China’s Evolving Stance On Transpeople: Change Amid Deep Conservatism

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

We can learn much from the Chinese, given the richness of their history alone.  In fact most nations on the planet cannot come close to their depth.  Not only do we learn lessons from ancient China, we can also learn from the modern Chinese experience which in less than 150 years has absorbed a tumult of change with seismic shifts among their teeming array of peoples.  That includes change in their approaches to transpeople.

It’s a bit tricky to speak of China’s demographics because of its diversity of peoples.  Not all are Han Chinese.  We also find Mongol, Uighur, Tibetan, Manchu, Szechwanese, Cantonese, and many other nationalities within the mainland.  At the same time, when we speak of China, we often must differentiate between the mainland of the People’s Republic of China (with or without Hong Kong), Hong Kong as an economically “autonomous” zone, and Taiwan.  Many Chinese communities have also dispersed globally, with strong presences in the Russian Federation, Southeast Asia, South Africa, and North America.

Estimates of how many transpeople believed to exist in China has its own trickiness because transpeople appear to have been counted differently on Taiwan than on the mainland including Hong Kong.  According to Asia Catalyst, an estimated 4,082,160 transpeople exist in Mainland China with an additional 21,705 in Hong Kong specifically.  In both cases, the estimate falls to exactly .3% of the general population.  In Taiwan, however, 70,231 are believed to exist.  Compared to the general population, the ratio of transpeople to the general population of Taiwan is .9707%1

Even such an insignificant number is a lot of transpeople, enough to singlehandedly repopulate a large city like Detroit or Milan.2 It’s enough for both Taiwan and the Mainland to take notice, examine best practices for government services and actions, and to consider their own traditions that run deep into the collective psyche of generations beyond memory.

 

AN ANCIENT LEGACY

In addition to what records exist in the West and the Subcontinent, China’s history tells us that transsexualism has existed in ancient times.  This included the periods of the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220CE) followed by the Wei-Jin period (220-420 CE) and the period of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912 CE).  That’s over 1000 years of recorded cases of transsexualism.  However, the documentation of reasons for “change of gender” pertained to “unexpected incidents,” serious illness, or to covertly perform acts of filial piety.  In those days, and often remains so today, it was considered shameful for a male to transition to female, but a family blessing for a female to transition to male.3

The Mulan story, popularized by Disney animation, was actually a known 6th Century CE Chinese legend.4  But it was in the Ming and early Qing period where operatic performances in Beijing featured male artists and actors who acted the role of females and sometimes lived as females as well.  To this day, male-to-female dancers and performers are more apt to be celebrated than those of other professions.5

Variations on gender non-conformity have been noted including eunuchs, some of which served the Emperor.6  The navigator Zheng He was such a person, leading an immense fleet of Chinese vessels West to Africa in the 5th Century CE, and according to some, east to the Americas.7

Apart from this, the Chinese custom of foot-binding made a difference in gender perceptions during the early Qing dynasty.  Manchurian women, because they didn’t bind their feet, were perceived as “masculine” and so were considered less desirable.8

Traditions rooted in such legacies continue to fuel the continued conservatism of Chinese society.  After the tumult of the Nationalist movement under Sun Yat-Sen, the Communist Revolution, the Cultural Revolution, and the economic revival initiated by Deng Xiao Ping, today’s mainland transpeople have been finding cracks of societal acceptance, and this has also appears to be the case elsewhere.

 In limited situations, Chinese people have adopted the designations of the West for transpeople.  The acronyms CD for “cross dresser” and TS for “transsexual” have been adopted by Chinese within trans community units in order to acknowledge one another with terms of concealment.9   Other English terms have gained similar usage such as “transvestite”, “ ladyboy”, “ kathooey”, and others.  Mandarin terms include kuàxìngbié (to go beyond sex)” for “transgender”, biànxìngzhě (one who changes sex) for “transsexual”, and  rényāo (human monster—a pejorative generally pertaining to Thai transsexuals).10 The pejorative underscores that the desire for ethnic dominance isn’t just a feature of the West, but carries over as an attitude fostered by previous generations of Han Chinese as well.

 

CONFRONTING SOCIAL BARRIERS

China’s recent awakening to the existence of transpeople appears to begin in the 1990’s, and in fact, 1990 is when the first modern gender confirmation surgery was reported in China. 11 In 1995 a dancer and former Colonel in the People’s Army gained gender confirmation surgery and published stories about her struggles.  Bian Yujie (opera), Chen Lili (singer and Miss World contestant), and Liu Shihan (model) captivated Chinese intrigue and rocketed to fame.  But the one to grasp the most attention in Chinese society was Jin Xing, a variety show star commanding 100 million viewers per week.12

In 2007, Liu Ting was awarded as a “national role model of virtue” because she physically carried her mother back and forth from the hospital for treatment.  Then in 2015 she came out as a transwoman, gaining interest that their virtuous hero wasn’t a performer of any kind.  It was a revolutionary idea in its own right that a transperson could be understood, despite social stigma and press scrutiny of degrees of femininity, as a pillar of moral excellence.13

This rise in understanding of transpeople is no small feat, and mass media seems to have made the difference including Internet.  In 2011, a survey of 1,762 respondents conducted in 5 universities in the areas of Chongqing and Chengdu in central China demonstrated the negative attitudes maintained in the upcoming generation due to the traditional conservatism.  Only 16.8% considered transpeople acceptable.  12.6% would accept a date with a transperson.  4.2% had gender identity issues of their own.14

The Williams Institute released a survey of 23 nations concerning trans rights in 2016.  It ranked these nations, including the United States and China on a “Transgender Rights Scale.”  The highest scoring nations included Spain at 74, Sweden at 72, and Argentina tied with Canada at 70.  The United States tied India at 61.  China came in at 52, immediately behind Turkey’s 54.  The nations who fared the worst were Hungary and Poland at 49, South Korea at 48, and Russia at 41.15

