Thursday, January 24, 2008

Turkish transsexuals take to the stage to demand

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Turkish transsexuals take to the stage to demand

By Agence France Presse (AFP)

Sibel Utku Bila

Agence France Presse

ANKARA: A unique play in an Ankara theater ended with
a standing ovation last week as the little-known
actors - transsexuals and gays raising their voice
against discrimination - fought back their tears on
stage. The play, "Pink and Grey," put the spotlight on
the plight of transsexuals in mainly Muslim Turkey, in
the latest initiative of a fledgling but increasingly
vocal movement for rights by a community long
ostracized and often harassed.

Beaming with pride and excitement, the amateur stars,
male-to-female transsexuals Derya Tunc and Sera Can,
received congratulations in the boisterous backstage
area, taking a welcome respite from their actual jobs
as sex workers.

"Despite all the discrimination we face, I have no
regrets for what I am," Can said cheerfully. "My only
regret is having ended up in the prostitution sector."

Almost all transsexuals and transvestites in Turkey
make their living as prostitutes. They say they have
no other option in a society where homophobia is
strong and often accompanied by violence.

Three-quarters of Turks say they are "disturbed" by
homosexuals, a recent opinion survey showed, although
many gays today are recognized as being among the
country's most prominent singers and fashion

Notoriously harsh against transsexual prostitutes,
police have been accused of arbitrary round-ups,
mistreatment, torture and rough "clean-up" operations
in several Istanbul neighborhoods popular with
transsexuals. Activists say police abuse declined in
recent years as the homosexual and transgender
movement became organized and Turkey's bid to join the
European Union made human rights a priority.

"Before, the police used violence - now they only fine
us," said Buse Kilickaya, head of Pembe Hayat, or Pink
Life, a newly founded association that advocates
transgender rights and sponsored "Pink and Grey."

She pointed to the ongoing trial of four people over
an assault on transvestite and transsexual prostitutes
in Ankara's Eryaman suburb in 2006, which left several
seriously injured.

The victims were attacked by young men wielding sticks
and knives who were allegedly encouraged by local
authorities and property developers; their apartments
were ransacked and they were eventually forced to flee
the neighborhood.

Attorney Senem Doganoglu, a supporter of Pink Life,
said transvestites and transsexuals continue to be
arbitrarily detained and could end up in a police
station simply for showing up in the street.

"I had a case in which one was detained when she went
out in the evening to buy bread," Doganoglu said.

Prostitution is not a crime in Turkey, so the police
use a law that provides for fines for disturbing
public order to pursue transsexual sex workers, she
explained. The advocacy of conservative values by the
governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) "is
fostering the existing climate of intolerance, " she

Islam's impact on sexual freedoms, however, has proven
to be a tricky issue in secular Turkey, where same-sex
relationships and sex-change operations are allowed,
unlike in many other Muslim countries, and homosexual
traditions can be traced back to the palaces of
Ottoman sultans.

One of Turkey's best-known gay citizens, prominent
fashion designer Cemil Ipekci, made the headlines this
month as he praised the AKP, described himself as a
"conservative homosexual" and said he would have worn
a headscarf had he been a woman.

And a transgender association in Ankara has called for
a special mosque where its members can pray without
disturbing the conventional flock. "They cannot deny
us the right to pray for salvation, can they?" asked
group leader Oksan Oztok.

Activists say they hope discrimination will decrease
as they become better organized and more vocal.

"We know things can't change overnight," Kilickaya
said. "But there is progress already and we will
continue to fight."

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