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 transsexual 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)
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
the Radical Democratic Green Party I learned about femminism,
environmentalism, militarism, homosexual rights, animal rights and
raised my consciousness. Every minority group rights were violated in
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.
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.
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.
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.
only way the tansgenered 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!
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.
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 tansvestite
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.
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.
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.