In the same survey, a mean of 2.2% in China admitted to having transgender friends and family compared to 15.7 in the United States and 10.8% in Canada.16 Support for “gender change” in China revealed  that 17.8% “agree strongly” and 43.4% “agree somewhat;” in other words, “agree” speaks of an inclination to support those in transition.  On the other hand, 7.5% of Chinese respondents “disagree strongly” and 12.8% “disagree somewhat” while 18.4% didn’t know.  In comparison to respondents in the United States, 45.6% “agree strongly” and 27.0% “agree somewhat.”  10.0% of Americans “disagree strongly,” 7.8% “disagree somewhat,” and 9.6% don’t know.17

For a difference between 10 points on the human rights scale, this survey tells a significant story.  It’s more than the strong difference between America’s acceptance and Chinese reluctance.  If 4.2 of university students admit to gender issues but only 2.2% of the population admits to having transgender friends or family, it appears that few act upon their gender issues through transition and prefer to suffer instead.  It’s easy to see why this should be.  For many, the prospect of transition is prohibitive.

Fewer than 10 medical establishments in all Mainland China even provide hormone replacement therapy for transpeople.18 Patients may feel compelled to seek alternatives through Internet or the black market. If a patient desires transition and requests gender confirmation surgery, that patient must pass a rigorous set of requirements that exceed requirements in other parts of the world:

  1. The patient must obtain a permit from a public security bureau demonstrating that the patient has no criminal record.
  2. The patient must present a certificate from a psychiatrist who must show the patient has continued in treatment a minimum of 1 year without being dissuaded from transitioning.
  3. The patient must draw up a report requesting surgery and have it notarized.
  4. The patient must present a certificate showing that next of kin have been notified.
  5. The patient cannot be married.
  6. Documents need to show that the patient must have desired transition for a minimum of 5 years, living in the role of the gender in which one identifies.19

 

REASSESSMENT AND REACTIONISM

Of course, it’s impossible to show “no criminal record” if one has been charged with prostitution or some other crime in the underground economy.  Like other nations, Chinese transwomen have often felt compelled to turn to this shadowy life to survive.  In China, like elsewhere, not only do transpeople face discrimination in every aspect of life, they fear further abuse by friends, family, employers, or others.  Fear of retaliation prevents reporting even though discrimination is illegal under the Employment Promotion Law 20 and Chinese domestic law.  Profession of sex work marks an individual for further rejection, even aside from gender identity.21

Compulsion of transpeople into the underground economy results in serious dangers, not only for those transpeople entrapped in the sex and drug industries, but upon Chinese society in general.  That includes enhanced transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, especially in areas where condom use isn’t promoted.  The enhanced risks prompted Asia Catalyst to issue recommendations for the government of the People’s Republic of China and international donors.22

But it appears that a lesser degree of openness remains the trend.  In June 2017 the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) published a new regulation banning any display of “abnormal sexual behaviors” including homosexuality in online video and audio content.  According to Reuters, this ranges from film to documentaries to educational videos.23

This happened a month after police in the old royal city of Xi’an detained organizers of the Speak Out 2017 conference.  Xi’an police told the organizers, “LGBT events can never be held in Xi’an. Xi’an does not welcome LGBT events.”  Organizers were ordered to hand over their cell phones, administrative passwords, lists of speakers, and were kept from contacting anyone.24

But much of the battle for trans rights has focused upon one locale particularly:  Hong Kong.

Hong Kong itself is currently hearing the case of 3 transmen who are challenging the government requirement to complete transition before identity cards could be amended to show that they’re legally male. The petitioners claim the practice violates the Sex Discrimination Ordinance and they have support of the Equal Opportunities CommissionSince female-to-male surgery often requires multiple procedures, transmen often face a protracted danger of legal limbo, especially with respect to holding onto a job.25

This isn’t the first challenge to come to Hong Kong.  The Court of Final Appeal ruled in 2013 that a transwoman may marry her boyfriend.  Others are also challenging Hong Kong laws as “out of date” in a changing conservative milieu in which the people of Hong Kong previously didn’t discuss transgenderism, referencing transpeople as “cross dressers” or “perverts”.26

In the same year the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International intervened in the case of a Columbian transsexual, Eliana Rubashkyn, who obtained legal recognition as a female in 2013 despite not having had gender confirmation surgery.  She had been prohibited from entering the country till taking refugee status, and claims Hong Kong authorities continue to discriminate against her. 27

Hong Kong has an extra dimension of conservatism over that of other parts of the People’s Republic of China or even Taiwan.  Hong Kong has been a hot market center since its years in the British Commonwealth.  Money is king here and strong conservatism orders corporate practices throughout the area.  The struggles represented in Hong Kong are endemic to traditional values common throughout China with additional influence from British conservatives.  But resistance to recognition appears to slowly melt with understanding.

In which case, Hong Kong is the place to watch.  Change would take generations of trans visibility and education throughout China.  But what happens in Hong Kong would set a precedent for the rest of China and Hong Kong’s staunch conservatism would speak loudly to conservatives in other Chinese regions who may not have considered the case of transpeople before trans visibility sharpens public awareness.

It’s a trend to watch regardless of whether Beijing cracks down on Hong Kong’s murmurings to assert its own autonomy.  To the Mainland, Hong Kong has always been and will always be properly part of China.  Assertions of autonomy won’t prevent the rest of China from considering Hong Kong’s legal trends, though the rest of the mainland may be slower to adopt their approach to trans rights than Hong Kong.  After all, resistance to change is a feature of conservatism and the hinterlands change more slowly than the cities.

