Demet Demir, who won the IGLHRC award this year, is the
leading personality among the transvestite and transsexual community in Istanbul and has
been working in collobration with various non-governmental organizations for equal rights
for sexual minorities.
I realised that I
was different when I was five or six. I felt that I liked to be close to my own kind. Yes,
I had a different sexual identity. But it was not important when I was a small child. They
made me feel that it's important in my age of adolescence. Rules of morality, religion,
and patriarchy. And the pressure of my family and the society was added to all these. It
was only me who knew about my sexuality. I had to hide my emotions and it was very
difficult. I was a prisoner everywhere.
Yes, it was hard to survive in a Moslem country and patriarchal, feudal society. I thought
a lot about what I was guilty for but could not find an answer. It was impossible to match
my life with religion because Islam rejects all gays, lesbians and transgendered people.
Islam, with all institutions is one of the most important factors that darkens life for
I asked myself how I could overcome all these difficulties. I had to be a well-cultured
person and next step would be to put pressure on people to learn about sexual culture.
Because in Turkey the problem is not only with homosexuality, the problem is the whole
sexuality! First I had to deal with my family. They knew I was like a girl and did not say
anything when they saw me playing with girls all the time. But they could not accept that
I was a homosexual. And even when I was still male I was sexually harrased by so-called
"heterosexual" men around who wanted to sleep with me. It was my sexuality which
was always emphasized about me. So I had to change many jobs.
During school years I was politically active. Again my sexual and political identities
clashed. Turkish socialists before 80's could not accept homosexuality. I was arrested on
1st of May 1980 at the demonstration for Labour Day. Then came the coup d'état on the
12nd of September, 1980. All non-heterosexual people were put on pressure. They banned all
the gays and transgendered people who worked as singers. There was also big punishment for
prostitution. There was no right to live.
Homosexuals who were caught by the army forces were sent to smaller towns in buses. Many
of us were kept and tortured at police stations and we were sent to sexual disease
hospitals. We were kept prisoners for more than ten days.
My penalty was determined and I was put into prison in 1982. I stayed in prison for eight
months. In prison I was excluded by my leftist friends because I was a faggot and I had no
right to live. When I got out of prison it was a new beginning in my life. It was 1984 and
I had always been a prisoner because I always had to hide myself to let other people be
happy. I could not stand it anymore and at last I made my sexual revolution. First I came
out to my family and started to act more effeminate. It was not important for me if the
society thought I was strange. I had to live for myself, not for others. I had many
missions to do and I had enough political background and culture.
Homosexual movement started in 1987 in Turkey. The movement was started by transvestites
and transsexuals . Homosexual group of Radical Democratic Green Party went on hunger
strike and the next action was sitting at Taksim Park. Then I was not involved in the
movement yet. I had some contacts in 1988 and devoted myself to the struggle for sexual
In the Radical Democratic Green Party I learned about femminism, environmentalism,
militarism, homosexual rights, animal rights and raised my consciousness. Every minority
group rights were violated in my country.
It was not enough for me and I became a member of Human Rights Organisation. At first I
was found odd because I was a transvestite. They were all leftists and so was I. But they
were not used to homosexuals yet. I also struggled here to make people accept me. I worked
to establish sexual minorities commission in HRO. HRO dealed with every kind of pressure
applied on homosexuals and we gave press declarations at HRO. They also provided the
lawyers for cases about homosexuals and they looked for the ones who were arrested.
Because in Turkey many people get lost after they are arrested by the police. In HRO I
also became the first transvestite delegate.
In 1991 I was arrested. The reason was that they claimed I insulted Ataturk. But it was
not true. I was tortured by the police and they did not want me to tell it to anyone. With
the order of Suleyman Ulusoy I was put into prison for two months. Human Rights
Organisation took care of me. They found me a lawyer and visited me very often. Then I was
released and acquitted at the court.
My relations with my socialist friends got better and their pre-80s moral views seemed to
change. Radical Democratic Green Party spokesman Ibrahim Eren and I had different views
and there were some separations from the movement. We have also been working for two years
with Human Resources Development Foundation on ways of avoiding sexual diseases for
transvestites and transsexuals.
In Ulker Sokak, where I live, police pressure has been going on for a year. There were
seventy of us on our street last year but now we are only seven. Our doors were broken,
one of our friend's house was burnt down by the police. These were caused by a lady called
Gungor Gider. She used to get along very well with us and most of us were living in her
houses and paying her rent. But she demanded much more money than the houses cost and we
objected. Since than in cooperation with the police, she provoked all the inhabitants of
the street. Most of our friends had to leave their houses.
The only way the tansgenered can earn their living in Turkey is prostitution. And they are
trying every way to prevent us from prostitution. But how are we going to survive? There
is no right to live if you are different!
But we are not daunted by all these things and we are still actively working in many
different areas. The only political party which talks about the rights of homosexuals in
Turkey is Freedom and Solidarity Party. I work with this party and the party has made a
declaration on Ulker Street with other organisations like HRO and Lambda Istanbul.
We have an art group in which there are transgendered and the students of art. We have
opened an workshop and we are producing artistic pieces. We have a magazine called
"Gaci" which means "woman" in tansvestite slang. It is prepared by sex
workers, transvestites and transsexuals. I write articles and poems for this magazine.
We are trying to create our own business because this is the only chance. If not, we are
condemned to prostitution.
I am also working with the queer group Lambda Istanbul which has nominated me for this
award. Lambda Istanbul was founded in 1993 and it is the most actively working group in
Turkey. It has around 60 members. Lambda Istanbul has a bi-monthly photocopy magazine and
the only regular gay-lesbian radio show of Turkey. Although they have a severe financial
problem, they keep on working.
In Turkey, so far many homosexuals were killed and police could not find their murderers.
Police does not care to look for the murderers because they think homosexuals are not
worth it. We have a lot of problems in Turkey and we want to live the way the
heterosexuals do. I will keep on struggling for every right. Yesterday I started as a
child and I am going on as a mother today. And tomorrow I will go on as a grandmother. I
do not care if they kill me or put me in prison again.