Demet Demir (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.

Demet Demir, 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 prisoner everywhere.

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.

I asked 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.

During school 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.

Homosexuals 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.

My penalty 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.

Homosexual 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.

In the 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.

My relations 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.

In Ulker 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 different!

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 Lambda Istanbul.

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 again.