But given the increased visibility of transpeople in other parts of China, it’s inevitable that regions will be forced to confront the issues visibility demands.  Either a regional authority can shut it down in an attempt to erase the memory of any such thing as a transperson or they can take the wiser approach of considering the social repercussions of discrimination.  Given that Chinese laws have already shown some cracks by which transition is possible, however remote for most individuals, the trans struggle cannot help but become more visible.  Chinese must learn and understand.

_______________________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image:  Hong Kong at night, with a hint of the outline of the emblem of Hong Kong.  (adapted from Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Asia Catalyst Staff with Beijing Zuoyou Information Center and Shanghai CSW&MSM Center. “‘My Life Is Too Dark to See the Light’: A Survey of the Living Conditions of Transgender Female Sex Workers In Beijing and Shanghai” (Published by Asia Catalyst, NY, accessed January 24, 3018) p. 11. http://asiacatalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Asia-Catalyst-TG-SW-Report.pdf.
  2. O’Callaghan, Jay; Flahive, Ryan; Kelleher, Laura; et. al. “Urban Agglomerations-2005” National Geographic College Atlas of the World (National Geographic Society, 2007) ISBN-13: 978-0-471-74117-6, p. 271.
  3. Eugene K. Chow. “China’s Complicated Approach to Transgender Rights” The Diplomat (October 23, 2017, accessed January 24, 2018) https://thediplomat.com/2017/10/chinas-complicated-approach-to-transgender-rights/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Esme Benjamin. “Is China Making Strides for Transgender Rights” The Culture Trip (October 26, 2017, accessed January 24, 2018) https://theculturetrip.com/asia/china/articles/is-china-making-strides-for-transgender-rights/.
  6. Jill Levine. “From the Shadows: China’s Growing Tolerance of Transgender Rights” The Atlantic (August 9, 2013, accessed January 24, 2018) https://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/08/from-the-shadows-chinas-growing-tolerance-of-transgender-rights/278540/.
  7. Frank Viviano. “China’s Great Armada” National Geographic (July 2005, accessed January 25, 2018) http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0507/feature2/.
  8. Op. cit.
  9. Asia Catalyst, p. 18.
  10. Carlos Ottery with Weijing Zhu. “Crossing the Gender Lines: Transgenderism might just be a step too far for China” The World of Chinese (November 23, 2013, accessed January 25, 2018) http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2013/11/crossing-the-gender-lines/.
  11. Zuo Chen. “The 20-year road of legalizing gender reassignment surgery.” Law and Life Magazine( August 28, 2009, accessed October 20, 2014) http://news.sina.com.cn/c/sd/2009-08-28/153618532895.shtml .
  12. Eugene K. Chow. The Diplomat.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Zhang Peichao, Chi Xinli et al. “Cognitive survey of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals in universities.” China Public Health, Vol. 28, No. 7(2012): 921-923.
  15. Andrew R. Flores, Taylor N.T. Brown, and Andrew S. Park. “Public Support for Transgender Rights: A Twenty-three Country Survey” The Williams Institute (December 2016, accessed January 25, 2018) p. 7. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/23-Country-Survey.pdf.
  16. Ibid, pp. 11, 12.
  17. Ibid, p. 12.
  18. Xu Jingxi. “Qian Jinfan: The 84-year-old transgender person’s ‘best part of life has just begun.’“People’s Daily, (June 20, 2012, accessed October 1, 2014. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/dfpd/shehui/2012-06/20/content_15515350.htm .
  19. Asia Catalyst, p. 53.
  20. Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Article 3:”Workers seeking employment shall not be subject to discrimination based on factors such as ethnicity, race, gender, religious belief etc.” The Employment Promotion Law of the People’s Republic of China (August 30, 2007).
  21. Op. cit. p. 24.
  22. Ibid, pp. 65-67.
  23. Yifan Wang. “Chinese Regulator Calls Homosexuality ‘Abnormal’ and Bans Gay Content from the Internet” (June 30, 2017, accessed January 25, 2018) http://fortune.com/2017/06/30/china-homosexuality-internet-weibo-censorship/.
  24. Catherine Lai. “LGBT conference in China forced to cancel; organizers [sic] say they were detained for 8 hours” HKFP (May 31, 2017, accessed January 25, 2018) https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/05/31/lgbt-conference-china-forced-cancel-organisers-say-detained-8-hours/.
  25. Kylie Knott. “Transgender lecturer in Hong Kong on her fight to be accepted by a conservative society , and her fear of the police” South China Morning Post (updated January 20, 2018, accessed January 24, 2018) http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/2129524/transgender-lecturer-hong-kong-her-fight-be-accepted-conservative-society.
  26. Laurie Chen. “How a Hong Kong ‘genderqueer’ bodybuilder is fighting discrimination – with compassion” South China Morning Post (updated  January 22, 2018, accessed January 24, 2018) http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/community/article/2129530/how-hong-kong-transgender-bodybuilder-fighting.
  27. Op. cit.
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The Coffins: the struggle for human rights amid consolidation of power

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

People called it the “sick man of Europe” before World War I when it was still an Ottoman Empire.1  Despite revival as a constitutional republic under Kamal Atatürk, and a trend toward secular Europeanism, Turkey now has become increasingly isolated from the West, its entry into the European Union in serious doubt, with realignment of interests with the Russian Federation and a conspicuous decline of human rights.  Part of that decline might be attributed to fears of Kurdish factions and the so-called “Islamic State.”  But others have been caught up in the political melee that sloshed like a pot boiling over when its President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) consolidated power.2

That includes others deemed undesirable and that’s more than minority ethnicities.  It includes transpeople branded as “sinners”, some of which have been incarcerated in what have been called “coffins” by Turkish activists.  Today, activists fear something more:  consolidation of LGBT prisoners into a dedicated prison near İzmir, modern day Smyrna, a city named after the healing resin myrrh.3  But when it comes to the coffins, the “healing” offered more resembles worse than the “conversion therapies” of the West.

