Gay in the Turkish Army

Published: August 22, 2013

 Anyone visiting Istanbul’s Taksim Square on June 30 might have been misled into thinking that homosexuals enjoy great freedoms in Turkey. On that day, tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals poured into the area from all corners of Turkey, forming a human sea for a pride march. Waving colorful banners, beating drums and chanting slogans, the exuberant crowd was, in fact, painting a pretty deceptive picture of the status of homosexuals in the country.

In Turkey, homosexuals are sometimes the victims of “honor killings” and face severe discrimination in their social and work lives. The treatment they endure betrays a massive social hypocrisy and deep-rooted homophobia. For instance, in Turkey’s entertainment sector, many homosexuals and transgender people enjoy huge popularity, but these same people would find it virtually impossible to get a job at any average workplace. That is, Turkish society is happy to see homosexuals as singers in nightclubs or as actors on TV, but has no tolerance for them in daily life.
The ambivalent treatment of homosexuals is not limited to social life, but extends also to the country’s institutions. The Turkish military, for instance, subjects homosexuals to unequivocal discrimination.
The Turkish military is the only member of NATO that regards homosexuality as a psychological disorder. It is impossible for a homosexual to become an army officer, and if he or she somehow managed to, homosexuality would nonethless be grounds for expulsion. When it comes to compulsory military service, conscripts who can prove their “situation” are issued certificates indicating that they are “unfit for military service” and exempt from the draft.
To secure an exemption, however, homosexuals are required to somehow “prove” their homosexuality in a humiliating process. Until recently, individuals requesting such an exemption were required to present the army with photographs showing them “having homosexual intercourse.” This outrageous demand for “visual” proof was the subject of a memorable article in the German magazine Der Spiegel, which wrote, tongue-in-cheek, that the Turkish military owned “the world’s largest porn collection.”
As lawmakers in Turkey debate how homosexual rights will figure in the new constitution, the bilingual Turkish-Armenian Agos on Aug. 19 published the story of a homosexual man who went to do his compulsory military service after failing to obtain an exemption. The story of the soldier, identified only as U.G., aptly demonstrates the climate homosexuals faces in the military and how their lives can be turned into a hell.
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