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.
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. This, in turn, makes them even more susceptible to hate crime victimization and/or verbal, sexual, and physical abuse.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.
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. 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.” The ban was designed to specifically target the popular singer and actress Bülent Ersoy, a transgender woman, and remained in effect for seven years. 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.
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. 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.1
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). 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.
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. 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.