A Turkish court has issued a ban on popular gay dating and hook-up app and website Grindr, demonstrating Turkey’s apparently conflicted stance on wider human rights issues.
For those not in the know, Grindr is a free iPhone app and website that allows gay, bisexual and “curious” men to connect online. Due to its use based on one’s location, using GPS, it has earned a reputation as a hook-up website, but its makers have always maintained that it is in fact just as useful to find friends and network.
No longer, though, for men in Turkey. It emerged last week that when attempting to access Grindr inside the country, users are confronted with a message saying:
“The decision no 2013/406 dated 26/08/2013, which is given about this website (grindr.com) within the context of protection measure, of ["Istanbul Anatolia 14th Criminal Court of Peace] has been implemented by [Telecommunications Communication Presidency].”
This block has reportedly been ordered by the 14th Criminal Court of Istanbul under the guise of it being a “protection measure.” Lawyers working within the country are unclear as to why this so-called “protection measure” has been ordered, though it is usually related to morality concerns.
Hayriye Kara, a lawyer for KAOS GL, is quoted as saying, “The court decision is not published online and so we have no access to the procuration and therefore do not yet know what was the reason for the censorship. It is most likely related to ‘general morality,’ an ambiguous term used often against trans sex workers.”
Though this might earn a shrug from many as a trivial issue, it is being seen by gay rights activists in the country as just one more example of the Turkish administration imposing its morality through the courts despite the state’s supposed secular guarantees.
“Censoring Grindr is the last step in arbitrary limitations of freedom in Turkey. Any lifestyle or identity, which does not fit to the state’s ideology, is being deprived of their rights and freedoms,” Turkish gay rights activist Omer Akpinar is quoted as saying. “The Turkish government, through Ministry of Family and Social Policies, uses the discourse on the ‘traditional heterosexual family’ increasingly as a pretext to suppress LGBT rights.”
Going beyond just the LGBT community, this move has angered wider rights groups who contend that Turkey’s Justice and Development Party is working to manipulate the state’s media to conform to its views on acceptable morality. Obviously, this kind of censorship does raise serious concerns about the welfare of Turkey’s LGBT population.
For its part, Grindr is said to be “very upset” regarding this situation, saying in a statement to Gay Star News that “Grindr was created to help facilitate the connection between gay men — especially in countries where the LGBT community is oppressed. We hope that this is only temporary and quickly gets overturned as our community should not be silenced.”
LGBT rights in Turkey is a complicated issue. In terms of legal rights and protections, LGBT citizens are not criminalized but they currently do not have specific discrimination protections under the law. Furthermore, public morality laws that have been used in the past against LGBT citizens are still occasionally cited today, as was probably the case of banning Grindr.
Gender change recognition is provided for under Turkey’s laws but access to gender realignment surgery is not subsidized and gender change care can be difficult to locate.
In terms of partnership rights, there is no legal recognition for same-sex couples. Furthermore, homosexuals can be denied access to their children and same-sex couples are unable to adopt or foster.
Turkey’s bid to join the EU has been seen as a potential catalyst for change, with LGBT constitutional protections drafted by the country’s four leading parties and waiting to be enacted. Obviously, it will very much depend on how far the country’s officials are willing to enforce those protections as to whether this represents only lip-service to change or is in fact a substantial change of course.
The banning of Grindr would seem to raise a serious red flag in that regard, but it comes at a time when the EU can still exert pressure in a meaningful way unlike, say, in the case of Russia or Lithuania, and so a positive outcome is not beyond the realm of possibility.
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