Turkey’s LGBTQ community fears being exposed to more homophobic hate after conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made them into his favorite target for his bitterly divisive re-election campaign.
The Islamic-rooted leader constantly railed against LGBTQ people on the campaign trail, accusing them of threatening traditional family values and calling them “perverse.”
He also attacked opposition challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu for pledging to “respect everyone’s beliefs, lifestyles and identities,” including those of the LGBTQ community.
After extending his two-decade rule until 2028 in Sunday’s historic run-off election, Erdoğan used the opportunity to target them again when he greeted supporters in İstanbul.
“Is the CHP LGBT? Is the HDP LGBT?” he asked, referring to Kılıçdaroğlu’s secular party and the main pro-Kurdish group that supported the opposition alliance.
“Yes!” the crowd roared in reply.
Erdoğan continued the pantomime by asking his rapturous supporters whether his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was LGBTQ-friendly.
“No!” was the unanimous rejoinder.
İlker Erdoğan, a 20-year-old university student and LGBTQ activist, has known no leader other than Erdoğan and AKP-led governments.
“From the moment I was born, I felt that discrimination, homophobia and hatred in my bones,” he told AFP before Sunday’s vote.
“I feel deeply afraid. Feeling so afraid is affecting my psychology terribly. I couldn’t breathe before, and now they will try to strangle my throat,” he added.
Ameda Murat Karaguzu, 26, says she has been “subjected to more hate speech and acts of hate than I have experienced in a long time”, from physical threats to verbal insults.
The project assistant at an LGBTQ association blamed the government’s virulent rhetoric for the upsurge in hostility because the perpetrators “are aware that there will be no (legal) consequences for killing or harming us.”
Erdoğan’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has for example denounced same-sex relationships as a “religion” imported from the West and claimed they involved marriages between animals and humans.
‘Cannot erase my existence’
Documentary filmmaker Tuğba Baykal worried that the right-wing majority in parliament would seek to shut down LGBTQ associations and criminalize activists, predicting an exodus of gay people from Turkey.
The 39-year-old said she already had plans to leave before the elections and would go to the United States.
“It would be harder for me to make this decision if we were a more hospitable country,” she regretted.
“How will I survive if Erdoğan is elected? No one will give me a job because I am an openly identified LGBTI,” Karaguzu said ahead of the run-off election.
But İlker Erdoğan refused to be cowed by the increasingly hostile environment.
“I am also part of this nation, my identity card says Turkish citizen. You cannot erase my existence, no matter how hard you try,” he told AFP.
“You are trying to erase me without any reason and without any justification.”
Baykal agreed. “We have to continue the struggle,” she said.
© Agence France-Presse