 

IN WAKE OF THE COUP DE’ETAT

July 15, 2016 brought shocking developments and also stories of incredible herosism.  Turkish military leaders attempted to overthrow President Erdoğan.  A security detail even kidnapped Turkey’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hulusi Akar.  Social media had a major role to play in the failure of that coup d’état because it provided a means for President Erdoğan to communicate with his people and it helped to organize immediate widespread resistance against the coup.  Common people, some armed with kitchen utensils, stood with loyalist troops till the rebellion toppled in a few hours.  The last contingent of the rebellion surrendered on the Bosporus Bridge.4

The Erdoğan government blamed Fethulla Gulen of the religious movement Hizmet.  Gulen has been living in exile in the United States since 1999.  Gulenists, once allies of AKP, had staffed government positions with their own people, arousing suspicion with President Erdoğan.5

Then on July 22, the Erdoğan government declared a state of emergency to remove all elements of “terrorism” in the coup attempt.  The Turkish Justice Ministry demanded extradition of Gulen to Turkey.  But to date, U.S. authorities insist that evidence for arrest and extradition is insufficient, a position that seriously damaged Turkish-American relations.6

Recent organizations regarded as “terrorist” include Daesh (the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”),  the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.  But civilians have also been targeted by Turkish forces who directly and indirectly blame groups such as these, and carry out suspicions with impunity.7

The level of impunity enjoyed by Turkish officials under such a political climate contributes to something else:  exacerbation of human rights violations against minorities including LGBT peoples.  It also means suppression of journalists.  Human Rights Watch reported that news websites and newspapers including the daily Zaman have been blocked and seized, journalists jailed, television stations removed from the state-owned satellite distribution system, and increased requests to Twitter to censor individual accounts.8

This trend in Turkey, of course, goes against the liberties that constitutional republics are supposed to facilitate as guardians of democracy.  However, President Erdoğan himself has been quoted to say, “Democracy is a vehicle, not a goal.”  The statement implies that his goal consisted of something other than that of a democratic reformer like Atatürk.9

In the crosshairs of many who brutally seek their own power amid this climate of elevated suspicion and oppression lurk transfolk who have long struggled for survival.

 

THE TRANSGENDER HERITAGE OF ASIA MINOR

The heritage of transpeople in Turkey has some of the most ancient roots anywhere.  The ruins of Pessinus, the center of the worship of Cybele and the Gallī (Gallae to our modern equivalents) can still be found there.  Cybele’s home at Mt. Ida overlooks the island of Lesbos in the northwest of Turkey as well as the ruins of the city of Troy who would also have known the ministration of the Gallae.  To the south at Ephesus, the worship of Artemis was attended by transgender Megabyzes.  Nobody really knows how far back into antiquity transgender priests have existed.10

Turkey has also been the home of the Temple and Spring of Hermaphroditus, its location now said to be isolated below sea level at a military installation near Bodrum.11

Of course, the fortunes of transpeople of antiquity reversed in the 4th Century CE with the “conversion” of Constantine and the Edict of Rome signed on August 6, 390 CE by Theodosius, with his son and co-Augustus Arcadius, and Valentinian IIThe Edict of Rome consigned “male effeminates” to death by burning, and this formed part of the Corpus Juris Civilis that set the standard for European law for centuries to come.12

While the Edict of Rome may have suppressed transpeople during the Byzantine period, transpeople did gain a measure of recovery under Ottoman rule.  Turkish culture did for many years honor the performances of köçek troupes, males who performed as women.  Homosexuality did exist among the Ottomans, though practices appear to have been covert.13

 

RECENT PROTESTS

During the time transpeople in North America and Europe have asserted their right to exist, Turkish LGBT peoples have taken notice.  For a time it even appeared that transpeople would gain greater status in an enlightened country with the work of Michelle Demishevich on IMC-TV, Istanbul.  However, Michelle was fired September 19, 2014 with charges of “violation of professional ethics,” specifically addressing her “attitude and conduct” while denying that her termination had anything to do with her gender identity.  Of course “attitude and conduct” would include how she presented herself as a journalist.  It’s a pattern we commonly find among employers, even in the United States, who terminate trans workers because of their “presentation and deportment” according to gender identity while falsely claiming another cause for termination, or stating reasons for termination in a nebulous, non-specific way.14

By no means was her termination the first in what would become a series of hits against LGBT peoples.  Authorities answered Istanbul’s 10th annual LGBT Pride event in 2013 with tear gas and water canons.  The protest, attended by an estimated 20,000 people, stood in the face of expressions that followed the World Values Survey in 2011.  According to that survey, 84% of Turkish people dislike gays or lesbians living as neighbors.  The reaction by authorities in Istanbul demonstrated that liberty had not been achieved, and that intolerance ruled Turkish hearts instead.  How did Turkish attitudes slide concerning transpeople?  Very likely, Turks learned those attitudes over recent generations through its adoption of Europeanism in the early to mid 20th Century 15

Authorities’ actions would go a step further in 2016, a year before the coup.  Istanbuls governor ordered a ban of LGBT Pride events and any parade associated with it, citing security concernsand referencing Daesh and Kurdish militants.  Indeed, militants of Daesh had also determined to shut down gay rights rallies with counter-protests.  When a group of activists gathered to read a statement denouncing the ban, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, and detained 19 activists.16

But anger has continued to seethe over the brutal rape and murder of trans activist Hande Kader August 12, 2016.  Hande, of course, was not the first transperson to be brutally murdered in Turkey, nor was she the first activist to meet such a fate.  We’ve recounted murders of transpeople in Turkey virtually every year at the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Hande’s body was found in a forest.  She had been raped and burned to death.  The outrage sparked protest in Istanbul, demanding justice, hoping that her murder would mark a turning point.  But that didn’t happen.17

