The Impact of the Ban against LGBTI+ Activities on Campuses in Ankara

Osman Gönülveren

On May 10, 2019, during the 9th METU Pride March, the Rectorate allowed the police to enter the campus, using the Governorship ban as an excuse (1). The police attacked the Pride March, detained at least 18 people from METU LGBTI+ Solidarity. The first hearing of the lawsuit against 18 students and 1 academic was held at the Ankara 39th Criminal Court of First Instance on November 12, 2019. There were no acquittals at the first hearing and the case is still pending. 

It had been more than 2 years since the Governorship of Ankara had declared a ban when the Rectorate used it as an excuse.  Recently, many of the ban decisions against the LGBTI+ events in Ankara have been lifted. The first of these bans was declared indefinitely by the Governorship of Ankara on 18 November 2017, under the conditions of the State of Emergency. Despite the state of emergency ending in July 2018, the Governorship has not ended the ban and even extended its scope to all LGBTI+ activities. The blanket ban was overruled by the Administrative Court on April 19, 2019 and subsequently lifted. However, since the ban decision under the state of emergency was not the last of these bans, there are still bans in practice against the LGBTI+ activities.

The Governorship has implemented the ban against the LGBTI+ events on purely invalid grounds such as [causing] ‘deliberate and imminent danger to public safety ‘ and ‘protection of public health and morality or rights and liberties of others’. The Governorship states that it enforces the ban in order to ‘protect social sensitivities ‘ and to ‘prevent crime ‘. These claims are criticized by many human rights organizations for being unfounded and discriminatory. Human Rights Watch states that the ban decision violates the philosophy of human rights and includes discrimination against LGBTI+ individuals, and the organization objects to this ban. Similarly, United Nations Human Rights experts voiced serious concerns about the ban in a letter to Turkey.

This practice stigmatizes LGBTI + individuals as “disruptive” of the so-called social order and as causing immorality. LGBTI + individuals, who are already the target of prejudices and stigmatization by the society, are further marginalized with this ban. This othering and prejudicial practice of the state gradually isolates LGBTI+ individuals. This ban order aims to prevent LGBTI+ individuals from being present in school, at home, on campus and on the street, and to push them out of the public space.

The Impact of The Ban

We had a meeting on the effects of the ban with Deniz (2), a LGBTI + activist and a student. Deniz states that the multiple bans lead to uncertainty. These ban decisions, some of which were lifted and some of them in effect, prevent activities from taking place. Stating that the practice prevents practical organization on the street, Deniz says that, the State’s attitude of ‘do whatever you do behind closed doors, do not go out on streets’ isolates lubunyas (3).

As we know from METU Pride March and as some of us have experienced, the bans have spread to campuses. LGBTI + events cannot be held on campuses in Ankara in any way. With this ban, student communities, who cannot carry out act freely on campus, are looking for new solutions. In a sense, students who are pushed out of the campus are starting to look for other places where they can carry out activities, they could not do on campus due to the ban. Stating that LGBTI + student communities are just making events in places far from campus, Deniz states that when an event is attempted to be organized, the plainclothes police officers surround the place. Deniz summarizes the situation as “There is a treatment which criminalizes and makes you feel as if you are doing something illegal. This situation isolates lubuns and leads them to an insurmountable depression. 

Emphasizing that university students cannot be organized and do not organize events, Deniz says that the university student cannot exist as themselves within the campus, and adds: “It is not possible for students to change and transform when they come to the university in an environment where the courses become heteronormative in parallel with the ban and even L of the LGBTI + cannot be moved to the university.” As Deniz says, there is a fear in the universities due to the bans, therefore so many of the students and academics are hesitant. On the other hand, LGBTI + issues are going on in some universities as if they never existed. 

We are at a time when LGBTI + students’ anxiety about having a safe space is gradually increasing. After the METU Pride March, the administrations’ threats to revoke the students’ loans, scholarships or dorms, to file disciplinary investigations and the sheer power of arbitrary practice have been intimidating students. The current situation is that the students are not able to exist politically in the university. More recently, women who wanted to perform the Las Tesis at Cebeci Campus were detained violently on December 25, 2019.These detentions and disciplinary investigations prevent the formation of the campus spirit, creating an environment for students to exist as they are. The bans take away the potential of the universities as free spaces.  Deniz states that the intervention of the state in the university campuses is at a high level. Deniz defines the situation as follows: “So there is such a situation that when you try to do the slightest political thing, the state smashes its iron fist on your head.”

The Legal Aspects of the Ban

The Governorship ban in Ankara violates the fundamental rights and liberties which are under the protection of many international conventions as well as the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a party to the European Human Rights Convention, Turkey has to fulfill the necessary obligations for organizing peaceful assembly which falls under the protection of the Convention. This decision of ban leads to Turkey’s breach of its obligations in this regard. It also causes the violation of the freedom of expression regulated by the Convention and the Constitution. Banning activities prevents LGBTI + individuals from representing and self-realization. Furthermore, the fact that the ban is indefinite violates the condition for legal predictability.

The European Court of Human Rights stated that in applications related to LGBTI+ events, the necessary measures should be taken by emphasizing the positive obligations of the states to realize the activities. The Court ruled that there had been a violation of the applications (Lashmankin and others Against Russia, Alekseyev and others Against Russia, etc.) of the Convention with the heading “Freedom of association and assembly”, article 11, and the heading “Anti-Discrimination”, article 14.

Bans against the LGBTI+ Individuals Should Be Lifted Immediately

The ban in question ostracizes the LGBTI + individuals from the rest of the society. This practice, which prevents LGBTI + individuals from creating spaces for themselves in daily life in Ankara, has the same oppressive effect on the campuses. Campuses are a very important opportunity for LGBTI+ students to create their own expression space. However, the Governorship ban prevents the LGBTI + students from creating spaces of free expression by permeating into the campus. With the ban, LGBTI + individuals and LGBTI + events are violently suppressed at campuses in Ankara. The practice targets the LGBTI + individuals and pushes them out of daily life and away from campuses, without any legal foundation.

It is certain that the ban against the LGBTI + events, which is still in practice, is discriminatory and unlawful.

The fact that the decision is total and indefinite poses an unpredictable danger for a democratic society. Today, the practices that are still in place cause violations of fundamental rights and liberties. The banning of LGBTI + activities, which means discrimination by the hand of the state, does not meet the requirements of a democratic society.

The executive decision that makes the lives of LGBTI + individuals in Ankara difficult, encourages homophobia, transphobia and has no legitimate aim, therefore should be stopped as soon as possible. The state should not only lift the ban, but also fulfill its positive obligations towards LGBTI + individuals. It should act in accordance with its obligations in contracts to which it is a party, such as the ECHR and MSHUS as well as set by its own Constitution.

(1) The governorship of Ankara had declared a citywide blanket ban against all LGBTI+ activities under the state of emergency in November 2017.

(2) The name of the student engaged in LGBTI + activism that we interviewed was changed and anonymized with security concern.

(3) Lubunyas: Lubunya means queer in Lubunca, the queer slang spoken in Turkey.