Ankara-born, Ali (name substituted), 33, believes the core reason Turkish culture doesn’t understand or accept homosexuality is because there is no word for it in the language.

How can they recognise it, if there’s no word for it? The culture is really twisted, said Ali.

Eventually, they [mainstream society] will have to spell out the word and deal with it. Now they are just ignoring it.

The Turkish authorities may be forced to deal with homosexuality sooner than they would like, as pressure mounts to join the European Union.

There is a very strong push for Turkey to get into the EU. The Turkish people want wealth, money and to travel to Europe freely, Ali said. Even if the laws are changed in line with EU directives, society still won’t change its views.

Turkish society attempts to ignore the existence of homosexuality in the country. In May this year a Turkish court ordered the closure of the gay activist group Lambda, ruling that the group allegedly contravened public morality laws. The police had raided Lambda’s office the month prior.

By closing Lambda down, the authorities are saying, -˜you don’t exist,’ said Ali.

In response Lluis Maria de Puig, president of the Council of Europe said, Freedom of expression and freedom of association are enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, which Turkey has ratified.

Homosexuality has never been formally outlawed in Turkey, despite being a Muslim country. An explanation could be that it’s impossible to legislate against a concept that you don’t have a word for.

In recent years, the country has adopted the English word, gay, to describe homosexual people. There are also several derogatory words in Turkish.

Homosexual acts are widespread in Turkey -” practices that nobody talks about or acknowledges. Istanbul offers a gay infrastructure of around 20 bars.

Istanbul also boasts many prostitutes. Gay boys from rural Turkey who are rejected by their families and with no other means of survival dress in women’s clothes and work the streets.

Society says men can’t be with men. But the prostitute looks like a woman, so it’s OK, said Ali.
Turkish society associates being gay with being a transvestite or transsexual. If you are gay then you are not a complete man.

However, Turkish society accepts artists and musicians as being different and allows them greater freedom of expression. Bülent Ers-oy, a male-to-female transgender classical singer and Zeki Müren, a cross-dressing classical singer who died in 1996, are examples of popular performers who go against the grain of accepted society.

Tarkan is Turkey’s pre-eminent pop star. For years there has been speculation about his sexuality, despite a long-term relationship with a female lawyer. Everyone adores Tarkan. If he does it [comes out], it will make a difference, Ali said.

Ali left Turkey in 2002 after obtaining a scholarship to complete his PhD in architecture in Sydney.
Most of my gay friends left Turkey because of the culture.

I found people connected more in Turkey, more friendly and intimate. Although society doesn’t accept homosexuality, within my friendship circle we were much more connected than I experience here in Sydney.

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