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Veil Lifts off Transgender Turkey as Trans Candidate Runs for Parliament

Veil Lifts off Transgender Turkey as Trans Candidate Runs for Parliament

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Turkey is a Muslim country where the very existence of transgender people, only now coming out of the shadows, is endangered.

"God just wants me to be me," says a trans woman named Sechil, 40, who out of fear, chose not to give the newspaper her last name, in an interview with the International Business Times.

Noting that she is a devout follower of Islam who prays five times a day and observes Ramadan, Sechil rebuffs claims that being transgender is contrary to the teachings of the prophet, Muhammad. Although being trans in many conservative Muslim countries as well as elsewhere around the world can be deadly, Sechil takes heart in the fact that a woman named Deva Ozenen is running for a seat in the Turkish Parliament.

"Having a transgender woman run for parliament is a massive achievement for the community," Sechil told IBT. "There was a point not long ago that transgender people couldn't walk down the street without getting harassed. Now there is one running for office. It is such an improvement."

According to the U.K-basedIndependent newspaper, which recently interviewed Ozenen, the woman who would be Turkey's first transgender person elected to national office is a both a target for threats and ridicule, but also a symbol of hope.

"If we are waiting for Turkish society to get ready for us, we'll wait a long time," Ozenen, 37, told the Independent. "We are going against the tide. We are trying to get our rights and we don't care if society is ready for this or not."

"Going against the tide" is an understatement. As the newspaper noted, a woman who had stopped to look at a campaign flier about Ozenen tore up the leaflet and threw it in her face when she heard the candidate's voice, a relatively deep and unfeminine voice.

But that's not the worst of it. Anytime she gives a speech, her inbox and voicemail fill up with death threats. Ozenen, who is from Izmir, is running as a candidate of the newly formed Anatolia Party. The election is scheduled for June 7th.

To be sure, Turkey's LGBT community is more visible and more vibrant than many conservative, majority-Muslim countries. However, in May, a rash of violent attacks of transgender women renewed calls for inclusion of protections for transgender people in Turkey's hate-crimes statutes.

Seven trans women in several different Turkish cities were stabbed within the first two weeks of last month, with numerous unrelated attacks happening within the space of several nights. On May 2nd, a trans woman named Gulsen was stabbed in her Sisli home by two men with a knife and skewer, friends told LGBTI News. Gulsen, who earns income through sex work, like many of Turkey's low-income trans women, had previously encountered the men as clients.

But no law exists in Turkey banning hate crimes or discrimination based on orientation or gender identity, which can make finding work next to impossible for transgender people in Turkey, and is why so many like Gulsen turn to the sex industry to make a living.

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