LGBT rights in Turkey

LGBT rights in Turkey Turkey

Location of  LGBT rights in Turkey  (green)

in Europe  (dark grey)   [Legend]

Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1858
Gender identity/expression Legal permission to have sex reassignment surgery
Military service
  • Gays and lesbians have the right to not be conscripted
  • Gays are not allowed to serve openly in the army
Discrimination protections Constitutional protection drafted, but was never enforced (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Turkey face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT persons. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in the Ottoman Empire (predecessor of Turkey) in 1858 and in modern Turkey, homosexual activity has always been a legal act since the day it was founded in 1923.[1] LGBT people have had the right to seek asylum in Turkey under the Geneva Convention since 1951,[2] but same-sex couples are not given the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples. Transsexuals have been allowed to change their legal gender since 1988. Although discrimination protections regarding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression have been legally debated, they have not yet been legislated. Public opinion on homosexuality has generally been conservative, and LGBT people have been widely reported to experience discrimination, harassment and even violence in recent years.


In the 1980s, the national government, whether democratically elected or as a result of a coup d'état, opposed the existence of a visible LGBT community, especially within the political context. The crackdown on prostitution may have been used as pretext for harassment of gay and transgender people.

Some openly gay people were able to be successful in the 1980s. Murathan Mungan has been openly gay throughout his professional life as a successful poet and writer. However, many gay and bisexual men who lived during this period have since said in interviews that they felt pressured, by social attitudes and government policy, to remain in the closet about their sexual identity.

In the 1980s, the Radical Democratic Green Party expressed support for gay rights, including the work of a group of transgender people to protest police brutality. However, it was not until the 1990s that many members of the LGBT community in Turkey began to organize on behalf of their human rights.

In 1993, Lambda Istanbul was created to campaign on behalf of LGBT rights in Turkey. In 1994, the Freedom and Solidarity Party banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity within the party and nominated Demet Demir, a leading voice of the community,[3] to successfully become the first transgender candidate for the local council elections in Istanbul.

In 1993, organizers were denied permission to hold a LGBT pride parade. Similar opposition was expressed by the government in 1995 and 1996 for a LGBT film festival and academic conference. Government officials cited vaguely worded laws designed to protect public morality as justification for refusing to allow these public events to take place.

In 1996, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court's ruling and removed a child from her lesbian parent on the grounds that homosexuality is "immoral".[4]

Throughout the 1990s reports by IHD, Turkey's Human Rights Association as well as international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated that transgender people were frequently being harassed and beaten by police officers. One article even stated that police had set fire to an apartment unit with many transgender residents. [The Guardian. "Turkey Turns on Its Decadent Past". Owen Bowcott, 1996]

Reports of harassment and violence against LGBT people still occur in the twenty-first century. In 2008, a homosexual Turkish-Kurdish student, Ahmet Yildiz, was shot outside a café and later died in the hospital.[5][6] Sociologists have called this Turkey's first publicised gay honor killing.[7][8] The desire of Turkey to join the European Union has put some pressure on the government to grant official recognition to LGBT rights. The report on progress in Turkey for the accession to the European Union of 14 October 2009, the European Commission for Enlargement wrote:

The legal framework is not adequately aligned with the EU acquis...
Homophobia has resulted in cases of physical and sexual violence. The killing of several transsexuals and transvestites is a worrying development. Courts have applied the principle of ‘unjust provocation’ in favour of perpetrators of crimes against transsexuals and transvestites.[9]

Turkey became the first Muslim-majority country in which a gay pride march was held.[10] In Istanbul (since 2003) and in Ankara (since 2008) gay marches are being held each year with a small but increasing participation. Gay pride march in Istanbul started with 30 people in 2003, and in 2010, there were 5,000. The pride parades in 2011 and 2012 were attended by more than 15.000 participants.

