Service in the Turkish Armed Forces is mandatory for all Turkish men of “sound body and mind”; however, the Turkish Military also considers homosexuality to be an illness that precludes a Turkish man from serving as a soldier. In order to prove their homosexuality, though, conscripted Turkish men are forced to provide humiliating proof, as the BBC reports:
“They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child.”
Ahmet, a young man in his 20s, told officials he was gay at the first opportunity after he was called up, as he and other conscripts underwent a health check.
“They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore woman’s clothes or used woman’s perfume,” he says. “I had a few days’ beard and I am a masculine guy – they told me I didn’t look like a normal gay man.”
He was then asked to provide a picture of himself dressed as a woman.
“I refused this request,” he says. “But I made them another offer, which they accepted.” Instead he gave them a photograph of himself kissing another man. Ahmet hopes this will give him what he needs – a “pink certificate”, which will declare him homosexual and therefore exempt from military service.
Men seeking the “pink certificate” have a further concern: the evidence they provide is retained by the government, raising worries that the often-explicit photos and interviews will end up seen by others in the community. Another Turkish homosexual, Gokhan, explains what happened when he went to the military office prepared with photographic evidence of his homosexuality:
“The face must be visible,” says Gokhan [of the photos that proved he was gay]. “And the photos must show you as the passive partner.”
[Gokhan’s] photographs satisfied the military doctors. Gokhan was handed his pink certificate and exempted from military service. But it was a terrible experience, he says, “And it’s still terrible. Because somebody holds those photographs. They can show them at my village, to my parents, my relatives.”
This alarming and humiliating process continues despite major improvements in the lives of Turkish gay people. In larger cities such as Istanbul and Ankara, cafes and bars with an openly-gay clientele have opened at a rapid pace. Last summer’s Istanbul gay pride march, one of the only Pride celebrations in the Muslim world, was the largest ever. However, outside of the cities, homosexuality remains a major social taboo — so much so that men granted the “pink certificate” often face major issues with employment and housing for decades to come, as Gokhan explains:
One of Gokhan’s employers found out about [his “pink certificate”] not by asking Gokhan himself but by asking the army.
After that, he says, he was bullied. His co-workers made derogatory comments as he walked past, others refused to talk to him.
“But I am not ashamed. It is not my shame,” he says.
Luckily, Turkish gays may have a ray of light in this darkness. The European Union’s pressure on the Turkish government to grant official recognition to LGBT rights led to a meeting last September between an LGBT organization and Minister of Family and Social Policy Fatma Şahin. After this meeting, Şahin asserted that the government will actively work together with LGBT organizations in order to improve the quality of life for Turkish queers. She also submitted a proposal for the acceptance of LGBT individuals in the new constitution that the parliament plans to draft in the coming year, and called upon members of the Parliament to handle the proposal positively. “If freedom and equality is for everybody,” Şahin said, “then sexual orientation discrimination should be eliminated and rights of these [LGBT] citizens should be recognized.” What this means for Turkish gays conscripted into military service, though, remains to be seen.