Kristen Stevens

Turkey fails to protect gay people

3 Ocak 2009
A demure beauty with big blue eyes, my niece melts hearts wherever she goes, especially here. Nineteen on Monday, she came from the U.S. to stay with us in Istanbul last week. With all the crap she has had to deal with in her life, and there has been much, she believes she is lucky. Her family on all sides has embraced her as gay.

My maid of honor as well as my godchild, I used to take her on forest adventures to find Winnie the Pooh and mica, nature’s looking glass. But she has been a girly girl since she was a baby, still picking pink whenever possible. She likes the look of designer things; don’t show her replica Dolce & Gabana jeans with an upside-down label. Smart, sweet-natured and shy, she speaks her mind on big stuff with brevity and a marked lack of ambiguity, a rare trait in anyone.She has known - and shared her sexual identity with us - since she was 14. Hosting her here, it was easy to see how lucky she is to live in my hometown Atlanta where the large gay community has deep roots and is openly respected. Like many cities in the U.S., it has a network of gay couples who house and care for young gay people, from newcomers to outcasts. But America is no model. In the same country lifted up by Harvey Milk and a flourishing gay movement, conservatives' rejection of gay marriage was pivotal in delivering the previous two presidential elections to George Bush. Seemingly more inclusive, President-elect Barack Obama has nonetheless invited Rev. Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Gays and lesbians cannot be members at Warren’s mammoth Saddleback Church. My former boss of five years, Ellen Hershey, a devoted education reformer and mother in San Francisco, wrote a letter to the editor published in the New York Times last week. I read it aloud to my niece. "President-elect Obama should have given this honor to a religious leader who welcomes all Americans equally into the house of worship, no matter how God made them," Ellen wrote. Telling timesAlso during my niece’s visit, Turkey failed to sign the EU-led initiative calling on all countries to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity forms no "basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention." A few days ago, the first publicly known transsexual in Adana, Şaban Çelen, was found murdered in the street. Ahmet Yıldız, who represented Turkey in a gay pride march in San Francisco last year, was shot dead this year with a machine gun. In November someone used a shotgun to kill transsexual Dilek Ince in Ankara. No one was charged in these cases. Not long ago, Ege Tanyürek, a young gay man, committed suicide in Adiyaman. Turkey does not outlaw homosexuality but provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code on "public exhibitionism" and "offences against public morality" are sometimes used to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. There’s no telling how many lesbians are hiding under headscarves and in plain sight. Common sense and percentages in places less closeted suggest that gay folks are in most Turkish families and every neighborhood. In a quiet office in Istanbul, mothers and fathers of gay children have begun meeting with volunteer parents at Lambda Istanbul, a human rights organization defending lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. "At first they are reluctant but their relationships with their children are improving," a representative told me this week in a phone interview.In a sphere that doesn’t look kindly upon women out past dark, lesbian women no doubt face a special challenge to connect with peopleÉ "or even find someone to talk to," she added.For a kind word or a good ear, connect with Lamda (0212) 245 7068 Their Taksim office is open until 8:00 p.m. Biguti, meaning "hair curler," is a friendly lesbian bar on Balo Sokak (No. 20, 3 Kat) between Nevizade and Istiklal. In Ankara, contact the Kaos organization at (0312) 230 0358 Internet searches will reveal many groups in major cities.

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Laid up: Between whiskey and credit

27 Aralık 2008
Sometimes, like now, life lays us out flat. Ok, it’s not entirely my kid’s fault, but rather a few days of hauling his stroller around cold London, seeking remedy in a smiling Chinese woman with a sadistic massage technique and working late nights upon return. This morning without warning, buildings I didn’t know existed at the base of my back collapsed as I reached for the wet wipes.