On 30 June 2013, the pride parade attracted almost 100.000 people.[11] The protesters were joined by Gezi Park protesters, making the 2013 Istanbul Pride the biggest pride ever held in Turkey.[12] On the same day, the first Izmir Pride took place with 2000 participants.[13] Another pride took place in Antalya.[14] Politicians of the biggest opposition party, CHP and another opposition party, BDP also lent their support to the demonstration.[15] The pride march in Istanbul does not receive any support of the municipality or the government.[16][17]

In 2009, an amateur football referee came out as a homosexual and was subsequently banned from refereeing football matches.[18]

On 21 September 2011, Minister of Family and Social Policy Fatma Şahin met with an LGBT organization. She said that the government will actively work together with LGBT organizations. She submitted a proposal for the acceptance of LGBT individuals in the new constitution that the parliament planned to draft in the coming year. She was calling on members of the Parliament to handle the proposal positively. She asserted that "if freedom and equality is for everybody, then sexual orientation discrimination should be eliminated and rights of these LGBT citizens should be recognized."[19]

On 9 January 2012, one of the columnists named Serdar Arseven of an Islamist newspaper called Yeni Akit wrote an article calling LGBT people perverts. Court of Cassation penalized Yeni Akit with 4000 TL and Serdar Arseven with 2000 Turkish lira for hate speech.[20]

In May 2012, the BDP requested the writers of the new Turkish constitution to include same-sex marriage in that constitution. It was rejected by the biggest party in the Turkish Parliament, the AK Party, and an opposition party, the MHP and supported by the main opposition party, the CHP.[21] [22]

On 29 May 2013, a parliamentary research motion regarding the LGBT rights in Turkey were proposed and discussed in the parliament of Turkey. Despite support from Kurdish party BDP and abstention of Turkish nationalist party MHP, the motion was rejected by votes of the ruling party AKP. AKP MP Türkan Dağoğlu cited the scientific articles on homosexuality published in the US in 1974 and said, "Homosexuality is an abnormality. Same-sex mariages may not be allowed. It would cause social deterioration." For the research motion, CHP MP Binnaz Toprak said, "In the 1970s there were scientists suggesting that black people were not as smart as white people in US. Hence the science of today doesn't accept the findings of those times. Your sayings may not be allowed."[23]

On 12 August 2013, the Constitutional Reconciliation Commission, which is drafting a new constitution of the Republic and is composed of four major parliamentary parties including The Kurds, secularists, Islamists and nationalists, agreed to provide constitutional protection against discrimination for LGBT individuals.[24] The draft was later cancelled.[25]

On 17 July 2014, Turkey's Supreme Court ruled that referring to gays as "perverted" constitutes as hate speech.[26]

LGBT civil rights organizations

Gay Turks and human rights activists chanting slogans against the Turkish government's policies on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul
Istanbul Pride parade in 2012
Ankara Pride parade in 2012, Kızılay, Ankara

The major LGBT community-based civil rights organization is KAOS GL, established in 1994 in Ankara. Lambdaistanbul, a member of ILGA-Europe, established in 1993 in Istanbul, was dissolved in May 2008. The prosecution argued that its name and activities were "against the law and morality." That ruling, sharply criticized by Human Rights Watch,[27] was finally overturned by the country's Supreme Court of Appeal on 22 January 2009.[28]

During the early 1990s, the organizations' proposals for cooperation were refused by the Government Human Rights Commission. April 1997, when members of Lambda Istanbul were invited to the National Congress on AIDS, marked the first time a Turkish LGBT organization was represented at the government level. During the early 2000s (decade), new organizations began to be formed in cities other than Istanbul and Ankara, like the Pink Life LGBT Association in Ankara, the Rainbow Group in Antalya and Piramid LGBT Diyarbakir Initiative in Diyarbakir.

In 1996, another LGBT organization, LEGATO, was founded as an organization of Turkish university students, graduates and academicians, with its first office in Middle East Technical University in Ankara. The organization continued to grow with other branches in numerous other universities and a reported 2000 members. In March 2007 LGBT students organized for the first time as a student club (gökkuşağı – in English: rainbow) and Club Gökkuşağı is officially approved by Bilgi University.

During June 2003, the first public LGBT pride march in Turkey's history, organized by Lambdaistanbul, was held on the Istiklal Avenue. In July 2005, KAOS GL applied to the Ministry of Interior Affairs and gained legal recognition, becoming the first LGBT organization of the country with legal status. During the September of the same year, a lawsuit by the Governor of Ankara was filed to cancel this legal status, but the demand was rejected by the prosecutor. In August 2006, the gay march in Bursa organized by the Rainbow Group, officially approved by the Governor's Office, was cancelled due to large-scale public protests by an organized group of citizens.

