The university students’ right to organize is important for their freedom of expression. However, many universities’ administrations have, so far, prevented university students from organizing in Turkey. LGBTI+ students have also had their share of hardship from the bans, pressures and obstacles created according to the political climate for all kinds of opinions and/or groups. LGBTI+ students are constantly and systematically prevented from being a community and coming together as a club on campus. This is a clear indication that there has been a violation of the rights of the LGBTI+ students in Turkey. We (as the Civic Space Studies Association) have compiled the history and current status of the struggles of LGBTI+ students on university campuses in Turkey for Pride Month.
LGBTI+ “firsts” at universities
The LGBTI+ movement has emphasized the diversity and irreducibility of gender identities and sexual orientations since the day it sprouted. The history of “firsts” for such a movement is, of course, a picture of that same diversity. Although we could not cover all LGBTI+ organizational experiences in universities, we have tried here to draw a general framework.
The LGBTI + movement today, has its roots in the university based LEGATO (Lesbian and Gay Community) established in ODTÜ (METU/Middle East Technical University). A group of students in ODTÜ wanted to do a study on sexual orientation in 1996. They came together on the internet to socialize and to make theoretical readings/discussions. That’s how LEGATO was born. Then face-to-face meetings were held and quite quickly it started to grow. The students who contacted the relevant university unit in order to create an official university club were first directed to meet with the rectorate due to the “content” of their activities. However, the rectorate refused to meet the students, saying that “There is no gay and lesbian students at ODTÜ.” Thus, the first LGBTI+ organization at a university in Turkey could not become official. The community continued to work under the official “Political Science Society” for a while, and then disbanded. This was the beginning of a 22 year struggle for the LGBTI+ students at ODTÜ, which we will talk about in more detail below. In 1997, HALEGA (Hacettepe Lesbian Gay Community) was established at the Hacettepe University. In the early 2000s, Boğaziçi University students started organizing under the name LEGATO. The students from different universities established a common mailing group, the number of member universities reaching up to 61 in 2002. LEGATO at Boğaziçi University continued to exist under the name LuBUnya from 2009. However, these two organizations were not among the official student communities and the activities were mainly held outside of the university. Due to the discriminatory policies against LGBTI+ students there was an organizational experience both in the university and out of the university.
Bilgi University Rainbow LGBT Club, which was the first “official” student group among the universities under YÖK (Higher Education Council), was established in 2007. The Lions Queer Club established in the Galatasaray University and started its official status in 2013. The club became the first LGBTI+ club officially established in a public university.
Coming out: Rectors, parents, unions, press
“Coming out” is a concept used to voluntarily express and declare the individuals’ gender identity and/or sexual orientation. We examined this concept in the context of the establishment of official LGBTI+ communities in universities.
The Rainbow LGBT Club at Bilgi University was a community that made other students accept it by organizing small-scale events before applying for the acceptance of the club officially. However, after the club made an official application, LGBTI+ phobia based on social structure and pressures showed itself once again and the attacks started.
According to the claim of the rectorate, parents showed the first reaction against the establishment of the club. It was said that approximately fifteen parents called the university and wanted this club to be closed. Verbal attacks took place in the press against the club. The club and club members were exposed to insults such as ‘deviant’ and ‘pervert’. The Bilgi University Rectorate acted relatively in solidarity with LGBTI+ students against this attack and said, “If we did not allow the club to open, we would have violated human rights”. On the other hand, the rectors of some other universities stated that if such an application was made at their own university, they would have never allowed it.
There was no legal basis for university administrations to reject club establishment applications. There is still no such legal basis. The university regulations, which were created with reference to the relevant regulations of YÖK, include how to establish, operate, and supervise the student communities. However, there is no provision in these regulations to prevent the establishment of LGBTI+ clubs.
As an example of the language used by other university departments towards LGBTI+ students, a consultant to the Rector at Gazi University, Assoc. Dr. Nazife Güngör’s following words contain hate speech on the matter: “We have different problems at our university. These endeavors are for the sake of attempts of democratization. Our students do not have such demands. Our students are interested in science and want sports facilities and libraries. They are not interested in such endeavors.”
In another instance, Türk Eğitim-Sen (a yellow union) asked the Bilgi University Rainbow LGBT club to be closed claiming that it is against the Constitution and filed a criminal complaint. The union claimed that the club “is never being approved by the Turkish community, is contrary to the [traditional Turkish] family structure, and does not comply with the aims of national education, which is determined by law.”
Bilgi University Rainbow LGBT Club continues meeting in a manner that befits its past, under the name “Bilgi University Rainbow Anti-Homophobia, Anti-Biphobia, Anti-Transphobia and Anti-Heterosexism Students Club”.
What the society is ready for?
In 2013, Ege University students applied to the university administration to become an official student community under the name “LeGeBiT”. the students were organizing various activities at the university during the application process. However, the university administration rejected the students’ application by saying “society is not yet ready for such a club to open”.
The student members of the “Ege University Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Research and Solidarity Community” protested the administration’s decision to not accept the application by marching on the campus.
