Report

Public Opinion of Transgender Rights in Turkey

November 2020

Tolerance toward transgender individuals remains low in Turkey compared to other countries. This report analyzes data collected in the 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey to examine public opinion of transgender rights and status in Turkey.

AUTHORS
Highlights
The Turkish Constitution does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity.
Familiarity with transgender people is a major predictor of
acceptance of transgender people and their civil rights.
A majority of participants agreed that they want Turkey to do more to support and protect transgender people.
Data Points
51%
of participants reported having seen transgender people, but not knowing them personally
25%
reported having transgender acquaintances
65%
of participants say transgender people should be protected from discrimination by the government
64%
say they should be allowed to have gender-affirming surgery
37%
say that transgender people should be allowed to serve in the military
56%
did not agree
Report

Introduction

This report presents information on public opinion about transgender people and their rights in Turkey. We analyzed data from the 2017 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, Turkey panel, to provide new information on views toward transgender people, their rights, and their status in society. There is a great deal that we do not know when it comes to the status of the transgender population in Turkey. Most research that focuses on transgender individuals in Turkey is derived from small sample sizes.1

Although limited, this research provides us with valuable information regarding the status of transgender individuals in Turkey, indicating that they are at high risk for experiencing violence and discrimination at the individual level and discrimination and inequality at the institutional level.2 Transgender women, in particular, are likely to experience discrimination due to their gender identity, thereby limiting their employment opportunities and increasing their likelihood of engagement in the sex industry.3 This, in turn, makes them even more susceptible to hate crime victimization and/or verbal, sexual, and physical abuse.4

Transgender individuals’ experiences of violence and discrimination are intertwined with the lack of protection they receive from the government. Although neither being transgender nor homosexuality are explicitly criminalized in Turkey, this does not mean that the LGBT population has been accepted in Turkish society.5 The first memorandum against transgender persons, publicly known as the “performance ban,” was issued in 1981 after the 1980 coup d’etat. The ban in tavernas and night clubs prohibited the hiring of people who “resemble more a woman than a man in their clothes and behavior.”6 The ban was designed to specifically target the popular singer and actress Bülent Ersoy, a transgender woman, and remained in effect for seven years.7 It was not until 1988 that, under Article 29 of the civil code, Turkish law allowed some transgender people to change official documents to reflect their gender identity. Article 29 only applied to transgender people who had had sex-reassignment surgery, excluding people who did not wish to undergo reassignment surgery.8 

The Turkish Constitution does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender identity (or of sexual orientation). The lack of legal protection against discrimination has significant repercussions for sexual and gender minorities as they often experience discrimination in education, employment, and health care.9 Transgender people are at higher risk than cisgender LGB people for dropping out of school and being excluded from higher education. Moreover, transgender people are less likely to practice the occupation for which they were trained, as well as more likely to experience poverty, to lack health insurance, and to attempt suicide due to discrimination than their cisgender LGB counterparts.110 

Turkish military service policy officially considers those who exhibit “sexual identity and behavioral defects” unfit for military service otherwise required for all Turkish men over the age of 18, thus excluding LGBT people from serving and issues them with what is called “çürük raporu” (the rotten report).11 What is seen as a threat to the military is not necessarily homosexual relationships or transgender identity per se, but perceived effeminacy and failure to demonstrate traditional masculinity. While there have been cases of conscripts seeking exemption by proving their femininity, the rotten report is not desired by every gay man and trans person. Thus, this policy particularly impacts gay men and trans women, where it manifests as discrimination and violence based on a perceived failure to perform traditional masculinity.12

Research on public opinion regarding transgender individuals’ rights in Turkey is limited. According to the Ipsos 2016 Global Attitudes Toward Transgender People survey, a previous iteration of the survey used as the basis for this report, Turkey was ranked 18th out of the 23 countries that were surveyed regarding overall public support for transgender rights.13 But while tolerance toward transgender individuals remains low compared to other countries, more participants agreed than disagreed with the statement “transgender people should be protected from discrimination by the government.” 

In this report, we expand on the 2016 findings by using data from the 2017 Global Attitudes survey to provide information about public attitudes toward transgender people in Turkish society. 

