|Seen on a park bench in Istanbul Turkey has never criminalised male homosexuality or lesbianism formally, but thenational environment for LGBT rights is chilly- although during the last decade, there has been fierce resistance from its stalwart LGBT equality movement.
Police harassment of gay men and transgender sex workers is commonplace, and the government can even ban LGBT conferences, which, however, was one of the chief reasons behind the formation of Lambda Istanbul in 1988. However, the courts are somewhat backward - given that in 1996, the Turkish Supreme Court ruled that a daughter could be removed from her lesbian mother on the basis of parental "immorality."
Fortunately, there is one bright spot in this murky twilight. Turkey aspires to join the European Union at some point in the intermediate future, meaning that it has had to reform its human rights record, including LGBT rights- albeit begrudgingly. The current government has been forced to recognise LGBT rights groups, permit greater free speech and political diversity, and even adopt LGBT rights legislation. Istanbul and Ankara remain key sites for LGBT political organising, although as with elsewhere, universities are beacons of social liberalism. Turkey's first pride march occurred in2003, while Lambda Istanbul has worked alongside the government on HIV/AIDS prevention issues since 1997.
In terms of censorship policy, things are surprisingly liberal. Brokeback Mountain has screened in cinemas, while cable television has carried Will and Grace, Six Feet Under and even Queer as Folk (although whether that is the US or original UK versionis unclear)!
Unfortunately, reform is glacially slow at the level of legislative change. Turkey has no LGBT inclusive antidiscrimination laws, the Turkish Council of State has ratified the earlier mentioned homophobic custody allocation regime, and while gender reassignment surgery has been possible for the Turkish transgender community since 1988, they are often forced to work in the sex industry.
Currently, Human Rights Watch has condemned the efforts of Istanbul's Governor to evict Lambda Istanbul from its current premises, and BBC News has provided some excellent coverage of this issue, as well as transphobic hate crimes. Craig Young - 8th June 2008