What did happen was Ankara banning all “gay functions.”  This happened on November 18, 2017, arguing that theater events, exhibitions, panels, colloquia, etc. would “provoke reactions within certain segments of society” and are at risk of being targeted by “terrorists”.18

 

WHERE TRANSPEOPLE WENT

Many LGBT peoples have simply disappeared through arrest and incarceration.  Nisan Su Aras of  Hürriyet Daily News reported a response from the Justice Ministry to Zafer Kıraç who questioned their disposition as the chair of the Civil Society in the Penal System Association (CİSST).  The Justice Ministry indicated that 79 LGBT people are being held in solitary confinement and that a “special type of institution” dedicated to housing LGBT peoples is being erected near İzmir.19

The Justice Ministry also described the detainees as “having LGBT” in a manner that suggests that Turkish authorities consider “LGBT” to be mental illness.20

“Pink prisons,” as they are often called, are those facilities which have separate housing for LGBT peoples.  Currently the only ones that exist are in Ankara, Istanbul, and Corum, though solitary confinement has also been practiced elsewhere.  You’d think that this might be a good thing in that LGBT peoples are housed separately from other malicious inmates.  In the case of Turkey, however, this has served to work in the other direction, further isolating inmates in concentrated conditions of abuse.  Reports have emerged of beatings, rape, sexually charged insults and other forms of sexual molestation by guards.21

On January 6, 2015, 18 LGBT associations issued a joint statement against the İzmir prison, asserting that it would further isolate, stigmatize, and facilitate discrimination against LGBT individuals, involving also their families and social circles.  It also complained that many would have to travel great distances to visit detainees.22

 

THE EUROPEAN COURT RULING

An important ruling from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) based in Strasbourg, Germany in 2012 has offered the best hope for activists in Turkey to ameliorate the suffering of detainees.  The case pertains to a prisoner at the İzmir-Buca Prison, not to be confused with the proposed “pink prison” in İzmir.

The text of the ruling, translated by Google, indicates the following:

  1. On 5 February 2009 the prison administration decided to place the applicant in a single cell. The minutes in this issue include the following statement:

“(…) the prisoner who has been arrested for homosexual illness has been placed in a single cell instead of a war where he is staying.”

  1. The Applicant has stated that the population of his/her residence is 7 m2, half of the living area. The applicant also stated that there is a single bed and toilet, but there is no sink. There are mice in the cell, the lighting is poor and the room is dirty.  The applicant stated that there were 10 more of the same types of detainees used for detention charges or for accusation of pedophilia or rape.  On 5 February 2009, the applicant, after being placed in a single person cell, was disconnected from all other detainees and subjected to all kinds of social activities.  He is prevented from going outdoors and allowed to leave his cell only to meet with his lawyer or to attend regular meetings that are held regularly every months. [sic]

  2. The Government not only refused to acknowledge these facts but also informed that there were furniture in the cell and that the means necessary for daily living such as lighting, toilets, beds, cupboards and chairs were available. The Government stated that the applicant was alone in his cell until the arrival of another homosexual prisoner in prison.

  3. On 21 April 2009 the applicant filed a request for the removal of the decisions taken by the İzmir Prosecutor’s Office. The applicant stated that the application form is homosexual, not transvestite or transsexual. According to the applicant, the sexual orientation led to being kept in a single cell without having any contact with other detainees and without participating in any social activity.  In addition, he stated that the above conditions have caused psychiatric problems in himself for about 3 months.  The applicant stated that in the Turkish penal execution system, only prisoners convicted of aggravated life imprisonment were held on similar terms.  The applicant therefore requested that he be treated equally with the other detainees.23

The decision of the court centered upon this issue:

“Article 14 of the Convention reads as follows:

‘The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be without discrimination of sex, race, color, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, membership of a national minority, wealth, birth or any other circumstance.”

  1. The Government opposes this claim and suggests that the purpose of the applicant’s self-appointed single-celled cellar is to protect itself, not discrimination.”24

The court sided with the Applicant:

  1. “In the circumstances of this case, the Court notes that the applicant complained that the inconsistency of the exclusion order from the prison community was in violation of Article 3 of the Convention (paragraph 51 above) [specifically speaking of the isolation as a ‘deep attack on his spiritual and physical suffering and also in the honor of humanity-Author]. The Court recalls that the above applicant assessed that if the standard coherence was concerned, the worries of bodily integrity being exposed to the attack were not entirely unfounded (paragraph 48).  However, as noted above, these concerns are not enough to justify the measure of total isolation from prison life, even if some security measures are required to protect the applicant.

  2. On the other hand, the Court disagrees with the argument that the Government’s secrecy measures were taken at the request of the applicant. The applicant or the deputy requested the prison administration to transfer the applicant to a ward where the homosexual prisoners were held or to another appropriate ward (paragraph 8 above).  The applicant’s deputy stated that his client had been imprisoned and harassed by other detainees to support this request.  As for the applicant, he reported that he had “problems”.  In short, requests were made to transfer authorities to a ward appropriate to the applicant’s situation.”25

The ruling included awarding partial damages to the Applicant.26

You’d think this ruling should have sent shock waves through the Turkish penal system concerning solitary confinement.  However, no appreciable change appears to have taken place.  But this ruling appears to have given further impetus in the Turkish mind to erect a dedicated prison for LGBT individuals “to assure their safety.”  Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag indicated in 2014 the “necessity” of the prison and that construction was continuing.27

 

CONTINUING CONDITIONS

Of course, based upon the aforementioned joint statement by 18 LGBT organizations, scarcely anyone in the Turkish LGBT Community believes the dedicated facility would mean improvement in living conditions, precisely because Turkish officials have demonstrated open hostility, stigmatizing LGBT peoples as “diseased” in the first place.

