Murder of transgender woman shines dark light on rights issues in Turkey

Murder of transgender woman shines dark light on rights issues in Turkey

Nazlan Ertan
Murder of transgender woman shines dark light on rights issues in Turkey

AFP photo

Turkey’s cultural and political circles were finally mobilized against the brutal murder of Hande Kader, a transgender sex worker, on Aug. 17 with a social media campaign titled #speakoutforhandekader and a statement delivered in parliament.

The mobilization follows almost a week of silence following the discovery of the 22-years-old Kader in Istanbul, her body burnt and mutilated. The case, just the latest link in a chain of violence against homosexuals and transgender people, has become a cause for human right activists who say Turkey’s police and justice system turn a blind eye to aggression against transgender prostitutes. A large rally is to take place in Tünel, in downtown Istanbul, on the evening of Aug. 21.

A video underlining the lack of legal, social and political protection experienced by Turkey’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community was shared more than 2,000 times on social media. “We transsexuals live in isolation and fear everyday … If the state fails to take legal measures, as well as action on the ground, against trans-phobic crimes; they will not only continue but increase … We also exist, raise your voice for our rights,” say some of the activists who speak out in the two-minute video.

The video was followed by messages of solidarity from cultural and political circles in Turkey. “You are not human if your compassion is based on the gender of the victim,” TV host and well-known psychologist Aşkım Kapışmak wrote on his Twitter account as the hashtag #handekader became a Trending Topic.

“Peace and unity in a community can only be achieved through a joint fight against violence and hate, whether it is manifested in terrorist attacks, murder by the bullet of a spouse, or the killing of someone perceived as the other,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Ankara deputy Şenal Sarıhan said in a statement, while refraining from making a direct reference to the violence and violation of rights against LGBT people.

A meeting in parliament between various activists and representatives of the CHP and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) was more precise about what needs to be done. A joint statement read out at parliament said LGBT groups should have more access to the justice system and firm punishments should be given to the aggressors. “So far, most aggressors charged with violence against transgender sex workers have been able to go scot free,” said the statement.

LGBT activists have also launched a petition titled “Transgender murders are political and need to be stopped” through The petition, which received 15,000 signatures by Aug. 19, urges the police and the Justice Ministry to find the murderers of Hande Kader and punish them with a maximum penalty. 

Mutilated, burned and murdered 

The mutilated and burnt body of Kader (which means “destiny” in Turkish) was found in the upscale district of Zekeriyaköy a week after she was seen getting into a car in Harbiye, central Istanbul. Her body was identified by her lover and friends; not surprisingly, no one from her immediate family wanted to come and identify her.

Her friends mourned her death, giving memories of her activism and her desire to become a translator. According to these accounts, Kader was a determined activist who took part in this year’s unauthorized Gay Pride Rally in Istanbul and was taken under police custody. “She wanted to be a translator but was not able to go to university. She turned to prostitution as a means to support herself,” wrote one friend.

Kader is just the latest in a long list of cases of harassment, violence and murder against transsexuals in Turkey. According to findings of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association (Kırmızı Şemsiye), an NGO that advocates the legal, political and social rights of transsexual sex workers, at least 40 transsexuals have been killed in Turkey between 2008 and 2016. According to Red Umbrella, 267 cases of human rights violations against transgender people were reported between November 2014 and June 2016. Seven of these 267 cases resulted in murder.

Kemal Ördek, the founder and chair of Red Umbrella and the writer of a book called “Being Trans in Turkey,” says these figures are likely too low. “There is widespread trans-phobia and what I call whore-phobia. The moment a transgender sex worker reports abuse, they are subject to abuse throughout the whole process - from the police to the justice system. This is a horrible situation, access to justice mechanisms is almost nonexistent,” Ördek said in a telephone interview with the Hürriyet Daily News. 

Red Umbrella has provided a legal support handbook for lawyers on violations against sex workers, as well as a hotline for sex workers who needed legal assistance.

For Deniz Su Tiffany, the writer of a book called “I, too, Exist” and a writer at GZone, a website on transgender rights, the public reaction when Kader’s murder took place expressed “transphobia, indifference and lack of empathy.” “But thanks to our efforts, social media, and international funding support, we are generally more aware of violations against transgender people and we can mobilize better,” she told the Hürriyet Daily News.