With military service being mandatory for all Turkish men there are only a few ways out: if you are ill, disabled, or if you are diagnosed homosexual. But, as a new BBC documentary shows, being diagnosed as gay is not an easy way out of the military by any means.
They call it the pink certificate: when The Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, military medical staff diagnose a prospective soldier with homosexuality and excuse them from duty on grounds of “psychosexual illness.” But of course they have no easy diagnostic tools to assess someone’s sexuality, so the proof the army requires comes down to degrading, discriminatory, hyper-sexualizing and potentially dangerous ideas.
”They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child…”
Ahmet, a young man in his 20s, told officials he was gay at the first opportunity after he was called up, as he and other conscripts underwent a health check.
He was then asked to provide a picture of himself dressed as a woman.
”I refused this request,” he says. ”But I made them another offer, which they accepted.” Instead he gave them a photograph of himself kissing another man.
Gay men are not welcome in the TSK but while saying you are gay might seem like a convenient way to dodge military service it carries considerable risks in a country where the law might not overtly penalize homosexuality but where being gay remains a social taboo.
Continues the BBC:
Gokhan, conscripted in the late 1990s, very quickly realised that he was not made for the army.
As a gay man he was also afraid of being bullied, and after little more than a week he plucked up the courage to declare his sexual orientation to his commander.
”They asked me if I had any photographs.” Gokhan says, ”And I did.”
He had gone prepared with explicit photographs of himself having sexual intercourse with another man, having heard that it would be impossible to get out of military service without them.
”The face must be visible,” says Gokhan. ”And the photos must show you as the passive partner.”
The photographs satisfied the military doctors. Gokhan was handed his pink certificate and exempted from military service. But it was a terrible experience, he says,
”And it’s still terrible. Because somebody holds those photographs. They can show them at my village, to my parents, my relatives.”
The TSK once denied that it asked for photo evidence of homosexuality, but rights commentators hit back telling the press that the army must have now amassed “the world’s greatest porno archive” due to this unofficial rule.
The army has in recent years appeared to admit that it asks for some photo evidence of homosexuality, but denies that it holds on to these kinds of materials.
However, reports suggest that employers have in fact gone to the army and requested details on discharged servicemembers. This has led to reports of job discrimination, bullying in the workplace and ostracism from family and friends. It very well may have even endangered lives in a country where violence against LGBT people is well documented.
However, if the men refuse to offer this kind of photographic evidence to the army their discharge will be delayed or even denied. This leaves them in a vulnerable position where they are still enrolled in the army but are at the mercy of commanders who may know their sexuality and could choose to disclose it at any time.
This chilling environment is documented in Emre Azizlerli’s documentary The Pink Certificate, scheduled for broadcast on BBC World Service this week across multiple time slots. Readers able to access the World Service can find the schedule here.