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Friday, 5 December 2014

My Child: When parents of LGBTs in Turkey speak out

Funda Ustek (Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London)

On 28 November 2014, Can Candan’s multi-award winning documentary “My Child” featuring the parents of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) individuals in Turkey was screened at SEESOX with the participation of the director Can Candan, co-producer H. Metehan Ozkan and parent Sema Yakar. The documentary takes us through the journey of the parents of LGBT individuals as they are intimately sharing their experiences of what it means to be parents, family, activists in a conservative, blatantly homophobic and transphobic society. 

Though not officially illegal, homosexuality remains to be a highly controversial subject in Turkey. The former Minister of State Responsible for Women and Family Affairs, and a Member of Parliament for Denizli of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was famously quoted in 2010 when she declared that “Homosexuality is a biological disorder that requires treatment”[1]. Recently, speaking in the Netherlands, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan objected to a Dutch lesbian couple adopting a nine-year-old Turkish boy, stressing that homosexuality is a “sexual preference” that conflicts with the “culture of Islam”[2]. Turkish law also remains highly problematic when it comes to LGBT rights, with ambiguous wording of “offenses against public morality” and/or “prohibitions of public exhibitionism” often being used to justify penalising LGBT individuals. While some attempts have been made by the main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) to provide protections against discriminations based on sexual orientation, so far there has been little progress, if any. As an example of the little interest in LGBT rights in Turkish politics, the screening of My Child at the Turkish National Assembly in 2013 can be given. Only 6 out of 548 MPs came to watch the screening[3].

Moreover, legal ambiguity presents itself in widespread violence against LGBT individuals in a widely homophobic and transphobic society, as 84% of Turkish people state that gays and lesbians were among the groups they would least like living in their neighbourhoods according to the 2011 World Values Survey. In 2006, an LGBTT demonstration in Bursa could not be carried out as Bursa football team fans were violently trying to block the parade[4]. The first publicly acknowledged “gay honour killing” took place in 2008 when Ahmet Yildiz was shot dead by his father[5]. Recently, a 24-year old trans-woman Dora Ozer was stabbed to death in her own home[6], adding to the long list of 69 LGBT individuals who have been murdered in Turkey since 2002[7].

It is against this uneasy background Can Candan proposes to look at LGBT individuals in a different light in Turkey. The documentary reveals the experiences of parents of LGBT individuals as they discover and re-discover their relationship with their children (not sons or daughters) when they came out to them. In an attempt to redefine what “family” means, the documentary shows the intimate stories of parents facing the “difficult” truth about their children, coming to accept it and then founding and becoming activists for LISTAG (Families of LGBT in Istanbul) fighting for the rights of LGBT individuals in Turkey. 

“My Child” is a powerful documentary, leaving you both speechless and wanting to shout as loud as you can at the same time. The discussion at SEESOX after the screening showed how much the audience were moved by the documentary, and how extraordinary they thought the parents participated in this film were. Can Candan noted that LISTAG families were indeed inspirational and courageous to be activists for LGBT rights in Turkey and also take part in this documentary, but that the whole idea behind showing the parents instead of the children was to show that LGBT individuals in Turkey are not some “perverts” or “sick people” but that they are the children next door, or the kid we met in school, and only through recognising them as part of our society, as not some sons or daughters but “our children”, we can overcome the shame, stigma and hate towards the LGBTs.
“My Child” makes an important case for a fundamental rethinking and transformation of LGBT rights in Turkey, especially when LGBT individuals are mostly perceived as marginal members of the society, or social outcasts, due to the prevailing homophobic and transphobic prejudices. If you have missed this wonderful opportunity to see the documentary at SEESOX, you can follow for new screening possibilities, order its DVD or watch it online at

[5] A recent feature film documents Ahmet Yildiz’s story: “Zenne Dancer” (2012), directed by Caner Alper and Mehmet Binay.
[7] Ibid

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