Now, for the second time in his year and a half of life, I’m lying here unable to move or care for my child. The babysitter came fast so little Max didn’t have a chance to turn the stove dials, filling the house with glee and gas by as I lie here prone. In this current immobile state, I spent the day reading what was in arm’s reach. Naomi Klein’s chilling book "The Shock Doctrine" recasts the emergence of free market capitalism as a patient plan to obliterate the senses in order to set its policies in motion: Think post-9/11 unencumbered torture begetting more hatred and war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina’s "cleansing" the city of its poor and South East Asia’s beachfront development of resorts where villages had been. Free market success, Milton Friedman explained in so many words, relies on chaos when people have lost sense of their rights and will submit to free market principles that obliterate safeguards for a balance of wealth and funding for health and education. Friedman’s last article before he died in 2006 said Katrina had given New Orleans a chance to do away with public schools in favor of the private charter schools - belittling the notion of a quality education for all. In the wake of his article, opportunists took his notion to New Orleans, 45,000 teachers were fired and kids with no public schools left had to carry vouchers to new private schools that are unattached to public accountability.Wealthy addiction boomingA couple of magazine pieces were also within grasp: One in the New Yorker was about a guy making the most of an upturn of wealthy people seeking drug abuse treatment and the other in Harper’s was about a guy whose business cleaning out foreclosed houses was booming. Both reveal the state of our chaos, but the latter was an intimate portrait of people whose lives had just been emptied - as wealthy addicts get wealthier.While in London last week for a film festival, conversations turned to economic woes and we overheard young people talking about upping the ante on gambling online. In Istanbul, friends say they have less and less business coming in at work. Same, say friends and family all over the U.S.But between muscle relaxers and sips of whiskey, one could view Klein’s diligent dissection as a prescient look at the good that comes from being knocked flat on our backs, unable to move economically. I can’t help thinking that this crisis might be the end of (a) history, to turn Francis Fukuyama’s famous free market book title on its head. Now we have that rare opportunity to rebuild an economy that is better and fairer, with leaner habits and more safeguards for people who need them most. The economic woes don't have to destroy us: We should recognize new chances - and good riddance. For example, I imagined Max's free will and crayons running loose on our walls just before gassing up the place. In my shock and confinement, I knew this was a lifechanger, and it had to be the beginning of getting strong again from the core. In a moment of confluence as I was writing this, Max found my wallet and emptied my credit cards into the toilet. Now, that’s the kind of policy change I’m talking about, son. Happy New year.

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Let the season of giving begin

13 Aralık 2008
With the holiday spirit of giving in mind, I wanted to share some information about how to give to folks in need around Turkey. When I found almost no information searching online in English for a place accepting volunteers and donations, it occurred to me that we could create a resource here. This is where you come in: If you know of a group that works with children - especially outside the major cities - pass it along and I’ll add it to a new list. This is by no means a thorough list but rather the result of coming across several of these organizations in person or searching in Turkish for groups that support children in need. A few groups providing help for refugees have also been included. If no one speaks English on the line, perhaps it’s best to visit in person to show a willingness to lend a hand.


Turkish-American Women's Cultural and Charitable Society (TAWCCS) also in Izmir and Adana, participates in local charitable projects. (312) 490 03 45

Ankara International Charities Committee (AICC) is an international group of foreigners who visit schools, orphanages and hospitals. They purchase equipment or items needed. (312) 440 30 20

Association of Child Abuse Prevention Meşrutiyet Cad. Hatay Sok. Remzi Bey İşhanı No:8 Da: 5 (312) 417-9601

Foundation for the Training and Protection of Mentally Handicapped Children / Across from Vilayaetler Evi, Gülermak / Fabrikasi / Gölbaşi (312) 484-2470

Foundation for Vulnerable People and Orphans of Turkey Fatih Cad. Güçsüzler Yurdu Keçiören (312) 314-3034


Association for Child Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation /Bağdat Cad. Köşk Apt. No:108 Da: 29 Fenerbahçe 81030 Kadıköy (216) 348-0524 /

Association for Protection of Vulnerable Children and Orphanages / Recep Peker Cad. Rıfat Bey sok. Barış Apt. No:1 Da: 4 Kızıltoprak, 81031 Kadıköy (216) 345-4347

Christmas Appeal for help with the winter heating bill at the refugee shelter. Contact Jonathan Smith or Pastor Ian Sherwood at Christ Church.