The organizations actively participate in AIDS-HIV education programs and May Day parades.

In September 2005, the Ankara Governor's Office accused KAOS GL of "establishing an organization that is against the laws and principles of morality."[27] It also attempted in July 2006 to close the human rights group Pink Life LGBT Association (Pembe Hayat), which works with transgender people, claiming to prosecutors that the association opposed "morality and family structure.".[27] Both charges were ultimately dropped.[27]

In 2006 Lambda Istanbul was evicted from its premises as the landlady was not happy with the fact that the organization was promoting LGBT rights. In 2008, a court case was launched to close down Lambda Istanbul, and although a lower court initially decided in favour of closing down the association, the decision was overruled by the Turkish Constitutional Court and Lambda Istanbul remains open.[29]


Penal code

Gay sexual conduct between consenting adults in private is not a crime in Turkey. The age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual sex is 18. The criminal code also has vaguely worded prohibitions on "public exhibitionism," and "offenses against public morality" that are used to harass gay and transgender people. Turkish towns and cities are given some leeway to enact local laws designed to protect, "public morality".

Media Regulations

LGBT-themed movies are not banned in Turkey. Brokeback Mountain, as an example, was seen in Turkish cinemas without government censorship. Anyone who's eighteen years of age or older could buy a ticket to watch the film.

LGBT-themed DVDs can also be legally sold in Turkey, albeit DVDs with sexually explicit content may only be sold to people eighteen years of age or older

In 2013, a Turkish vendor was charged with selling "immoral" DVDs because the DVD movies featured gay sexually explicit content. The court in Istanbul, Judge Mahmut Erdemli, overturned the criminal charges. He ruled that gay sex is "natural", stated that an individual's sexual orientation should be respected, and cited examples of same-sex marriages in Europe and in the Americas.[30]

Military law

In Turkey, compulsory military service applies to all male Turkish citizens between the ages of 18 and 41. However, the Turkish military openly discriminates against passive homosexuals by barring them from serving in the military. Active homosexuals and bisexuals can serve in Turkish military. At the same time, Turkey – in violation of its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights – withholds any recognition of conscientious objection to military service.[31] Some objectors must instead identify themselves as "sick" – and are forced to undergo what Human Rights Watch calls "humiliating and degrading" examinations to "prove" their homosexuality.[32][33]

In October 2009 the report of the EU Commission on Enlargement stated:

The Turkish armed forces have a health regulation which defines homosexuality as a ‘psychosexual’ illness and identifies homosexuals as unfit for military service. Conscripts who declare their homosexuality have to provide photographic proof (a photograph of the person on the receiving end of anal intercourse). A small number have had to undergo humiliating medical examinations.[9]

In November 2015 the Turkish Armed Forces removed the clause stating that a draftee must "prove" their homosexuality. Draftees may decide to disclose their sexuality verbally and receive an 'unfit report' during their medical examination which exempts them from service, or must not disclose their orientation in any form for a year if a military doctor agrees to grant them a 'fit report' and serve their conscription. Those who disclose their homosexuality and receive an 'unfit report' may be subject to future discrimination in public life as the military's record of homosexuals in the drafting process has resulted in several cases of public leaks.[34] Homosexuality remains grounds for expulsion for commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers and military students under the Turkish Armed Forces Discipline Law.[35]

There is little support in the army in favour of greater acceptance; in a 2015 study asking 1,300 officers "whether homosexuals should be allowed to serve in the army", 96.3% answered negatively.[34]

Discrimination protections

"I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder and this disease needs treatment."

