Over at change.org‘s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender section (in my opinion, labeled incorrectly with the header Gay Rights) is an article entitled Is Homophobia More Prevalent than Racism? The author, Michael A. Jones, points out the problems with comparing racism, sexism, and homophobia. He concludes his piece with the following paragraphs:
It’s certainly worthwhile to survey the prejudices and stereotypes that exist regarding sexual orientation and race. But isn’t it slightly destructive to compare the two (racism and homophobia), and to label homophobia “the new black”? To me, that seems dismissive of the racist attitudes and behavior that people of color face in a myriad of ways, and suggests that racism is a bit easier than homophobia.
LGBT rights should certainly be considered part of the civil rights struggle. But homophobia and racism shouldn’t be in a competition to outdo the other. Both deserved to be condemned equally.
Certainly something of a concept I can embrace for the western nations like the United States. Yet in Turkey, a nation that straddles the philosophies between the West and the Mideast, we can make at least one sad comparison between the United States’ Black Civil Rights movement and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and transgender (LGBTT) civil rights movement in Turkey: LGBTT people and civil rights leaders in Turkey experience violence — and some are murdered — and police don’t appear to care very much.¹
This past week, a Turkish transgender civil rights activist — Ebru Soykan — was killed. From 365Gay‘s Police accused of ignoring transwoman’s pleas for help:
Human rights groups say a Turkish transwoman would be alive today if police had taken seriously her pleas for help.
[More details of trans activist Ebru Soykan’s killing from 365Gay and Human Rights Watch.](Continued from the 365Gay article)
Soykan was a member of Lambda Istanbul. The organization said police had refused rebuffed several times in the month before her murder for an order of protection from a man who had beaten her and threatened to kill her on several occasions.
Human Rights Watch fills in more of the details (emphasis and links added):
Members of Lambda Istanbul, which works for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transsexual (LGBTT) people, told Human Rights Watch that in the last month Ebru had asked the Prosecutor’s Office for protection from the man who had beaten her on several occasions and threatened to kill her. Lambda Istanbul was told that a few weeks ago police detained the man but released him two hours later. The same man is under police custody as the murder suspect.
“The Turkish police have a duty to respond to all credible threats of violence, whoever the victim,” said Juliana Cano Nieto, researcher in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “Investigating violence against LGBT people, prosecuting suspects, and passing effective legislation to ensure equality are all critical to ensuring that these murderous abuses end.”
This is the second killing of a member of Lambda Istanbul in the past year. In July 2008, an unknown person shot and killed 26-year-old Ahmet Yildiz as he was leaving a café near the Bosporus. No one has been charged with this crime.
Members of Lambda Istanbul described Ebru as a leading figure in the organization, who worked to end police harassment and ill treatment of transgender people in Taksim, a central area in Istanbul. The LGBTT Platform for Human Rights, a coalition of several LGBTT organizations in Turkey, held a vigil on March 12, 2009 in front of Ebru’s home.
In 2007, Lambda Istanbul twice submitted a file of 146 cases they had documented to the Istanbul Provincial Human Rights Board, many dealing with reports of violence against transgender people, including cases of violence by the police. Several of these cases had been reported to the police. The then-deputy governor of Istanbul told Lambda Istanbul that the governor’s office had found no records of these allegations and complaints in the police districts involved…
I’m thankful that here in the United States, our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights leaders aren’t being killed in their homes. But that doesn’t mean we — that I — shouldn’t care when our LGBT community leaders are killed elsewhere in the world.
“Until an anti-discrimination law is in place to protect the LGBT community and the police take seriously their duty to protect everyone, these murders will continue,” said Cano Nieto. “Turkey cannot continue to ignore its obligations when lives are at stake.”
We still need the similar kinds of federal laws here in the United States — such as with the Matthew Sheppard Hate Crimes Act. In some ways, LGBT Americans aren’t much better off than LGBTT Turks.
It’s true that issues relating to homophobia, sexism, transism, and racism shouldn’t be in a competition to outdo the other. But at the same time, it’s foolish not to note when there are parallels. Perhaps we just want to see each of our nations life up to the American ideal, expressed in the Pledge of Alligence:
…And liberty and justice for all.
¹ Human Rights Watch: We Need a Law for Liberation; Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights in a Changing Turkey, Section V. A Social Hell: State Violence, Abuse, and Harassment against Transgender People
* Human Rights Watch: Closing Ranks against Accountability; Barriers to Tackling Police Violence in Turkey
* The Video Of Violence Against A Trans Woman Is Violent And Shocking