Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights introduced me to Pink Life, a grantee of theirs that has been working tirelessly since 2006 to affect change in a Turkish society that openly condones violence against transgender people and provides no clear legal or civic protection of transgender rights.
I asked Pink Life’s Secretary General, Kemal Ordek, about what drove hir into transrights activism and what sie wants the world to know about being transgender.*
(*Kemal preferred that I use the gender-neutral pronouns sie and hir to express hir views.)
Kemal explained, “Being trans in general means being unheard. But being trans in Turkey means to be a victim, a victim whose existence is denied, whose demands are ignored and whose visibility is targeted by several powerful actors in society.”
“The first time I felt I should take part in this important work was when Dilek Ince, a member of Pink Life, was shot to death in November 2008. Dilek Ince was a trans woman. We lost her and the perpetrators of her murder were never arrested nor convicted, despite evidence given to the security forces.”
Sie continued, “I was so depressed. I couldn’t find a way to express my deep concern for the lives of trans people in Turkey. I was a member of the LGBT community and realized how marginalized the trans people were, even within the LGBT movement. I deeply felt that I should take part in the transrights movement for myself and for the unheard voices within our community. This was another way working through my sorrow.”
Kemal and hir colleagues at Pink Life recevied a $5,000 Rapid Response Grant from Urgent Action Fund to respond to the attempted lynching of the transwomen mentioned above. They used the funds to pressure police and authority figures with both media attention and a public advocacy campaign, which eventually led to the arrest and trial of those responsible.
I was surprised, given the enormity of anti-trans sentiment in Turkey, that such a small amount of money, coupled with the dedication of Pink Life’s staff, could prove so effective. But while Pink Life got the support to follow through this time, so many other incidents of transphobic violence are unacknowledged and unaccounted for. In Turkey, as in much of the world, there is very little social protection for you if your expressed gender varies from your assigned sex.
That’s what we are talking about here. The simple, non-violent act of expressing yourself in a way that upsets the gender binary of males as men and females as women. Well, it seems simple to me, but to the world it has become complicated and misunderstood.
I remember the first time that I recognized someone in my life as being transgender. I spent a great deal of my childhood in Mexico and there was a transgender woman named Lupé who worked for the condominiums where we often stayed.
While Lupé was visibly a woman, she also sometimes had a five o’clock shadow and a deep voice. I was young and confused and to be honest, Lupé frightened me a bit at first. I stood by silent as people made fun of her. But as I got to know Lupé further, we eventually became friends and, along with some well intentioned guidance from my parents, I understood that sometimes people who dress as women were born male and vice versa.
My adaptable, little mind easily accepted that there were more than just two genders and no, my world did not end…in fact, it expanded. Because of Lupé, I had so much more choice when it came time to determine my own sexual identity.
Read more: academy awards, Albert Nobbs, Faces Of Change, Glenn Close, human rights, Kemal Ordek, Kiri Westby, Mr. Sadullah Ergin, Pink Life, transgender, Transrights, turkey, Turkish Ministry of Justice, urgent action fund for women's human rights
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