Turkey gets first openly gay parliamentary candidate

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– Baris Sulu standing for seat in Grand National Assembly in next month’s election

ANKARA – Voters in Turkey’s Eskisehir province face a first when they go to the polls on June 7 – an openly gay candidate standing for the country’s Grand National Assembly.

Baris Sulu, who is representing the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is the first gay man to seek a seat in the 550-member parliament.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, Sulu said he was hoping to promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Turks if he wins his seat in the northwestern province.

“I am not a secret gay,” the 37-year-old said. “I have got the biggest support from my family and boyfriend and my friends in the party have given me their opinions.”

Sulu, a gay rights activist for the last 17 years, said his struggle against discrimination led to him standing. “My interest in politics started when I decided to fight,” he said.

Even if he does not win a seat, Sulu hopes his example will inspire others from the LGBT community to get involved in national politics.

“The elections in four years will be utterly different,” he predicted. “In the next elections, not just gay candidates will run but also lesbian or transgender candidates.”

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey but the country does not have laws to protect gay men and women. According to a 2013 report from the European Committee on Social Rights, the LGBT community faces discrimination, intimidation and violence in Turkey.

Two transgendered women – Deva Ozenen for the newly-formed Anatolia Party in Izmir and Niler Albayrak for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in Istanbul – are also standing next month.

Sulu said he applied to stand for the pro-Kurdish, left-wing HDP because of the party’s progressive stance.

Referring to the Peoples’ Democratic Congress, a pro-Kurdish bloc of lawmakers founded after the last general election, Sulu said: “There are 22 different languages spoken by the people of this country and, since the congress, these different identities have been united.”

He praised the HDP, which is seeking to enter parliament as a political party for the first time, and the CHP for raising gay rights in parliament.

“There is no other political party that is saying ‘These people are facing discrimination’ at parliament,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Acknowledging the obstacles he will face in seeking election, Sulu said as many as 85 percent of Turks would oppose a LGBT deputy in the assembly. “The perspective on homosexuals is the same wherever you go but perhaps this process will soften that perspective,” he added.

“We have a right to live but are being killed and face oppression, as well as not receiving education.”

In an interview on the Turkish Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s website last month, Ozenen declared her goal of fighting “for a Turkey where sexual identity can be fearlessly and bravely expressed in peace.”

In 2013, Can Cavusoglu became the first openly gay candidate to stand for public office when he ran for the mayoralty of Bulancak on the Black Sea coast. He lost to the candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party.