LGBT rights in Turkey

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LGBT rights in Turkey
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal since 1858 (decriminalized by the Ottoman Empire)
Gender identity/expression Transsexuals allowed to have sex reassignment surgery
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships
Adoption -
Military service Gays and lesbians banned from military service
Discrimination protections None (see below)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Turkey may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality is not illegal in the Republic of Turkey. However, owing to conservative values embedded in Muslim-majority Turkish society, homosexuality remains a taboo topic in public discourse.


In the 1990s, the LGBT movement fought against government bans on LGBT conferences. This prompted the creation of Lambda Istanbul. 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,[1] to successfully become the first transgendered candidate for the local council elections in Istanbul.

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".[2]

Gay rights groups claim that there are frequent homophobic incidents in Turkey. In 2008, a homosexual Turkish student, Ahmet Yildiz, was shot outside a cafe and later died in the hospital. Sociologists have called this Turkey's first publicized gay honor killing.[3][4] 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.[5]

LGBT civil rights organizations

The major LGBT community-based civil rights organization is KAOS GL, established in 1994 in Ankara. Lambda Istanbul, 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 [6], was finally overturned by the country's Supreme Court of Appeal on January 22, 2009[7].

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 early 2000s, 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 Lambda Istanbul, 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.”[6] 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.” [6]. Both charges were ultimately dropped [6].

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 over-ruled by the Turkish Supreme Court and Lambda Istanbul remains open.[8].


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 various "public morality" laws. For example, it was once reported that in Adana males were prohibited from kissing in public, on the cheek. However, there has been no evidence of enforcement of this regulation. Men kissing as a form of greeting is common in Turkey.

Istanbul has a very open gay scene with around 20 bars and clubs plus various other venues such as cinemas and Turkish baths. Gay bars have been used to shoot pop videos and celebrities can often be spotted there. Turkish artists tend to have sympathies with gays, particularly in recent years.

Article 428 prohibits "obscene" and "indecent" books, songs, literature, etc.[9] Although the extent that these conditions apply to homosexual themes in the media has been liberalized in recent years. The film Brokeback Mountain was permitted to be shown in select theaters, but the Turkish Culture Ministry ruled that no one under the age of eighteen could be in the audience.[10] It should be noted that minimum age requirements applied to Brokeback Mountain in many countries. Several books with gay themes have been published recently including 'Volkan's story' - about a gay policeman. Bestsellers often include gay characters. In 1997, Hamam: The Turkish Bath was released. The film depicted a gay romance between a married man from Italy and a Turkish teenager. The film was successful internationally and was even broadcast on state TV. Gay characters have started to appear on television series, although often in stereotypical or very restricted roles. The popular gay themed TV series Will & Grace and Queer as Folk have both been broadcast in Turkey by Digiturk (also Six Feet Under and Angels in America by CNBC-E). Istanbul Film Festival (held every year by Ä°KSV) contains some selected LGBT themed movies. The !F Independent Film Festival, held every year in Istanbul and with a smaller selection of films in Ankara, has an LGBT section.

It is worth noting that the culture of "honour killings" is another key factor within Turkish society- families murdering members (usually female) who engage in sexual/moral behaviours regarded as inappropriate. The death of Ahmet Yildiz, 26, may be the first known example of an honour killing with gay male victim.[11] Institutions like the police and courts tend to ignore violence and murder committed in such circumstances.

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 homosexuals and bisexuals by barring them from serving in the 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.[12] 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.[13]

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 small number have had to undergo humiliating medical examinations.[5]

Discrimination protections

No laws exist 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.[5]

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are among the most vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees in Turkey today.[14]

Family law

Turkey does not recognise same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits. The Turkish Council of State has ruled that homosexuals should not have custody of children, but it is not a must under the law.

See also

  • Accession of Turkey to the European Union (EU membership requires certain human rights standards)


  1. Martin, Susan Taylor. "Floridian: A city comes out", St. Petersburg Times, 2003-01-17. Retrieved on 2008-08-20. 
  2. See report of Kaos GL: Turkey's LGBT History: The 1990s; accessed on 16 October 2009
  3. Bilefsky, Dan. "Soul-Searching in Turkey After a Gay Man Is Killed", New York Times, November 26, 2009, pp. A16. Retrieved on 26 November 2009. 
  4. Nicholas Birch. "Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honor killing?", London: The Independent, 2008-07-19. Retrieved on 2008-09-27. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 The report can be found at
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Turkey: Court Shows Bias, Dissolves Lambda Istanbul, Human Rights Watch, June 2, 2008
  7. Appeals court says gay rights unit is OK
  9. "Turkey", Legislation of INTERPOL member states on sexual offences against children, Interpol, 2008-08-20, p. V. Child pornography: Article 428 of the Turkish Criminal Code. Retrieved on 2008-08-20. 
  10. "Turkey restricts viewing of 'Brokeback'", Associated Press, Washington Blade, 2006-03-16. Retrieved on 2008-08-20. Archived from the original on 2006-03-16. 
  11. Birch, Nicholas. "Was Ahmet Yildiz the victim of Turkey's first gay honour killing?", Independent, 2008-07-19. Retrieved on 2008-08-20. 
  14. 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

External links


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