(b. 1961) is a Turkish LGBT civil rights activist. Demir was
assigned a male gender at birth, but began to question her gender
identity as a child. She also became involved in left-wing
politics, and was imprisoned and tortured by the Turkish
government, which characterized her gender identity as a mental
illness which it brutally attempted to "cure." Despite continuing
persecutation and harassment by Turkish authorities, Demir has
been an outspoken advocate for trans rights throughout her
political career. In 1997, Demir received the International Gay
and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's Felipa de Souza Award and
delivered the following address.
Felipa de Souza Award Address (1997)
I realised that I was different when
I was five or six. I felt that I liked to be close to my own kind.
Yes, I had a different sexual identity. But it was not important
when I was a small child. They made me feel that it's important in
my age of adolescence. Rules of morality, religion, and
patriarchy. And the pressure of my family and the society was
added to all these. It was only me who knew about my sexuality. I
had to hide my emotions and it was very difficult. I was a
Yes, it was
hard to survive in a Moslem country and patriarchal, feudal
society. I thought a lot about what I was guilty for but could not
find an answer. It was impossible to match my life with religion
because Islam rejects all gays, lesbians and transgendered people.
Islam, with all institutions is one of the most important factors
that darkens life for homosexuals.
myself how I could overcome all these difficulties. I had to be a
well-cultured person and next step would be to put pressure on
people to learn about sexual culture. Because in Turkey the
problem is not only with homosexuality, the problem is the whole
sexuality! First I had to deal with my family. They knew I was
like a girl and did not say anything when they saw me playing with
girls all the time. But they could not accept that I was a
homosexual. And even when I was still male I was sexually harrased
by so-called "heterosexual" men around who wanted to sleep with
me. It was my sexuality which was always emphasized about me. So I
had to change many jobs.
years I was politically active. Again my sexual and political
identities clashed. Turkish socialists before 80's could not
accept homosexuality. I was arrested on 1st of May 1980 at the
demonstration for Labour Day. Then came the coup d'etat on the
12nd of September, 1980. All non-heterosexual people were put on
pressure. They banned all the gays and transgendered people who
worked as singers. There was also big punishment for prostitution.
There was no right to live.
who were caught by the army forces were sent to smaller towns in
buses. Many of us were kept and tortured at police stations and we
were sent to sexual disease hospitals. We were kept prisoners for
more than ten days.
was determined and I was put into prison in 1982. I stayed in
prison for eight months. In prison I was excluded by my leftist
friends because I was a faggot and I had no right to live. When I
got out of prison it was a new beginning in my life. It was 1984
and I had always been a prisoner because I always had to hide
myself to let other people be happy. I could not stand it anymore
and at last I made my sexual revolution. First I came out to my
family and started to act more effeminate. It was not important
for me if the society thought I was strange. I had to live for
myself, not for others. I had many missions to do and I had enough
political background and culture.
movement started in 1987 in Turkey. The movement was started by
transvestites and transsexuals . Homosexual group of Radical
Democratic Green Party went on hunger strike and the next action
was sitting at Taksim Park. Then I was not involved in the
movement yet. I had some contacts in 1988 and devoted myself to
the struggle for sexual rights.
Radical Democratic Green Party I learned about feminism,
environmentalism, militarism, homosexual rights, animal rights and
raised my consciousness. Every minority group rights were violated
in my country.
It was not
enough for me and I became a member of Human Rights Organisation.
At first I was found odd because I was a transvestite. They were
all leftists and so was I. But they were not used to homosexuals
yet. I also struggled here to make people accept me. I worked to
establish sexual minorities commission in HRO. HRO dealed with
every kind of pressure applied on homosexuals and we gave press
declarations at HRO. They also provided the lawyers for cases
about homosexuals and they looked for the ones who were arrested.
Because in Turkey many people get lost after they are arrested by
the police. In HRO I also became the first transvestite delegate.
In 1991 I was
arrested. The reason was that they claimed I insulted Ataturk. But
it was not true. I was tortured by the police and they did not
want me to tell it to anyone. With the order of Suleyman Ulusoy I
was put into prison for two months. Human Rights Organisation took
care of me. They found me a lawyer and visited me very often. Then
I was released and acquitted at the court.
with my socialist friends got better and their pre-80s moral views
seemed to change. Radical Democratic Green Party spokesman Ibrahim
Eren and I had different views and there were some separations
from the movement. We have also been working for two years with
Human Resources Development Foundation on ways of avoiding sexual
diseases for transvestites and transsexuals.
Sokak, where I live, police pressure has been going on for a year.
There were seventy of us on our street last year but now we are
only seven. Our doors were broken, one of our friend's house was
burnt down by the police. These were caused by a lady called
Gungor Gider. She used to get along very well with us and most of
us were living in her houses and paying her rent. But she demanded
much more money than the houses cost and we objected. Since than
in cooperation with the police, she provoked all the inhabitants
of the street. Most of our friends had to leave their houses.
The only way
the transgendered can earn their living in Turkey is prostitution.
And they are trying every way to prevent us from prostitution. But
how are we going to survive? There is no right to live if you are
But we are
not daunted by all these things and we are still actively working
in many different areas. The only political party which talks
about the rights of homosexuals in Turkey is Freedom and
Solidarity Party. I work with this party and the party has made a
declaration on Ulker Street with other organisations like HRO and
We have an
art group in which there are transgendered and the students of
art. We have opened an workshop and we are producing artistic
pieces. We have a magazine called "Gaci" which means "woman" in
transvestite slang. It is prepared by sex workers, transvestites
and transsexuals. I write articles and poems for this magazine.
We are trying
to create our own business because this is the only chance. If
not, we are condemned to prostitution.
I am also
working with the queer group Lambda Istanbul which has nominated
me for this award. Lambda Istanbul was founded in 1993 and it is
the most actively working group in Turkey. It has around 60
members. Lambda Istanbul has a bi-monthly photocopy magazine and
the only regular gay-lesbian radio show of Turkey. Although they
have a severe financial problem, they keep on working.
In Turkey, so
far many homosexuals were killed and police could not find their
murderers. Police does not care to look for the murderers because
they think homosexuals are not worth it. We have a lot of problems
in Turkey and we want to live the way the heterosexuals do. I will
keep on struggling for every right. Yesterday I started as a child
and I am going on as a mother today. And tomorrow I will go on as
a grandmother. I do not care if they kill me or put me in prison