The deterioration of LGBTQ rights in Turkey over the past few years has not gone unnoticed by Congress. On Thrusday, January 18, 34 members of Congress signed on to a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the State Department to strongly condemn and work to reverse violations against the rights of LGBTQ Turks.
“LGBTQ people in Turkey have been living in fear for years. And as a result, they’ve been denied the opportunity to participate and make their voices heard in public. That’s a basic violation of human rights that we cannot tolerate from nations who are supposed to be our international partners,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), a Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. Rep. Maloney and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06) were the leaders of this appeal to Sec. Tillerson.
The letter notes that annual LGBTQ and Trans pride events in Istanbul, events which had previously drawn thousands in peaceful celebration, have been canceled and suppressed with force for the last two years. Most recently, the Governor of Ankara has banned any LGBTQ events in his province, which is home to Turkey’s capital city, in response to a scheduled LGBTQ film festival.
The letter concludes by urging Sec. Tillerson “to publicly speak out against the ongoing abuses in Turkey and to call on the Turkish authorities to immediately revoke this ban.”
The full text of the letter is reproduced below and can also be accessed here.
January 17, 2018
The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson:
We write to draw your attention to troubling reports that the Republic of Turkey, once among the most open and LGBTQ-friendly countries in the Muslim world, has taken increasingly hostile steps to crack down on public and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning. We request that the State Department and the Trump Administration take a stronger role in condemning these actions and take every necessary step in protecting and promoting LGBTQ civil rights on the world stage.
Recently, the Governor of Ankara indefinitely banned any films and exhibitions related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in Turkey’s capital city. The ban was implemented after the governor halted an LGBTQ Film Festival a day before it was scheduled to begin on November 16, 2017. The following week, a district governor in Istanbul banned another LGBTQ film screening, “in order to secure public order and safety.”
Actions taken by these officials are part of a worrisome trend towards restricting peaceful assembly and freedom of speech in Turkey. The Turkish government has used physical force and the adoption of discriminatory laws since at least June 2015 to prevent LGBTQ persons from publicly gathering, citing “social values” and “public morality” as the reason for these actions. In June, 2015, Turkish police used water cannons to disperse the LGBTI+ pride march in Istanbul, injuring peaceful participants. The following year, Istanbul riot police dispersed a Trans Pride resulting in the unlawful detainment of 11 people and violence at the hands of local police. And this June, Istanbul’s governor banned the city’s Trans and LGBTI+ pride march, citing security concerns.
This trend of suppression of the freedom of assembly for LGBTQ people and their allies signals an acceptance of anti-LGBTQ sentiments held by some Turkish people, including President Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK). President Erdogan refuses to expand, or even protect, the most basic rights for minorities, LGBTQ people and women. This regime’s flouting of international norms and its intolerance of dissent has clearly been on display in Turkey and in its interactions with the rest of the world.
The United States must not stand by as the Erdogan regime threatens human rights. We therefore urge you to publicly speak out against the ongoing abuses in Turkey and to call on the Turkish authorities to immediately revoke this ban. We must ensure that the U.S. remains committed to working with countries to protect all of their citizens, no matter whom they are or whom they love. We look forward to hearing from you regarding the Administration’s plan to address this growing concern in Turkey.