 LGBTI News Turkey has long boldly publicized incidents of hate against transpeople in Turkey including abuse by Turkish authorities.  This month, the site has told the world about 2 transwomen who had been incarcerated in Tekirdağ No 2.  One named “Diren” in the article was described as “subject to systematic torture inside an F-type prison cell coffin for 3 years longer.  F-type prisons are those facilities geared to solitary confinement.  The article also mentions a detainee called “Buse” who was sentenced to 37 years and convicted without a defense attorney.  She only revealed her gender identity during incarceration.28

“Diren” was accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” without tangible evidence and convicted.  She is vegan, so has fed on boiled potatoes and tomatoes.  Her requests for female attire have been denied.  Doctors at the infirmary are described as “indifferent”.  Officers refer to her in the masculine.29

The case of “Buse” is being followed up by IHD (Human Rights Association) Co-Chair and attorney Eren Keskin, who has taken charge of the judicial process to clarify her demands for justice.  A statement concerning her case and “Diren’s” is expected next week.  Meantime, both prisoners are writing their histories and experience in their incarcerations.30

One thing that seems so compelling about the cases of these 2 transwomen is the liberal use of “terrorism” to justify incarceration, regardless of how quietly one may happen to live.  Exactly what is “terrorism”, especially in Turkey’s institutional paranoia after the failed coup d’état?

It’s an important question, not just for Turkey, but also for the United States whose “Alt-Right”, in close association with its Evangelical Dominionists, has infiltrated law enforcement throughout the country.31

It’s important because U.S. prisons also often place trans inmates in solitary confinement, doing so “for their protection” from abuse including rape.  Usually, solitary confinement simply consists of single cell residency, not necessarily places of extreme isolation and darkness, often referred to as “the hole.” But in our prisons, abuses have also been noted and publicized.32

What would solitary confinement mean in an American prison system dominated by Dominionists who may insist on “praying away the gay” while facilitating prison rape and beatings?  Would “conversion therapy” become the norm in penal institutions?  No doubt there are Dominionists who would prefer exactly that.  It would also contribute to international complicity with respect to LGBT detainees in prison systems like that in Turkey and other countries whose conditions are even more deplorable.

For Turkey, this mitigation is the fulcrum of what may come, especially where the Erdoğan agenda appears to have backtracked on the reforms set in motion by Kamal Atatürk in his program of Europeanization.  But it takes more than a new orthography to realize the vision of Atatürk.  His reforms should have set forth something momentous for Turkey and the world.  One cannot adopt Europeanism without becoming part of those trends in advance of human rights that has marked the European evolution. 

But some Turks actually do get what it means to rise above the miasma of bigotries and hatreds.  Continuing protests evidence the fact.  The work of attorneys in human rights organizations evidences it too.  There is hope for Turkish society, even in an age of paranoia where human rights are reversed in a period of de-democratization. The “norm” of brutality can eventually be understood as a pervasive evil.

It’s a historical “norm” that has characterized the status of human rights more often than not in systems entrusted to a lecherous species that too often has not been mitigated by deep philosophical thought, but the dogma of religiosity instead.  The status of LGBT prisoners in Turkey could easily be true for ours at any time.  Ultimately, only our vigilance and publication of facts to the world in appeal to conscience can mitigate it.

__________________________

REFERENCES:

Featured Image: A monument to Kemal Ataturk as educator of Turkey’s next generations stands against an image of LGBT protest. (Wikimedia Commons)

