group was formed to focus on the needs of the local transgender community, an at risk group that has been experiencing increasing amounts of hate crimes.

Stepping into Istanbul LGBTT headquarters, gives one the feeling of walking into a home, not an office.  Occupying a single room in an apartment building, it has a relaxed feel.  The walls are painted a soft purple and stuck with health information posters, a pink refrigerator is situated in one corner next to a place for making tea, and wide windows along the far wall fill the room with natural light.  The room is full of 6 or so people from the Trans community, dressed mostly in jeans and t-shirts, they are chatting, drinking tea – and in general hanging out in a space where they clearly feel comfortable.  Despite their casual attitudes, it’s noticeable that one of the women must have been recently attacked, as she is still sporting a black eye and bruises on her face.

Sevval greets us when we enter.  She is a social worker for the Women’s Door HR development foundation, an activist for Istanbul LGBTT, and a childhood friend of Demet.  As one of the organizers, or as she refers to it ‘mother,’ for Saturday’s transsexual pride march, Sevval tells us more about the current situation…

Sevval at Istanbul LGBTT headquarters, Turkey

Sevval (left) speaking with one of the managers for Women's Door

As transsexuals, she says, we don’t worry about visibility, we are very visible – and that can lead to problems here.  Since 2008, at least 8 transsexual persons have been killed.  At this moment we are having this march not as much for a party, but to draw attention to this cause, “we want them not to kill us.”

This violence has also started to raise concerns in the international LGBT community.  A representative form IGLHRC, Hossein Alizadeh, recently expressed “All citizens of Turkey, including transgender citizens, are entitled to live without fear of murder or persecution,” said Hossein Alizadeh, coordinator of IGLHRC’s Middle East and North Africa program. “The homophobic killings need to stop, and for this we need the Turkish government to take concrete action to protect transgender people.”  According to a Demir, the increase in violence has roots in a “rise in nationalism, Islamic values, poverty, and unemployment in the past seven or eight years”.

(Read tomorrow as we continue our focus on Istanbul’s transsexual community, and the lead up to the country’s first Trans Pride march)

For more details on Istanbul’s First Trans Pride: June 10 – 12, 2010

Istanbul – LGBTT

Trans Pride 2010

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