In the last couple of months, our interviews focused on the experiences of European lesbians*. This time, however, Lara will take us out of our continent and guide us through Turkey.
Give her a warm welcome.
Can you introduce yourself please?
I am Lara Özlen, from Istanbul. Turkey. I'm an NGO worker and a part-time video editor. I have been involved in LGBTQ+ activism in Istanbul since 2015 (after coming out as bisexual).
It is an interesting addition that I wrote my thesis on lesbian nightlife and socializations, so I'm part of the lesbian-bisexual community both emotionally and academically.
Wow, that seems like a very brave thing, especially in a country that does not have the reputation of being utterly gay-friendly. Can you tell us a bit about how it really is to be an LGBTQ+ person in Turkey?
The general situation is indeed depressive in İstanbul and in Turkey. Since the LGBTQ+ movement started in the beginning of 2000s, we have been trying to have legislations against hate crimes towards LGBTQ+ individuals. But we still couldn't achieve that. Things became a bit tougher after pro-islamist party (AKP) was elected as the ruling party in 2002 since they perceive LGBTQ+ identities or orientations as "indecent." As a consequence, since 2015 our Pride Marches and visibility have been banned due to "public indecency and morals." So overall I can say there is significant pressure, but we are still fighting for our rights and visibility.
In terms of being lesbian/bisexual, there are no legislative regulations for same-sex marriage and adoption. Visibility too can be tricky since it means public attention and harassment most of the times. Personally, since I live in a central part of the city, I feel safe, but I must acknowledge it is usual to be harassed when you are in couples or groups.
How is Istanbul specifically?
As I mentioned earlier, visibility on the street or in public places can be a tricky experience. But that doesn't stop people from outing themselves or showing affection to each other. How you behave at your workplace depends on where and how you work. In certain fields related to NGOs or cultural production, it may not be a huge issue. But in white collared jobs, visibility may trigger mobbing or even being fired.
On the positive side, there are lots of LGBTQ+ clubs and collectives in universities and some high schools. In addition, I must mention Listag, a family group that supports LGBTQ+ relatives. So altogether I can say there are multiple focus groups that aim to facilitate equal rights, anti-discrimination and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community.
Can you say a bit more about these LGBTQ+ places, especially related to lesbian* social life?
There are a couple of bars that were formerly "lesbian bars," but in the last couple of years they became more generally LGBTQ+ inclusive joints, both for economic and political reasons. Apart from those there are lots of pre-pride parties every year before the Pride Week in June. Next to these, I could list some queer-friendly bars and cafes where any LGBTQ+ person may feel comfortable and welcomed.
Finally, can you share a funny, memorable, or inspirational coming out stories of yours?
It's funny that I don't have a funny one. But maybe this might work: When I came out to my mom, she came out to me in return. So we kind of broke the spell of heteronormativity together.