After the LGBTI + students had similar experiences at Dokuz Eylul University, LGBTI+ young people in Izmir established the “Young LGBTI+ Association“. Thus, they have found an alternative way of being formally active and being visible in all areas of life for LGBTI+ students and LGBTI+ young individuals, and they continue their studies. In other words, the LGBTI+ students cannot be prevented from becoming organized or organizing activities and protests by obstructing them in or outside the university will not prevent them. LGBTI+ organizations struggle against phobia without thinking on what the society is ready for. Rectors, boards and trustees should not prevent them. That is all we ask for.
Twenty years of struggle: ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity
As well as the students’ struggles at ODTU, the phobia of the Rectorate also goes back decades. The ODTÜ Rectorate had prevented the establishment of various communities after the dissolution of LEGATO. In 2008, ODTÜ administration rejected the application of the Gender and Women’s Studies Community because it involved LGBTI+ individuals. The community then made a public release: “We have been studying for more than a year in the university, but our application has not been evaluated yet. We farewell the rectorate, which is astounding us with its homophobic and misogynistic attitude.” And they marched to protest the rectorate.
The university administration did not process the establishment petitions of the community, and repeatedly rejected the organization’s activity petitions, by saying “This has nothing to do with culture. You just want to encourage students [to homosexuality].“
In 2008, ODTÜ students’ newspaper “Gazete ODTÜ” conducted a survey and asked the students whether a LGBTI+ club should be established at the university. More than a thousand students participated in the survey. 45% of the students said “Yes it should be established”, 30% of them said “It does not concern me whether it is established or not”. While the survey was in progress, the Gender and Women’s Studies Community also tried to form public opinion by doing a sticker study at the university.
In 2010, the establishment petitions of the students who came together under the name of “ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity” were again rejected by the university administration. The students were told that the goals such as “expressing an identity” and “creating awareness and sensitivity” were not appropriate and not considered sufficient to establish a club. ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity reacted to the rectorate by recalling the previous experiences of the Gender and Women’s Studies Community. The club’s statement was as follows: “The ‘Gender and Women’s Studies Community Initiative’ started its attempt to become an official community in 2007, and its applications were rejected by the university administration more than 20 times with various excuses. The homophobic and transphobic attitude of the university administration has appeared when ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity made an application to establish an official club.” After fourteen years, the university administration made the same statement for ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity: “Are there gays in ODTÜ?”
In 2017, ODTÜ LGBTI + Solidarity launched a signature campaign to gather support for their application to become an official club calling on both institutions and individuals to support them. Following the campaign signed by many people and institutions, this request was also expressed at the 7th ODTÜ Pride March. In 2018, at the end of the twenty-two years’ struggle, ODTÜ LGBTI + Solidarity announced that the Gender Studies Club was established.
ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity continues to struggle to become official. ODTÜ LGBTI+ Solidarity continues to be one of the focal points of the LGBTI+ struggle at the university with the events it organizes every year and the Pride March.
“I am not homophobic, but…..”
Everyone knows that a sentence that starts with “I am not homophobic but …” will end with all kinds of phobias. The attitude of university administrations is similar to this. LGBTI+ communities’ applications for establishing a student club are accepted, but it is forbidden to open a stand, do protests or activities, or distribute brochures. Hacettepe University Queer Research Society continues its activities as an official student community in the university. However, in 2018, the right to open a stand given -by the university administration- to all clubs during the orientation activities of universities was not given to the Queer Research Society. It was announced that the violation of students’ rights was an indefinite ban on all LGBTI+ activities of the Ankara Governorship. The Queer Research Society stated that the decision was unacceptable. “Our right to introduce ourselves and our activities as a formal student community has been taken away from us with a discriminatory attitude.”
Eskişehir Anadolu (University) LGBTI+ Community had difficulties working due to the restriction of the protests and events they organized in the university. The community started organizing across Eskişehir: “If they don’t give us the campuses, let us get the city!”
As a result of all these struggles that have been going on for years there are many LGBTI + clubs, communities and initiatives in state and foundation universities today.
Organizations in universities:
* Boğaziçi LGBTİ+ (Boğaziçi University)
* YTÜODA-LGBTİ+ (Yıldız Technical University)
* 7tepe7renk (Seven Hills Seven Colours, Yeditepe University)
* İÜ Radar (İstanbul University)
* Cins Arı (Istanbul Technical University)
* BAU Renkli Çatı (Colored Roof, Bahçeşehir University)
* OzU LGBTİQ + ( Özyeğin University)
* Cins Club (Sabancı University)
* Bilgi University Gökkuşağım (Rainbow)
* Queer Anka (Ankara University)
* Hacettepe Queer Research Society
* MEF (University) LGBTI +
* Kadir Has University Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Club
* Lion Queer (Galatasaray University)
Organizations that have a network between the universities:
*Kampüste Lubunya (Lubunya On Campus) -Lubunya means queer in Lubunca, a slang spoken in Turkey-
As CSSA (Civic Space Studies Association), we state one more time that we are in solidarity with all LGBTI+ students and communities. Let us keep giving the answer “I am on Campus” to the question #BenNeredeyim (Where am I?) Let the struggle go on!