Selma Aliye Kavaf, Ex-Minister of Women and Family Affairs, 2010[36]

No laws exist yet in Turkey that protect LGBT people from discrimination in employment, education, housing, health care, public accommodations or credit. In October 2009 the report of the EU Commission on Enlargement stated:

There have been several cases of discrimination at the workplace, where LGBT employees have been fired because of their sexual orientation. Provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code on ‘public exhibitionism’ and ‘offences against public morality’ are sometimes used to discriminate against LGBT people. The Law on Misdemeanours is often used to impose fines against transgender persons.[9]

In 2011, Öykü Evren Özen, a transgender woman from the northwestern province of Bursa, has become a candidate for deputy from the main opposition party, Republican People's Party (Turkey), or CHP. She was the first transgender lawmaker of Turkey during the general elections.[37]

The main opposition, Republican People's Party (Turkey) proposed gay rights to the Turkish parliament on 14 February 2013.[38]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are among the most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey today.[39]

In August 2013, four major political parties in the parliament including the Kurds, secularists, conservatives and nationalists, has agreed to provide constitutional protection against discrimination for LGBT.[24] The draft is later cancelled due to nonconcurrences regarding other subjects in the new constitutional draft.[25]

Can Cavusoglu, a Turkish activist, has launched a campaign as the first openly gay mayoral candidate of Turkey, Cavusoglu announced a bid to run in the Black Sea region, a town of Bulancak, Giresun, home to about 60,000, in the March 2014 local elections-[40]

In February 2015, the main opposition Republican People's Party (Turkey) introduced a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in both public and private sectors. The bill seeks equal recruitment, pay, promotion, dismissal in the workplace and reforms in the Turkish Armed Forces Code of Discipline that would allow members of the military to serve openly.[41]

In 2015, pro-LGBT Kurdish, Peoples' Democratic Party publicly announced that they will have LGBT and Feminist candidates. Baris Sulu, the left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP) candidate, becomes the first openly gay man to run for the Turkish parliament.[42][43]

In February 2015, two transgendered women became parlimantary election candidates, Deva Ozenen for the newly formed Anatolian Party (Turkey) in Izmir and Niler Albayrak for the main opposition Republican People's Party (Turkey) in Istanbul.[44]

Family law

Turkey does not recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits. Recent research revealed that 80% of the Turkish population is against same-sex marriages.[45]

Living conditions

Between January 2010 and November 2014, 47 individuals have been killed due to their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBT persons in Turkey may face discrimination, harassment and even violence from their relatives, neighbors, co-workers, bosses, employees, teachers, and even members of the Turkish police. Homosexuality is widely a taboo subject in Turkey and the culture of "honour killings" can be observed in Turkish society families murdering members (usually female) who engage in sexual/moral behaviours regarded as inappropriate. The death of Ahmet Yildiz, a 26-year-old Kurdish gay person from Mersin, may be the first known example of an honour killing with gay male victim.[5][6][46] Studies for the years 2007–09 that the German Democratic Turkey Forum prepared show 13 killings in 2007, 5 in 2008 and at least 4 killings in 2009 related to the sexual identity of the victims.[47] On 21 May 2008 the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch published a report entitled "We Need a Law for Liberation".[48] The report documents how gay men and transgender people face beatings, robberies, police harassment, and the threat of murder. Human Rights Watch found that, in most cases, the response by the authorities is inadequate if not nonexistent.[48] In case of hate murders against homosexuals, courts apply the condition of "heavy provocation" and lower the sentences.[49]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal (Since 1858)
Equal age of consent (Since 1858)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services (Proposed)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech)
Same-sex marriage
Recognition of same-sex couples (Proposed)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples
Joint adoption by same-sex couples
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military [50] (Proposed)
Right to change legal gender (Since 1988)
Access to IVF for lesbians
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples
Conversion therapy banned on minors
MSMs allowed to donate blood (Turkish Red Crescent does not allow blood donations from MSM[51])