Don Bosco Youth Center supports more than 350 Christian Iraqi refugee children. Funds can be deposited to: Rodolfo Antoniazzi /Account #: 47598015 / IBAN: TR96000670/000000081738427 / Bank: Yapi ve Kredi Bancasi/A.S. / Branch: 391 Harbiye, Istanbul, Turkey

Foundation for Spastic Children of Turkey Yeşilova Sok. Mete Apt. No:29 Da:4 Acıbadem, 81020 Üsküdar (216) 339-0999

Foundation for Street Children of Turkey Talimyeri Cad. Baraz Ap. No:7/1 Da: 5 Maçka, Beşiktaş (212) 259-8991

Turkish Foundation for Children in Need of Protection / Altan Erbulak Sok., Hoşkalin Apt. No4/5 Mecidieköy (212) 274-9545


Association for the Protection of Street Children / Nadir Nadi Cad. SSK İşhanı D.427 No:12 Konak, 35260 Konak (232) 484-6474

Foundation for Child Health Protection Şair Eşref Bulvarı Karaahmetoğlu İş Merkezi Da:117 No:21 Çankaya (232) 441-8686


Foundation for Orphans and Vulnerable Children / 3.TRT Caddesi 3808 Sok. Meltem Mah (242) 237-3351
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Caught in the prime minister’s riptide

6 Aralık 2008
Honored at an international conference on working women last week, the prime minister chose a less than elegant moment to refer to a system that would ensure female political participation as "condemning women to men" "Women would be able to enter Parliament after men grant it; this cannot be," he said.

I’m still having trouble grasping what Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said next: "One cannot learn swimming on land. One reason that women’s employment seems low is the unregistered work."

Perhaps this was a coded message to millions of women in low-paying jobs with no contracts, benefits or rights to march seaward in rebellion behind textile worker Emine Arslan. Arslan is entering her sixth month of a solitary sit-in protest in Istanbul against her employer, leather goods supplier Desa, which fired her days after she joined a union. A Sink or Swim Revolution.

When world leaders in gender equality came to the Bosphorus this week for the International Conference on Women in Governance, featured on this page, the Balkans and Spain presented Turkey with a lesson on moving from total rejection to implementation of gender quotas.

Women represent 9.1 percent of the Turkish Parliament and 0.56 percent of local administrations, while the European Parliament is 30 percent female. With ongoing campaigns from groups such as the Association to Support and Educate Women Candidates (KA-DER) and The Turkish Coordination of the European Women's Lobby, or EWL, the demand for representation has largely fallen on deaf ears at the prime ministry level Ğ which ensured that the matter stay out of the state’s next five-year plan.

Turkey’s top business group TÜSİAD, employers’ organizations and unions have embraced using a quota system in Turkey’s governance. The leading opposition People’s Republican Party, or CHP, backs it as well, though their record of including women hardly reflects such a view.

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Do other kids get their breath back?

29 Kasım 2008
It's hard to overstate the challenge of keeping a restless 1.5 year old with labored breathing on a high hospital bed for 30+ hours. But Max Ali was a champ, or that is, the kind of champ that lands punch after punch in nurses’ faces. Reserving a right hook for the chief pediatrician, she and her stethoscope didn’t stand a chance. Our kid seems to know he was named for Mohammad Ali. But really, who could blame him? After 10 days of a cold, suddenly late last Thursday night, every breath seemed like he was getting hit in the stomach followed by the sound a sick baby whale. When he started throwing up, we took him to the closest hospital where they gave him mysterious vapors (no time for translation) and a suppository (in the 15 seconds I was retrieving Bear Bear).

With his abdomen still contracting into a ball every time he breathed, they admitted him. We stayed the day and night. On the heels of sleepless nights, we had to take turns listening to nurses and doctors as it was hard to focus on anything but Max. We finally learned he had an infection and probably an allergic reaction. With an IV in his wrist, we played a couple of awkward games of chase the wheezing child with the giant metal apparatus attached to him.

Was it awful? Yes. But every half hour they eased his discomfort with something not found in our medicine cabinet. We had a private room with a sofa, Baby TV and salmon for dinner. A physical therapist came in a few times to stimulate coughing with percussive thumping and massage. And I had free wake-up taps through the night to prompt me to hold the oxygen or vapors over his mouth. By morning, he was cleared to go home.

Rest insured
Insurance is nice. The peace of mind that comes with knowing your family and child are covered is enormous. This week I submitted hospital receipts and doctor bills to my employer-based insurance company, which should reimburse 80 percent of the costs.

