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LGBTI+ groups criticize their disparagement in Erdoğan’s election campaign, opposition’s inaction

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LGBTI+ advocacy groups are speaking out against the use of disparaging language in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s election campaign while expressing frustration at the opposition’s lack of action in response, BBC Turkish reported on Wednesday.

As the presidential and parliamentary elections of May 14 approach, political parties in Turkey are intensifying their rhetoric against the LGBTI+ community, with politicians from both the opposition and the ruling bloc accusing each other of being supporters or advocates of LGBTI+ rights.

While Erdoğan and other politicians from the ruling bloc frequently use disparaging language against LGBTI+ individuals in political discourse and promote anti-LGBTI+ policies during their election rallies, the joint agreement of the main opposition’s Nation Alliance doesn’t include any promises related to LGBTI+ rights and there is no consensus among party leaders on their views towards LGBTI+ individuals.

Representatives from Turkey’s LGBTI+ advocacy groups on Wednesday told BBC Turkish that the prevailing language in the election campaigns is extremely dangerous.

Zarife Akbulut from the Social Policies Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association said the politics of animosity against LGBTI+ individuals had become a propaganda tool for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), with its politicians using LGBTI+ individuals as a means of social polarization and disparaging language to solidify their own base.

Akbulut added that opposition parties haven’t been able to produce policies against this negative rhetoric against LGBTI+ individuals since they’re “concerned about losing votes.”

The Ankara Rainbow Families Association (GALADER)’s Nedime Erdoğan also stated that it is “very hurtful” for opposition parties to position themselves as anti-LGBTI+ and “act evasively” in response to the statements made by the ruling alliance politicians, even if they don’t directly produce an anti-LGBTI+ language or policy.

“Yes, the opposition may not be producing negative language, but they aren’t honestly and wholeheartedly saying that LGBTI+ people exist. … Then who will LGBTI+ people really trust? … There are no political parties who really think from the inside, who own us, who try to understand what is going on and change themselves [accordingly],” Erdoğan said.

Defne Güzel from Kaos GL, one of the oldest LGBTI+ rights groups in Turkey, also told BBC that political parties’ competition to win more votes with their anti-LGBTI+ rhetoric makes the human rights violations that LGBTI+ individuals face invisible.

“Empowering LGBTI+ people against violations is one of the most important steps that the opposition can take,” Güzel said, adding that the nationalist İYİ (Good) Party, a member of the Nation Alliance, the Green Left Party (YSP) and the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) promise to fight against discrimination in their election manifestos.

Meanwhile, Esmeray Özadikti, an actress and transgender activist who has been nominated by TİP for a seat in parliament as the only candidate from the country’s LGBTI+ community, on Tuesday stated in an interview with Voice of America’s (VOA) Turkish service that if elected, she will prioritize the demands of LGBTI+ individuals and urge both the opposition and the ruling party to address them.

Although homosexuality was decriminalized by the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of modern Turkey, in 1858, it is widely frowned upon by large swaths of society, including Erdoğan’s ruling AKP, while same-sex couples are not legal.

One minister referred to gay people as “deranged.”

In 2021, the government withdrew from the Istanbul Convention on protecting women’s rights, claiming it encouraged homosexuality and threatened the traditional family structure.

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