Is Turkey more secure after a blanket ban on LGBT events?
On Nov. 18, the Ankara Governor’s Office issued a statement announcing an effective ban on all public events related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues, including all films, exhibitions and demonstrations. Security concerns and “public sensitivities” were cited as major reasons for the ban.
This blanket ban came three days after the Turkish capital outlawed a German LGBT film festival, the day before it was due to start on Nov. 15. The reason cited for banning the festival was “public safety and terrorism risk.”
“A part of society with different qualities in terms of social class, race, religion, sect, or region could explicitly incite another part [of the society] to grudges and enmity, posing an open and imminent danger in terms of public safety,” the Governor Office stated on Nov. 19.
The ban is a clear violation of the Turkish Constitution, which obliges the state “to strive for the removal of political, economic, and social obstacles which restrict the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual in a manner incompatible with the principles of justice and of the social state governed by rule of law; and to provide the conditions required for the development of the individual’s material and spiritual existence.”
The wide-ranging bans imposed by the Ankara Governor’s Office are just one part of increasing pressure on LGBT groups in Turkey in recent years, resulting in the curtailing of citizens’ fundamental individual freedoms.
In Istanbul, the annual LGBT Pride March has not been permitted for the last three years, despite the fact that it had been conducted in peace and without major security problems since the early 2000s. In 2017, the Istanbul Governor’s Office sought to justify the ban by citing a threat posed by an ultra-nationalist and conservative group against the march.
Instead of seeking ways to protect LGBT groups’ constitutional rights, the governor opted to ban the event, at the expense of breaching the constitutional right to assemble and hold public demonstrations.
While all these are occurring, with blanket and open-ended bans imposed on various events, there are no interventions from government officials to stop such discriminatory measures against a segment of society.
On the contrary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president and the chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), on Nov. 9 blasted the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for introducing a sexual orientation-based quota in neighborhood committee elections. Erdoğan accused his main political rival of “acting against the values of the nation.”
“Their ties with the values of our nation are so severed that district municipalities from the CHP can introduce a one-in-five homosexual quota for neighborhood committee elections,” he said. “Should we take the words that this party says into consideration? Should we find them valuable to talk about? We can have nothing to do with those who are waging war against the values of our nation.”
The preamble of our current constitution rightly underlines that “every Turkish citizen has an innate right to lead an honorable life and to improve his/her material and spiritual wellbeing.” It states that all Turkish citizens have “the right to demand a peaceful life based on absolute respect for one another’s rights and freedoms, mutual love and fellowship.”
Unfortunately, these rights and freedoms, which should be under constitutional safeguards, are constantly being eroded by the Turkish authorities. It goes without saying that serious discrimination against LGBT groups is just another consequence of the growing religious conservative understanding in the ruling AKP’s political sphere. It constitutes a direct intervention into the lifestyles of a segment of society on the basis of “public sensitivities.”
With Turkey already displaying a tarnished image abroad for its downgraded democratic status, this continued pressure on LGBT groups will certainly not help government circles that wish to reverse this picture. Such a blanket ban on LGBT events will not make Turkey any more secure; it will only make it more undemocratic.