A week to remember transgender communities
Emrah Güler ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily NewsA Romani transgender woman, Gypsie Gül, was found dead by her friends and relatives last October in Istanbul’s relatively tolerant neighborhood of Kurtuluş. In April 2014, another trans woman, Çağla Joker, was gunned down in Istanbul, with two men arrested afterwards. Earlier this year, Sevda Başar was found buried in the vineyard of her boyfriend’s workplace in near the southeastern province of Gaziantep.
This week, we will remember in a series of events and campaigns, if not limited to but mostly in Istanbul, the trans people who have lost their lives to hate crimes. Nov. 20 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and the events to coincide with the day will continue throughout this week with an impressive photo exhibition, a fashion show, an academic gala, film screenings, and a march to Parliament.
When it comes to living conditions of and, worse, hate crimes against LGBTI communities in Turkey, trans women are at the bottom of the food chain. The discrimination is harsher, bordering on violence most of the times, and their acceptance by family, state and society is usually a lucky break in an otherwise miserable life. Finding employment, even for educated ones, is a non-starter, forcing trans women to become sex workers.
They are, naturally, more vulnerable against health problems and old age. So when the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association transformed a two-room apartment in Istanbul’s Dolapdere in 2012 into the exemplary establishment of the Trans Guesthouse, it sparked hope for trans individuals who were old, sick, and in need, as well as immigrant trans individuals who were in even worse conditions.
The Trans Guesthouse welcomes trans individuals who need help, especially in health care and safe accommodation. Through the collaboration of personal and collective efforts in the last one-and-a-half years, the Trans Guesthouse provided a safe haven to 27 trans women exposed to transphobic violence and/or deprived of their basic human rights.
Trans Guesthouse on exhibition
Now, the guesthouse and some of its residents are set to inspire others as the subject of a photography exhibition at Istanbul’s Karşı Sanat. Work by Ömer Tevfik Erten, an award-winning photographer and a LGBTI volunteer, will shed light on this unique example of urban transformation, where people are driven out into the peripheries, and an effective answer to discrimination.
Erten’s short “Untitled” won the grand prize in the BUT Short Film Competition in 2013. He continues to study at the Galata Photography Academy, volunteering for the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association, and is an ardent documenter of the trans movement in Turkey. The photos in the exhibition hope to spark debate on resistance mechanisms by trans individuals against the system, and how vital alternative accommodation systems are in big cities that are in constant flux.
The rent and the expenditures of the Trans Guesthouse constitute a major problem. For those interested in helping out the guesthouse and enjoying a night out, there will be a charity fashion show for the guesthouse on the evening of Nov. 20, aptly titled Trans Fashion Show. Organized by trans activist Öykü Ay, the event will take place in On İstanbul Club. Details can be found at transfashionshow.com.
Another highlight of the Transgender Remembrance activities will be the screening of Maria Binder’s personal documentary “Trans X” in Istanbul’s Şişli City Culture Center on Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. Part of the multi-platform human rights project Trans X Turkey, the film follows a trans activist from Istanbul and her unlikely relationship with an 85-year-old German retired nurse to open a retirement home for trans individuals.
An increasing number of hate crimes against trans women, a lack of prosecution against the perpetrators, urban transformation and the Gezi Park protests of 2013 are all part of this powerful film.
You will know director and activist Binder from her documentaries on human rights issues, such as “Who are You to Speak?” on women’s rights violations in Turkey. Transgender Day of Remembrance will in fact be a Transgender Week of Remembrance.