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Anti-Trans Violence on the Rise in Turkey

February 23, 2010

In the wake of the recent murders of two transgender women in Turkey, international human rights advocates are calling for increased protections for LGBT citizens. Pembe Hayat, IGLHRC, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe sent a letter to the Turkish government condemning the recent violence.

From Human Rights Watch:

The groups called on Turkey to remedy the conditions that place transgender people at risk from acts of violence by enacting anti-discrimination protections, instituting programs to combat prejudice and hatred, and repealing laws that provide an opportunity for police to harass stigmatized groups.

…”Protecting people and preventing violence means more than investigating after the fact,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “Without meaningful government action to affirm their rights and ensure their safety, transgender people in Turkey will continue to live in fear.”

(Trigger Warning: Description of violence is below the cut, may be uncomfortable or triggering for some readers.)

Although homosexuality is not illegal, Turkey does not offer any specific benefits or protections for LGBT people. As such, Turkey’s LGBT community is especially vulnerable and is often the target of extreme violence:

Since November 2008, at least eight transgender people have been murdered in Istanbul and Ankara. The most recent killing was of a transgender woman called Aycan Yener on Feburary 16, 2010, in the Fatih area of Istanbul.

…On February 8, Derya Y., a 35-year old transgender woman, was killed in her home in the Altındağ district of Antalya. Police found Derya Y. in her bedroom with her throat cut and multiple knife stab wounds to her face and body.

The targeted killings of transgender women are part of a broader pattern of violence against LGBT people in Turkey. According to Turkish media, the police found 56-year old Şinasi Halimoğlu, who had arranged a date with another man, dead on his bed on January 28 with multiple knife wounds to his back and neck.

In their letter to the Turkish government, the organizations call for:

  1. Anti-discrimination legislation that prohibits violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity;
  2. Comprehensive statistics on violence against LGBT people to be made public; and
  3. Stronger, consistent communication between police and LGBT groups.

In addition to international LGBT and human rights groups, the European Union has also reminded Turkey of the need to protect all minority groups, including LGBT people. In April, representatives from ILGA-Europe will visit Turkey to assess compliance with the requests outlined by the letter and the European Union.

Increased protections for all LGBT people in Turkey are certainly needed. I do hope, however, that the Turkish government will be especially careful to create protections for Turkey’s transgender community, as the bulk of the recent violence has targeted transgender people. Since the majority of trans women in Turkey work as prostitutes, trans women are particularly at risk; considering both Aycan Yener and Derya Y. were murdered in their own homes, the likelihood of a connection between these acts of violence and sexual activity is high. Trans women in Turkey feel they have no other option but to engage in sex work, and their lives and safety are continually at risk.

The work that Pembe Hayat, IGLHRC, Human Rights Watch and ILGA-Europe are doing to help all LGBT people in Turkey is vitally important, and considering the European Union is supportive as well, there is reason to anticipate that we will see some changes in Turkey over the coming months. But I hope that this will not be another instance in which the needs of transgender women are thrown by the wayside in an effort to more easily achieve protections for gays and lesbians. For now, all actions indicate that we will see positive improvements for all LGBT people in Turkey — and I hope it stays that way.

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