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Is this Turkey actually taking a step forward on LGBTI rights?

Is this Turkey actually taking a step forward on LGBTI rights?

The election of 22 outspoken LGBTI supporters was heralded as a victory by gay rights groups in Turkey this week.

In the months before Sunday’s general election (7 June), a campaign by activists and organizations came together across Turkey to urge parliamentary candidates to pledge their support to LGBTI rights.

64 candidates signed the pledge, and 22 were elected – seven from the new, liberal People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and 15 from the secularist Republican’s People Party (CHP).

The pledge ‘aims to create visibility on the rights violations of LGBTIs and all human rights and to realize the dream of a Turkey where no one is oppressed because of their identity’.

The election results saw the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lose the majority they have held since 2002, with 258 of 550 seats.

Over the coming days, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will have to form a coalition government in order to stay in power, but this will mean negotiating with a new, more diverse and more liberal parliament. That includes an unprecedented 97 women, a new influx of Kurdish and Armenian minorities and 80 seats held by the new, socially liberal, pro-gay party HDP.

HDP emphasized equality and liberalism in its election campaign, and its leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is an open advocate of LGBTI rights. Not only that, but the party ran Turkey’s first ever openly gay candidate for parliament. Baris Sulu, the 37-year-old LGBTI activist, did not win his seat but certainly made history.

Hossein Alizadeh, program coordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, has called the election results a ‘tremendous victory’ for LGBTI rights.

Speaking to the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, he said: ‘It is particularly important in a political landscape that recently has been quite conservative, and where some high-level politicians have rejected even basic rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity’.

Turkey has received increasing criticism for its human rights record in recent years. Since AKP took charge in 2002, the country has been accused of a host of abuses: widespread corruption, censorship, imprisoning the most journalists in the world, limiting freedom of speech, using excessive force against protesters and failing to recognize LGBTI rights.

According to a recent report, there were at least 41 hate-based murders of LGBTI people between 2010 and June 2014, and Turkey has been called the most dangerous place in Europe to be transgender. Although homosexuality is not expressly forbidden in law, homophobic attacks and discrimination are a common occurrence. The country is even in the process of building a so-called ‘Pink Prison’ – a segregated, LGBTI-only jail facility which is intended to protect people but has been heavily criticized by rights groups.