Who are Turkey’s presidential contenders and where do they stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Turkey’s upcoming presidential election will see incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan battle against three challengers, including Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – labelled pro-LGBTQ+ by the Turkish president.

The other candidates are Homeland Party leader Muharrem İnce and the hard-line right-wing ATA Alliance’s Sinan Oğan.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu is thought to be the main threat to Erdoğan, with Foreign Policy reporting that he is leading in several polls.

Turkey is due to cast ballots in the presidential and parliamentary elections – held every five years – on 14 May. 

Turkey offers no laws to protect the LGBTQ+ community 

Same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Turkey throughout the history of the modern republic, which was founded in 1923. However, but are no laws protecting LGBTQ+ people from discrimination, meaning they are often subjected to harassment and abuse. 

The majority-Muslim nation remains an often-hostile place for queer people, with senior politicians, religious leaders and retailers launching attacks on the LGBTQ+ community. 

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In 2022, thousands took part in an anti-LGBTQ+ march, during which people held up signs that read “Protecting the family is a national security issue.”

What is president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights?

Since Erdoğan’s presidency began in 2014, Turkey’s human rights record has been set back by decades, according to the Human Rights Watch, and the president’s stance towards queer people is well-documented.

Most recently, during an election rally in Istanbul on Sunday (7 May), Erdoğan reinforced his anti-LGBTQ views and said his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and other parties in their alliance will “never be pro-LGBT because family is sacred to us”.

He added: “We will bury those pro-LGBT in the ballot box.”

Erdoğan accused all opposition parties of being pro-LGBT and urged young voters to steer away from them, local press agency Bianet reported.

A prior campaign saw him state: “In this nation, the foundations of the family are stable. LGBT will not emerge in this country. Stand up straight, like a man: that is how our families are.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (Getty)

In 2020, he accused LGBTQ+ people in Turkey of “sneaking up on our national and spiritual values again” and said queer people have tried to “poison young people” throughout history.

The following year, the 69-year-old leader labelled queer youth as “vandals” during an online address to AKP members, and called for people to “come out against those who displays any kind of perversion forbidden by God”. 

He added: “I invite all members of my nation to be careful and take a stand against those who exhibit all kinds of heresy that our lord has forbidden, and those who support them.” 

Erdoğan also took aim at queer allies. He said those who support “such marginal movements contrary to our faith and culture are partners in the same heresy in our eyes”.

Then, just last year, Erdoğan announced that he wanted to introduce constitutional amendments in Turkey to reverse “perverse [LGBTQ+] trends to [ensure that] family consists of the union of man and woman”.

His hateful rhetoric has led many Turkish LGBTQ+ people to live in fear.

What is opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights? 

Kılıçdaroğlu, as Erdoğan has suggested in his campaign, seems to be pro-LGBTQ+.

In contrast to the president’s authoritarian stance, Kılıçdaroğlu‘s views appear more in line with modern democratic systems.

In responding to a question about his thoughts on protections for the LGBTQ+ community and same-sex marriage, Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP chairman, wrote: “Nobody can interfere with everybody’s life.”

KaosGL reported that during a live broadcast in 2021, the 74-year-old Kılıçdaroğlu responded to the question “Does LGBTI corrupt the Turkish family structure?” with: “Not at all. Not related, why would it corrupt the family structure?”

When asked: “What do [you] perceive the LGBTI as? There are those who see LGBTI as immoral, perversion,” he answered: “You have to respect everyone’s lifestyle. I don’t make people’s lifestyles into an object of politics.

“Politics is a separate thing. Politics is finding solutions to the present problems. We have to respect everyone’s faith and identity.”

Kılıçdaroğlu Earthquake Zone
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is said to ahead in a number of polls. (Ugur Yildirim/ dia images via Getty Images)

According to the BBC, the CHP leader has said that if he wins, he will bring freedom and democracy to Turkey. 

“The youth want democracy. They don’t want the police to come to their doors early in the morning just because they tweeted,” he said, referring to the fact Turkish people can face jail for “insulting the president”. 

Although there isn’t much reporting directly on Kılıçdaroğlu’s views on the LGBTQ+ community, his party has proposed bills that support minority groups.

He has tried to achieve “reconciliation” with different segments of the public, and, last year, his party submitted a proposal to provide a legal guarantee for civil servants’ right to wear a headscarf, according Bianet.

But an LGBTQ+ activist criticised the proposal for not going far enough, saying:  “An arrangement about the headscarf is, of course, important, but he could also propose an arrangement about LGBTI+ rights and women’s rights, as well as animals’ right to life.  It could have been more inclusive.” 

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