Public Opinion of Transgender Rights in Turkey

Engin, C. (2018). Sex Work in Turkey: Experiences of Transwomen. In L. Nuttbrock (Ed.), Transgender Sex Work and Society. New York, NY: Harrington Park Press; Lambda Istanbul. (2012). “İt İti Isırmaz!” Bir Alan Araştırması: İstanbul’da Yaşayan Trans Kadınların Sorunları. Istanbul, Turkey: Lambda Istanbul. Retrieved from: http://www.lambdaistanbul. org/s/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/%C4%B0t-%C4%B0ti-Is%C4%B1rmaz-%C4%B0stanbulda-Ya%C5%9Fayan- Trans-Kad%C4%B1nlar%C4%B1n-Sorunlar%C4%B1-2010.pdf; Ördek, K. (2014, December). Violence Directed Towards Sex Worker Trans Women in Turkey: a Struggle for Existence Caught Between the Crossfire of Invisibility and Impunity. Ankara, Turkey: Kırmızı Şemsiye Cinsel Sağlık ve İnsan Hakları Derneği (Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association). Retrieved from: http://www.kirmizisemsiye.org/SourceFiles/pdf-2018525135952.pdf; Ördek, K. (2015, March). “Those Women”: Violence Stories From Sex Worker Trans Women. Ankara, Turkey: Kırmızı Şemsiye Cinsel Sağlık ve İnsan Hakları Derneği (Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association). Retrieved from: http:// www.swannet.org/userfiles/THOSE%20WOMEN_Turkey.pdf; Göregenli, M., O’Neil, M. L., Ergün, R., Değirmenci, S., Erkengel, D., & Köylü, M. (ed.). (2019a). Turkiye’de Kamu Calisani Lesbiyen, Gey, Biseksuel, Trans ve Intersekslerin Durumu. Ankara, Turkey: Kaos GL. Retrieved from: http://www.kaosgldernegi.org/resim/yayin/dl/kamu_calisanlari_2019_web. pdf; Göregenli, M., O’Neil, M. L., Ergün, R., Değirmenci, S., Erkengel, D., & Köylü, M. (ed.). (2019b). Turkiye’de Ozel Sektor Calisani Lesbiyen, Gey, Biseksuel, Trans ve Intersekslerin Durumu. Ankara, Turkey: Kaos GL. Retrieved from: http://www. kaosgldernegi.org/resim/yayin/dl/kamu_calisanlari_2019_web.pdf 

Engin (2018); Lambda Istanbul (2012) 

Göregenli et al. (2019a, 2019b) 

Engin (2018); Lambda Istanbul (2012); Ördek (2014); Ördek (2015)

Yılmaz, V. (2013). The New Constitution of Turkey: A Blessing or A Curse for LGBT Citizens? Turkish Policy Quarterly, 11(4), 131-140. Retrieved from: http://turkishpolicy.com/Files/ArticlePDF/the-new-constitution-of-turkey-a-blessing-or-a-curse-for-lgbt-citizens-winter-2013-en.pdf 

Original news of the ban appeared in Milliyet. (1981, January 28). Bülent Ersoy giyimini düzeltmesi için emniyete çağrılarak uyarıldı. Milliyet, p. 10. Retrieved from: http://gazetearsivi.milliyet.com.tr/Arsiv/1981/01/28. Translation of the quote cited in text came from Ertür, B. & Lebow, A. (2014). Coup de Genre: The Trials and Tribulations of Bülent Ersoy. Theory & Event, 17(1). Retrieved from: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/539135 

NTV-MSNBC. (2008, February 27). Bülent Ersoy’un 12 Eylül’deki hukuk savaşı [Legal War of Bülent Ersoy on September 12th]. NTV-MSNBC. Retrieved from: https://web.archive.org/web/20151208074239/http://arsiv.ntv.com. tr/news/437238.asp 

Yılmaz (2013); Atamer, Y. (2006, September 21). Transseksüellerin Türk Hukukundaki Durumu. Istanbul, Turkey: Lambda Istanbul. Retrieved from: http://www.lambdaistanbul.org/s/etkinlik/transseksuellerin-turk-hukukundaki-durumu/ 

Göregenli et al. (2019a, 2019b); Göçmen, İ. & Yılmaz, V. (2016). Exploring Perceived Discrimination Among LGBT Individuals in Turkey in Education, Employment, and Health Care: Results of an Online Survey. Journal of Homosexuality, 64(8), 1052-1068. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2016.1236598 

Göçmen and Yılmaz (2016) 

Atuk, T. (2019). Comrades-in-[Each Other’s]-Arms: Homosociality, Masculinity and Effeminacy in the Turkish Army. Men and Masculinities, 1097184X19866874. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1177/1097184X19866874 

Atuk (2019)

Flores, A. R., Brown, T. N. T., & Park, A. S. (2016, December). Public Support on Transgender Rights: A Twenty-Three Country Survey. Los Angeles, CA: The Williams Institute. Retrieved from: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/23-Country-Survey.pdf