Openly gay Turkish activist running for parliament upbeat despite big hurdles
AA PhotoBarış Sulu has made headlines as an openly gay individual running for parliament on the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) ticket in the June 7 parliamentary election. He is hoping to fight against discrimination against Turkey’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons under the parliament’s roof, though he also acknowledges that a majority of the population does not look favorably at LGBTIs.
“I chose the HDP because LGBTI individuals have been in the party from the very beginning. It is not a group that was just added later,” Sulu said in an interview with state-run Anadolu Agency on May 25.
Running for office in the Central Anatolian province of Eskişehir, Sulu knows that he faces an uphill task in a country where he says “85 percent of people” do not approve of LGBTI individuals.
But he is not alone. Deva Özenen, a transgender woman, is running for parliament on the Anadolu Party (Anatolia Party) ticket as a candidate in İzmir, the Aegean city where she lives.
Unlike Özenen, Sulu is a well-known public figure as an activist. The first formal request for marriage between a same-sex couple in Turkey was placed in 2011 by Sulu and his partner, Aras Güngör, a transgender man still recognized as a woman on his ID card.
The authorities refused to formally marry them, despite the lack of legal constraints to prohibit the marriage. The couple strongly criticized the authorities’ stance, expressing their willingness to take legal action and apply to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if necessary.
Meanwhile, Özenen, a Christian transgender woman, was nominated by the Anatolia Party founded by Emine Ülker Tarhan after her resignation from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
“I am an ‘other’ both as a trans and as a Christian. By nominating me as a candidate, the Anatolia Party showed that they are not just canvassing,” Özenen told KaosGL.org, a news portal operated by LGBTI rights organization Kaos GL.
She also argued that Kemalism is “not an elitist ideology,” but rather embraces all oppressed groups including sexual minorities.