But for the millions of people without insurance; how do their kids get their breath back? Up to 50 percent of the labor force has no contract, and thus no health coverage through work. According to a 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) report, as much as a third of the population had no health insurance coverage at all. Under the new public health scheme, patients pay up to 50 percent of their own medical bills. So another family in our position making less than we do would have paid a small fortune to ease their child’s breathing. If asked to, they would give away their house. Believe me.

For free vaccines and immunizations, we take him to a public clinic across the street from our building. They are in the business of preventative care, something the new health reform law has already begun removing from the state system in favor of privatized family medicine. And the government has begun shutting down clinics like these that provide free and low cost treatments.

For some good news with unknown implications... last year the Istanbul Municipality began providing free care to women and children through health clinics that include free breast and uterine cancer screenings and gynecological services. I called the hotline to see what they offer a foreigner mother. Any woman or child is welcome in the 40+ centers around the city: All that is required is a passport or Turkish ID. They also provide consultation services, monthly check-ups during pregnancy and monitoring children’s health and development from ages 0-6. Call "153" to find a clinic near you.
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’He could have killed us’

22 Kasım 2008
Alone in the house with my son sleeping Thursday night, I heard a commotion spill down our stairwell and onto the street. In our building in the center of Istanbul, the wrenching sound of men shouting obscenities at their wives and children is not uncommon. Nor is physical abuse. In this case, the man upstairs had beaten his wife so badly that he broke her arm when she tried to shield her grown son from further blows, she told me. Her husband had hit his mentally handicapped son in the head, leaving a bloody gash. As they struggled to put their shoes on outside, I heard desperate, breathless voices saying in Turkish, "He could have killed us."

Not long ago, I heard the father below our apartment throwing his daughter into walls and furniture while calling her a whore Ğ and worse. With two small children, she was separated from her husband. The woman from upstairs, smiling as always despite her cast and sling, shrugged and said, "What can I do? Türkiye böyle işte." Turkey’s like this, she said.

Enforcement, for starters
Violence against women exists everywhere in the world. Society can help prevent violence at home by improving the environment that leads to mass migration and failed education. But it’s how authorities deal with the abusers that determines women’s immediate safety. In Turkey, women are left utterly unprotected by an impotent system of law enforcement.

If my neighbors had to do any prison time for beating up their families, wouldn’t the guys around him think twice before risking a similar fate. At least public servants would be protecting people rather than the macho social order.

In Şanlıurfa, a young man was released immediately this week pending trial after he savagely beat a female doctor in a local clinic. Witnesses said he demanded to know why he had to wait while she tended to a woman patient. "Who do you think you are?" he shouted.

After some kids in the Southeast threw stones in the prime minister’s direction this month, the government announced a 42 YTL million plan to stop violence in the region. The plan doesn’t aim to shift the culture of violence; instead it features fairytale parks and football camp. The youths might pocket their stones and cast their first vote for the Justice and Development Party, but to what end?

There are so many different ways to address violence against women that don’t involve women. Barely lifting her head from her notepad of figures, Nihmet Çubukçu, the state minister responsible for women and families, told me that they planned to open 67 women’s centers and some shelters a couple of years ago. I know some shelters: They offer lock down and plenty of space for wife beaters and fathers who’d rather see their "sullied" daughters dead than face the guys at the tea house. A massive change in the cultural mindset is more pressing than deterrents. The ruling and opposition parties could start by adding more than a few females to their candidate lists. Among 3,225 mayors in Turkey, only 18 are female. In the southeastern province of Van, one such woman is shifting the landscape her own way. A couple of years ago, Bostaniçi District Mayor Gülcihan Şimşek signed a deal with the local trade unions to require that a man’s wages be paid to his wife if he is found guilty of beating her. He risks losing his job if the violence persists. Couldn't this be part of a broader policy? Female assembly not required.

Next weekend, check out Koç University’s conference on gender in Taksim. Expert women from across Turkey’s spectrum will discuss violence against women and children, law, participation in politics and the labor force, education and civil society activism. Koç Üniversitesi Anadolu Medeniyetleri Enstitüsü, İstiklal Cad. Nur-i Ziya Sok. No.5 Beyoğlu (0212) 338-1277
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