  1. Cengiz Çandar. “No Longer ‘Sick Man,’ Turkey Is Lonely, Tired” Al Monitor (July 19, 2013, accessed January 10, 2018) https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/07/turkey-still-sick-man.html.
  2. Patrick Kingsley. “Turkey’s Erdogan Tries to Play Nice, After a Year of Bashing Europe” New York Times (December 28, 2017, accessed January 10, 2018) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/world/europe/erdogan-turkey.html.
  3. Moulton, Harold K., ed. The Analytical Greek Lexicon , Revised (Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids MI, 1981) ISBN: 0-310-20280-9, p. 371, entry: σμύρνα.
  4. (n.a.) “Turkey’s Failed Coup Attempt: All You Need to Know” Al Jazeera (accessed January 10, 2018) http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/12/turkey-failed-coup-attempt-161217032345594.html.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. (n.a) “Turkey 2016/2017” Amnesty International (accessed January 10, 2018) https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/europe-and-central-asia/turkey/report-turkey/.
  8. (n.a.) “Events of 2017: Turkey” Human Rights Watch (accessed January 10, 2018) https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/turkey.
  9. Steven A. Cook. “How Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again” The Atlantic (July 21, 2016, accessed January 10, 2018) https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/07/how-erdogan-made-turkey-authoritarian-again/492374/.
  10. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Ida’s Barren Summit” Transpire(April 14, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2017/04/14/idas-barren-summit/.
  11. (na.a) “Hermaproditus” Revolvy (accessed January 11, 2018) https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Hermaphroditos&item_type=topic. The specificity of it being on a military base is a matter of belief as an oral tradition.
  12. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Alas the Charioteer” Transpire (November 25, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/alas-the-charioteer/.
  13. Hanna, Judith Lynne. Dance, Sex, and Gender: signs of identity, dominance, defiance, and desire (University of Chicago Press, 1988), ISBN: 978-0226315515, p. 57.
  14. John DeLamar. “Turkey: Trans journalist fired from television station” Pink News (September 19, 2014, accessed January 22, 2018) http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2014/09/19/turkey-trans-journalist-fired-from-television-station/.
  15. John Beck. “Turkey’s Violent Homophobia” The Daily Beast (July 1, 2013, accessed January 11, 2018) https://www.thedailybeast.com/turkeys-violent-homophobia.
  16. Associated Press. “Turkey uses tear gas to break up gay pride gathering” Los Angeles Times (June 26, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018) http://www.latimes.com/world/la-fg-turkey-gay-pride-20160626-snap-story.html.
  17. Sarah A. Harvard. “Trans rights activist Hande Kader was raped and burned to death in Turkey” Mic (August 19, 2016, accessed January 11, 2018) https://mic.com/articles/152097/trans-rights-activist-hande-kader-was-raped-and-burned-to-death-in-turkey#.H6wvrjKD6.
  18. (n.a.) “Turkish capital Ankara bans all gay rights functions” BBC (November 19, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-42043910.
  19. Nisan Su Aras. “Majority of imprisoned LGBT’s kept in ‘solitary confinement’” Hürriyet Daily News (July 27, 2013, accessed January 11, 2018) http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/majority-of-imprisoned-lgbts-kept-in-solitary-confinement-51500.
  20. Ibid.
  21. Sibel Hurtas. “Turkey’s ‘pink prison’” Al Monitor (January 21, 2015, accessed January 11, 2018) http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/01/turkey-gay-lesbian-lgbt-special-prison.html#ixzz53dtZdVDN.
  22. Ibid.
  23. İkincidaire XV Turkey (B aşvur no. 24626/09) Karar, Strasbourg (ruling October 9, 2012, accessed January 11, 2018), sections 9-12. http://www.aihmiz.org.tr/?q=tr/node/251.
  24. Ibid, Sec. 52,53.
  25. Ibid, Sec. 58, 59.
  26. Ibid, Sec. 73-75.
  27. (n.a.) “Minister Bozdag: We Homemade Private Prison” Haberler.com (April 12, 2014, accessed January 11, 2018) https://www.haberler.com/bakan-bozdag-lgbt-bireyler-icin-mustakil-cezaevi-5901661-haberi/
  28. (n.a.) “Arat: 2 Trans Women or ‘Sinners’ in a Turkish Prison” LBTQI News Turkey (January 5, 2018, accessed January 10, 2018) https://lgbtinewsturkey.com/2018/01/05/arat-two-trans-women-or-sinners-in-a-turkish-prison/.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Alice Speri. “The FBI Has Quietly Investigated White supremacist Infiltration of Law Enforcement” The Intercept (January 31, 2017, accessed January 11, 2018) https://theintercept.com/2017/01/31/the-fbi-has-quietly-investigated-white-supremacist-infiltration-of-law-enforcement/.
  32. (n.a.) “Issues: Police, Jails & Prisons” (National Center for Transgender Equality Website accessed January 11, 2018) https://transequality.org/issues/police-jails-prisons.
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Presidential Order by a Tweet will ban Transgender Service in Six Months

By TMPlanet

President Trump is preparing to give the Defense Department formal authority to expel transgender people from the military in an upcoming order, barring the Pentagon from recruiting transgender troops and cutting off payment for sexual reassignment surgery and other medical treatments for those already serving.

A White House memo that is expected to be sent to the Pentagon in coming days gives Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, six months to enforce the transgender ban that Mr. Trump announced abruptly last month in a series of tweets. The directive was confirmed Wednesday by a person familiar with its contents but who was not authorized to discuss its details and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The authority has not yet been finalized. Once it is approved, it would allow Mr. Mattis to force out transgender service members by setting a legal standard of whether they would be able to deploy to war zones or for other lengthy military missions.

The president’s order-by-social media caught senior military officials by surprise and short-circuited the customary interagency policy process that attends such sweeping decisions. At the time, as senior military officials scrambled to determine how to carry out the order, White House officials said they would work with the Pentagon to devise a policy to fit Mr. Trump’s tweets.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined late Wednesday to comment on any forthcoming guidance, saying the White House had no announcement on the matter. The memo was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.²
Advocates of allowing transgender people to serve openly said the guidance imposed an unacceptable double standard.

“It is unconscionable that the commander in chief would take aim at his own, loyally serving troops for political reasons at a time when the military needs to focus on real threats,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, a research institute that had worked with the military to devise its policy on admitting transgender service members.

“Imposing one set of standards for transgender troops, and another set of standards for everyone else is a recipe for disruption, distraction and waste,” Mr. Belkin said.¹

Mr. Trump gave no warning before announcing the ban in July and declaring on Twitter that American forces could not afford the “tremendous medical costs and disruption” of transgender service members. The president said he had consulted generals and military experts, but Mr. Mattis was given only a day’s notice about Mr. Trump’s decision.

The upcoming guidance — basing expulsion on a troop’s ability to serve — appears to be an attempt to reconcile Mr. Trump’s call for a blanket ban with concerns about whether the defense secretary should dismiss transgender forces who are currently in the ranks.

Mr. Trump’s decision was roundly denounced by members of both parties, many of whom argued that anyone willing and able to fight for their country should be welcomed into the military.
“This is NOT how you keep America safe,” Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, said in a Twitter post. “Period. #ProtectTransTroops.”

The ban reverses a year-old policy crafted by the Obama administration that allowed transgender people to serve openly in the military.

That policy affects only a small portion of the approximately 1.3 million active-duty members of the military. Some 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty and reserves troops are transgender, according to a 2016 RAND Corporation study³ commissioned by the Pentagon, though estimates of the number of transgender service members have varied widely, and are sometimes as high as 15,000.

The issue became a flash point for social conservatives who argued that transgender people had no place in the military. Some Republican lawmakers threatened to refuse to fund the military without a prohibition on using federal money to pay for transition surgery or related hormone therapy.
“As transgender service members, we are and have always been soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen first,” said Blake Dremann, the president of Sparta, an L.G.B.T. military group with 500 active-duty members. “We serve our country honorably, in good faith.”

