May 6, 2015 – Reported by Yahoo News – Barış Sulu has made history twice. Four years ago, he and his partner became the first gay couple to apply for a marriage license in Turkey; now he’s running as the first openly gay candidate for a seat in Parliament.
The 37-year-old LGBT activist describes himself as a lifelong fighter. As a young boy, he waged a solo-campaign against nuclear energy, writing to dozens of Turkish newspapers to oppose the construction of a reactor. After coming out at 17, Mr. Sulu became active in Turkey’s burgeoning LGBT-rights movement. Two decades later, he’s still at it.
Sulu’s partner is Aras Güngör, a gay transgender man who is still considered a woman by the government. Hoping to draw attention to the need for marriage equality, the couple attempted to formally tie the knot in 2011 but were refused by Turkish authorities.
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“What we want is to be recognized as equal citizens of this country,” says Sulu, a candidate with the People’s Democratic Party, a new leftist party. “Society is ready for a change and I believe the time is now for someone who’s open about his identity to fight for LGBT issues in Parliament.”
Although he faces an uphill battle, Sulu’s candidacy speaks to the LGBT community’s rising profile in a largely conservative Muslim society. Yet activists caution that progress on gay rights in Turkey is still stymied by a dearth of legal protections, persistent discrimination, and anti-LGBT violence.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
For lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, life in Turkey is full of contradictions. Homosexuality was decriminalized in the Ottoman era, but the Turkish Army considers it a “psychosexual disorder” and bars gays from serving. Sex-change operations are legal, but only when preceded by sterilization.
While Turkey now stages the largest gay pride parade in the Muslim world, there are no laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Turkey’s solution for combating discrimination inside jails is to segregate sexual minorities in “pink prisons.”
“The Turkish state has, for the most part, gotten around to accepting the idea that LGBT people exist, but there’s a major problem in recognizing that these individuals are human beings who have rights that need to be protected,” says Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s researcher on Turkey…story continues below…