See also


  1. Tehmina Kazi. "The Ottoman empire's secular history undermines sharia claims". the Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  2. "islam and homosexuality". 11 November 2015.
  3. Martin, Susan Taylor (17 January 2003). "Floridian: A city comes out". St. Petersburg Times (in Turkish). Retrieved 20 August 2008.
  4. See report of Kaos GL: Turkey's LGBT History: The 1990s. Retrieved 16 October 2009.
  5. 1 2 Ehrenmord in der Türkei: "Jeder soll wissen, ich bin schwul" -
  6. 1 2 The German Democratic Turkey Forum (DTF) has prepared a report with details on the killing and the subsequent court case; accessed on 31 March 2011.
  7. Bilefsky, Dan (26 November 2009). "Soul-Searching in Turkey After a Gay Man Is Killed". New York Times. pp. A16. Retrieved 26 November 2009.
  8. Nicholas Birch (19 July 2008). "Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honor killing?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
  9. 1 2 3 The report can be found at
  10. "Gay Pride in Istanbul groot succes". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  11. "Taksim'deki Onur Yürüyüşü'ne BBC yorumu: Bugüne kadar... – Milliyet Haber". 1 July 2013. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  12. "İzmir'de İlk Onur Yürüyüşünde Sokaklar Doldu Taştı". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  13. "Antalya ve İzmir, Onur Haftası'nı Yürüyüşle Selamlayacak". Siyah Pembe Üçgen İzmir. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  14. "İstiklal Caddesi 10 bin renk!". NTV. 27 June 2011. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  15. "ARTS-CULTURE – Istanbul becoming proud of Pride Week". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  16. Gay rights in Turkey face uphill battle
  17. Turkey shows gay referee the red card, AFP
  18. LGBT gains recognition from government for first time
  19. "Biz Üskül'ü Eleştirdik Davayı Kaos GL Açtı!". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  20. "Haber 10 – BDP'nin eşcinsel evlilik isteği tartışılıyor". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  21. "BDP'nin eşcinsel evlilik isteği tartışılıyor". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  22. "Tension in Parliament over LGBT Rights" (in Turkish). Ntvmsnbc. 29 May 2013. Retrieved 29 May 2013.
  23. 1 2 "LGBT hakları, 'eşitlik' maddesinin gerekçesinde yer alacak". t24 (in Turkish). 12 August 2013. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  24. 1 2 "Hopes fade for a new Turkish constitution". Reuters. 18 November 2013. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
  26. 1 2 3 4 Turkey: Court Shows Bias, Dissolves Lambda Istanbul, Human Rights Watch, 2 June 2008
  27. "Appeals court says gay rights unit is OK". Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  28. "Lambdaistanbul Lezbiyen Gey Biseksüel Travesti Transseksüel Dayanışma Derneği". Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  29. "Turkish Court says gay sex is 'natural' in ruling against pornography vendor". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  30. "TURKEY: Conscientious objector Mehmet Bal beaten in prison | War Resisters' International". Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  31. "Turkey: Homophobic Violence Points to Rights Crisis | Human Rights Watch". 21 May 2008. Retrieved 20 January 2011.
  32. "Proving you're gay to the Turkish army". BBC News. 26 March 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2013.
  33. 1 2 Gays seeking military exemption in Turkey no longer need to provide visual proof of their homosexuality
  35. "Selma Aliye Kavaf's quote on homosexuality".
  36. "Transsexual activist candidate to main opposition's list for Bursa – POLITICS". Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  37. "Gay rights proposed to Turkish Parliament – POLITICS". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  38. Unsafe Haven: The Security Challenges Facing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Turkey, a joint publication of Helsinki Citizens' Assembly – Turkey and ORAM – Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration, June 2009
  39. "Can Cavusoglu wants to be Turkey's first openly gay mayor". globalpost. Retrieved 14 September 2013.
  40. "Turkey's main opposition proposed labor bill for LGBT people". Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  41. "Meet The Pro-Gay, Pro-Women Party Shaking Up Turkish Politics". The Huffington Post. 8 June 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  42. "Turkey now has its first ever gay parliamentary candidate". The Independent. 25 May 2015. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  43. Turkish Weekly. 25 May 2015 Retrieved 25 May 2015. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  44. "Türkiye'nin yüzde 80'i eşcinsel evliliğe karşı". İhlas Haber Ajansı. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  45. Birch, Nicholas (19 July 2008). "Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honour killing?". Independent. London. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
  46. The series can be found under the headline of "Hate Crimes in Turkey"; accessed on 31 March 2011.
  47. 1 2 The report can be accessed at this site of HRW; accessed on 31 March 2011.
  48. Report of the Human Rights Observation and Law Commission on LGBTT Individuals within Kaos GL, dated 27 October 2007. A summarized translation was done by the DTF on this site; accessed on 31 March 2011
  50. "'Have you had MSM?'" (in Turkish).

External links

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