“Being gay in Turkey means keeping yourself in a closet so no one can understand your real identity”. Growing up with religious, conservative parents in an Anatolian village in southern Turkey, Ugur did not have internet and his only connection to the outside world was the TV. Ugur knew he was different but he could not describe his feelings. “I didn't know what LGBT meant at that time, but I knew that feeling in this way or being a little bit feminine was a sin”. Even though homosexuality is not criminalized by law it is referred to as immoral by referencing religious morals.
According to Amnesty International, the LGBT community is confronted with violence, harassment, and discrimination especially in education and accession to public services. When Ugur moved to Istanbul for university, he started accepting his gay identity and realized that LGBT is acceptable. Interestingly enough, during the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul was called the ‘capital of sexual freedom’ and when Turkey entered the EU accession talks, human rights and tolerance were emphasized. Nevertheless, the recent political discourse has created a hostile environment for LGBT individuals. Ugur, who is now 22 years old, reveals: “whenever I visit my family on holidays, I seem to see two different worlds”. This exposes the deep polarisation between progressive and conservative, religious Turks. “We have ministers and the president who see LGBT as deviant. There is a hypocritical structure that calls for human rights but marginalizes LGBT people.”. While promoting legal security and freedom for the community in his election campaign in 2002, Erdogan’s tone and agenda have changed drastically. He supported statements by state officials denouncing homosexuality as a ‘biological disorder’ and ‘sickness’. The appointment of a new rector, a party loyalist, for Istanbul's university has sparked large protests criticizing Erdogan’s politics and drawing attention to the LGBT community. Erdogan has vilified protestors as terrorists and called LGBT incompatible with Turkey’s values. Ugur still lives in Istanbul, but like many of his peers, he wants to leave Turkey.