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  1. New York Times
  2. Wall Street Journal
  3. Rand Corporation Study: Impact of Transgender Personnel on Readiness and Health Care Costs in the U.S. Military Likely to Be Small
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Hawes-Tingey on Her Way to Making History as First Transgender Mayor in Utah

By Sabrina Samone

Sophia Hawes-Tingey appeared to safely advance to the Nov. 7 final election, and one step closer to making history in the small Utah town of Midvale, as the first possible transgender Mayor in conservative Utah.

She was running second among five hopefuls and appearing safe to advance with 24 percent of the vote. Hawes-Tingey trailed a former city council member of the town, who had 30 percent of the vote.

Despite recent tweets to call for a ban on transgender military personnel, Sophia is a US Navy Veteran, who has served her country proudly and desires to continue to do so as Mayor of Midvale, Utah. She’s a software engineer with a passion for advancing diversity and combating discrimination in all forms.

Sophia Hawes-Tingey acknowledges the historic nature of her campaign for city council, but she does not want to make it the focus of her race in this Salt Lake City suburb.

“I see myself mostly as a community servant who just happens to be transgender,” she told her local Fox News affiliate after she filed to run for Midvale’s City Council District 2.

If elected, Hawes-Tingey would be the first openly-transgender person to serve in public office in the state of Utah. Her race does bring increased visibility to Utah’s LGBT community, which has seen big advances within the past couple of years when it comes to same-sex marriage, non-discrimination in housing and employment and several openly gay candidates seeking political office.

When asked about the significance of her candidacy, Hawes-Tingey said she wants to talk to voters about fighting crime, improving neglected neighborhoods and fostering economic growth in Midvale.

“I know to the LGBT community, they see this as a message of hope. But this is a race about community values,” she said.

Hawes-Tingey said being transgender “is only one aspect of who I am.” She pointed to her service on the Midvale Community Council.

“I’m also a software engineer. I’m a Navy veteran, I’ve studied dance for a number of years,” she said. “I don’t define myself only on my gender identity.”

Still, her campaign has attracted the attention of national gay rights groups. She has the backing of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Restore Our Humanity and the Utah Stonewall Democrats.

Hawes-Tingey is challenging incumbent Midvale City Councilman Paul Glover, who is seeking his fourth term in office.

Utah, the home of the staunch conservative Mormon church, has been going through a progressive transition in recent years, with several LGBT politicians, and more vocal advocates. While the town of Midvale is not known for diversity, it is one of the fastest growing suburbs of Salt Lake City, growing 17% since the 2010 census, with an average median income of nearly 54,000 per household. With it’s progressive growth, and the willingness to embrace possibly the first transgender politician in Utah, this could be the first light of progressive change taking root in Utah.

DONATE TO SOPHIA HAWES-TINGEY CAMPAIGN

Currently 7,000 has been raised in support of Hawes-Tingey’s campaign. We’re asking our Friends of TMP to share her story and urge those in your immediate community to give in order to empower transgender politicians, who maybe our only way to fight the fascism we face.

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South Carolina’s Gubernatorial Race Just Got Troublesome for State’s Transgender

By Sabrina Samone

If you live in the blue county of Charleston, in the red state of South Carolina, you may feel like a deer staring in the head lights of an 18 wheeler that’s about to push you out into the ocean, full speed ahead. Though we’re a predominant Republican state, there has been enough Democratic strength here to hold off similar legislation that’s plagued our neighbors to the north, or that Lone Star state out west. Yet gone possibly, are the days when former Republican Governor Nikki Haley said of a similar N.C. bathroom law proposal here, “I don’t believe it’s necessary. When I look at South Carolina, we look at our situations, we’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re again not hearing any citizens that feel like they’re being violated in terms of freedoms.

Even though she spoke out against Trumpzilla, she accepted a position as UN Ambassador. She left SC in the hands of her Lt. Govenor Henry McMaster, an old toad, sitting proudly on his pre-civil rights era ideology. Yet, with his slightly pro-“heritage” stance, even he believed that an anti-transgender bathroom bill in South Carolina was not needed. So why is this muse nervous? The reason is Catherine Templeton, and where does she kick off her campaign?  Her first town hall in Pickens County, a Republican stronghold, in the very red Upstate area, to gather the red coats. When it comes to the opposite end of the state from the coast, we are talking the heart of S.C.’s Republican soul. This is the home of Bob Jones University, which only after being boycotted by the Atlanta 1996 Olympics, did they stop expelling students for interracial dating…and it wasn’t immediately.

McMaster is expected to run for Governor in his own right. There is little confidence the 70 year old is expected to win in a state that’s average median age continues to lower, and who has spent a lifetime in state politics. In the era of Trump, non lifetime politicians are the preferred choice. That leaves 46 year old, shamelessly proud confederate, Catherine Templeton, who already has the eye of Trump and an upstate darling to all the bigots, transphobes, and separatist of the state.

Recently in Columbia, at her first town meeting as a gubernatorial candidate, a woman at the Republican town hall asked Templeton if she would back a law banning transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice like one passed and rolled back in North Carolina. 

“Would you buckle like North Carolina did or would you stand up for the Lord’s word?” the “upstate” woman said.

The GOP hopeful running in her first race said, she believed people should use bathrooms based on their birth gender but did not say anything about putting that into law. On another social conservative issue, abortion, Templeton told the town hall that she would allow exceptions for incest and if the mother’s life is endangered.

Side note, Templeton was summoned to Trump Tower to meet with President-elect Trump when he was picking his cabinet, but she turned down a job in the U.S. Department of Labor. She remains a supporter of Trump.

To all the state’s LGBTQIA activist, prepare to RESIST!

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