‘I wanted and tried to kill myself’: What it’s like being transgender in Turkey, Europe’s trans murder epicentre

Turkey has the highest transgender murder rate in Europe. The violence transgender people face often goes unpunished as the police is reluctant to investigate these cases and to help them.

The transgender community is worried for its safety as recently re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his socially-conservative party, the AKP, have expressed anti-LGBT views and refuse to put LGBT rights on the agenda.

“I wanted and tried to kill myself so many times but didn’t die, so I thought there is life in me and I chose the name Hayat (‘life’ in Turkish). I was born again,’” says Hayat Celik.

Celik is a Turkish trans woman and activist who coordinates a monthly therapy group for trans people in Istanbul. It’s when she started going to a similar therapy group herself that she fully understood she was transgender and that she wasn’t alone.

In Turkey, female identity cards are pink, and male ones are blue. Before even knowing someone’s name or age, the first thing an ID tells you about them is their gender.

Other markers separate genders: For example military service is compulsory for men. Trans people have to acquire particular documents to be exempted. “I was born in 1980 in a small village, and besides being a man or a woman, there was nothing else. I thought no-one in the world could understand me,” explains Celik.

In a society with such thick walls between genders, it is difficult and sometimes dangerous for trans people to live openly.

In 2016, the body of transgender woman, sex worker and LGBT activist Hande Kader was found raped and mutilated in Istanbul. No suspects have been arrested and LGBT organisations accuse the police of being reluctant to investigate such cases.

The same year, Turkey was ranked as having Europe’s highest trans murder rate.

“Sometimes the police abuse trans people who come to them to report a crime,” says Emirhan Deniz Celebi, a trans man who coordinates a helpline at the LGBT association Sosyal Politikalar Cinsiyet Kimliği ve Cinsel Yönelim Derneği (Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, or SPoD).

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