“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” still lives in Turkey

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A new roadblock is set to disrupt the LGBT struggle in Turkey as new legislation threatens to discipline gays in the military. Previously, coming out in the Turkish Armed Forces was a humiliating affair that required a soldier to admit to a “sickness” and was forced to submit to what rights group Human Rights Watch called, “humiliating and degrading examinations.”

To prove their sexuality, Armed Forces Members would then document how they have been in the sexually passive position with photographic evidence that then could be used to stigmatize them. Essentially, members of the Turkish Armed Forces are asked to stay in the closet, or otherwise go through a humiliating process of official expulsion, similar to the recently dropped United States law, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. 

The new legislation, under Article 53 of the Turkish Military Criminal Code, will treat homosexuality as a criminal offense and homosexuals will be subject to a Military Court.

According to Ali Erol of the Hurriyet Daily News, “the military defines homosexuality as a psycho-sexual disorder as based on a report from the 1968 American Psychiatric Association.”

Ali Erol continued, “when a member of the military staff is homosexual, he is considered guilty of a disciplinary crime. This is discrimination on a double scale.”

In Turkey, homosexuals are not recognized as a civil group and are then barred from civil rights protection. Moreover, military service is mandatory for all males between ages 18-41. 

BBC reporter Emre Azizleri interviewed a recently dismissed Turkish soldier who talked of his experience as “humiliating,” because after revealing private photos of him and another man to prove his homosexuality, “they were then shared with employers and members of his community.”

Turkey is traditionally a socially conservative country that has recently refused to support laws against discrimination and allows homophobia to spread in the media. However, it is increasingly hard to ignore the gay presence in metropolitan Istanbul, as highlighted when the city hosted the first pride parade in a Muslim country in 2012. 

Turkey is still trying to court the European Union into accepting it as a member state, yet the EU is reluctant because of Turkey’s transgressions regarding civil rights issues.

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