Turkey’s gay community rallies in support of newly elected President Recep Tayyip ErdoganAround the World, Online Only, Top Highlights Thursday, August 14th, 2014
TURKEY — Despite what critics call his authoritarian streak, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan coasted to the presidency after winning 52 percent of the Turkish vote Aug. 10 making him the first popularly elected president in Turkey’s history. What has gone largely unnoticed in the Western press is that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) has the support of a large and vocal minority: the country’s gay conservative community.
“There are people in our group who are highly influential within the AKP. In the days we created the group, we received a congratulation message from an AKP mayor. And we are in contact not only with the AKP. We have received support also from other LGBTI groups such as the LISTAG group [of families of homosexuals], Hevi LGBTI and the Istanbul LGBTT Solidarity Association. As a homosexual who votes for the AKP, I have been offended and saddened by statements AKP lawmakers make. Hence, our goal is to change the perceptions of rightist and conservative quarters who think likewise. People hostile to LGBTI individuals exist in all parties, LGBT-phobic people exist among the conservatives, too,” explained Kerem, the founder of the “Pro-AKP LGBTI individuals” group on Twitter, to Turkey’s liberal daily Millyet.
But, like the Log Cabin Republicans here in the United States, the long range goal of the conservative gay community in Turkey is to change hearts and minds. According to a report on Al-Monitor.com, “The members of the AKP LGBT group have a great affection for Erdogan. They argue that pious people, Kurds and non-Muslims have all acquired greater freedoms under Erdogan, and believe he is the only leader who can make LGBT individuals freer, too. They are fully confident that Erdogan will undertake LGBT reforms when the time comes.”
The task, others argue, is not only herculean but useless. Critics within Turkey’s LGBT community point specifically to comments made by members of the AKP party that show just how far they have to go. AKP’s former minister for family and women’s affairs, Selma Aliye Kavaf, angered the LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexed) community in 2010 when she said homosexuality was “a disease that needs to be cured.” AKP lawmaker Halil Urun, for his part, said, “What does LGBT mean? I don’t know. How am I supposed to know? We are ignorant on this issue.”
Melih Neseli Gunes, one of the pioneers of the AK LGBTI group, counters that by reminding the community of just how far they’ve come. “Certainly, the homosexual struggle [for rights] has contributed enormously to the greater freedom homosexuals enjoy today. The government, however, could have taken harsher measures on the issue had it wished so. But it didn’t.”
Whether or not Ergodan delivers for the LGBT community remains to be seen. But he seems to relish his new role reminding the masses, “”I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million.”
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