2013 Award Recipient
Turkish activist recipient of 2013 David Kato Vision & Voice Award
Johannesburg, 29 November 2012 – The 2013 David Kato Vision & Voice Award has been awarded to Ali Erol: a leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) activist in Turkey. The award will be announced at the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s 60th anniversary celebrations in South Africa.
The award recognizes those who strive to uphold sexual rights for LGBTI people. It is named after human rights activist David Kato, who was murdered in his home in Kampala, Uganda on 26 January 2011.
Ali Erol founded Kaos GL organization in 1994, the first of its kind in Turkey, and at a time when homosexuality was taboo and ‘coming out’ could lead to death threats. Ali Erol and Kaos GL are now at the forefront of the campaign for the reform of the Turkish constitution, pushing for a clause on non-discrimination of LGBTI people.
He said: "I made the choice to commit my life to this struggle, and since then I've remained committed to this choice despite all the threats and difficulties.
“Homophobic hate chokes our voices and blockades our lives on a global scale by imprisoning us in invisibility. Against the policies of denial, which can turn homophobia into violence, we must establish local, regional and global networks and empower each other in the fight against stigma and hatred.
“I am proud to receive the David Kato Vision and Voice Award. It will make me stronger and give me more courage to continue to fight for liberation.”
Since he began his work in LGBTI rights, Ali has had to fight against many forms of police and state pressure, including detentions, prosecution, police harassment and numerous court cases.
LGBTI people remain largely hidden in Turkey as they continue to be subjected to humiliation, exclusion, and violence. The Trans Murder Monitoring project shows that Turkey has by far the most reported murders of trans people in Europe, with 29 reported since January 2008.
Turkey is led by the religious conservative JDP government. In 2010, Turkey’s minister for women, Selma Aliye Kavaf, triggered public debate and attracted criticism after declaring in a popular daily newspaper she believed homosexuality to be a ‘biological disorder’ that requires treatment. Kaos GL filed a criminal complaint against the minister for inciting hatred and hostility.
David’s mother, Lydia Mulumba, will present the award to Ali along with Maurice Tomlinson, the inaugural recipient of the award.
“Although I lost a son, I am grateful that David’s work carries on and that his name lives on within this award. I am also happy for the friendship I continue to receive from all those who knew David.”
Kevin Osborne, Senior HIV Adviser at IPPF, said: “This year’s call for nominations generated interest from over 120 countries. The overwhelming number of nominations received clearly indicates that LGBTI people are standing up for their sexual rights worldwide.”
Remarks by Ali Erol upon receiving the 2013 David Kato Vision & Voice Award
(translated from Turkish)
Johannesburg, 29 November 2012 – "Many thanks to the Steering Committee of the David Kato Vision & Voice Award for selecting me as its second recipient.
It has been 20 full years since I met my lifelong companion, my fellow, my only love and my family Ali Özbaş in Ankara, at a park corner.
Twenty years ago when we said “Not only heterosexuals, but we also live in this society!”, we merely claimed our own lives and expanded a free space for ourselves. In Turkey, being gay was supposedly not a crime but the state ideology tried to treat gays as “criminals without a crime”.
Founded on the denial of diversity, Turkish society was completely banning gays from life, stigmatizing them as “immoral”, “sick” and “perverted”. LGBT people were imprisoned to dark cruising parks and a few abandoned baths, and did not have any means to express themselves. The heterosexist state ideology seized their self-respect and pride.
LGBT people had no one to depend on, look up to, or struggle together with, even within their own families or in their social and political circles. In the middle of such loneliness, gays had a “Nothing’s ever going to change in this society!” attitude, and would not even claim their discreet lives.
We needed to do something. LGBT people who were never respected, never listened to by their families, teachers or friends, started to speak up. Our house turned into a meeting place and our conversations went on for weeks.
And then the question came up: “OK, we got together and shared our problems, but what next?” We then said that we must take care of our own problems. Words fly away, writings remain… So we started to write down our own sentences, stories and experiences, and published our magazine called Kaos GL, as a photocopy at the beginning. Just as society did not trust in gays, gays did not trust in one another neither! To end this bad luck, we worked very hard and published Turkey’s first gay magazine regularly every month.
As we came out and expressed ourselves, our gay beings transformed the Turkish society. During the formation of our organization, which started as informal home meetings and became Turkey’s first registered LGBT association - we tried to make connections between all different types of discrimination.
We worked hard to highlight the connections between homophobia, transphobia, sexism, nationalism, racism and militarism, and finally our struggle against homophobia and hatred went beyond the borders of Turkey and reached to LGBT people in the Balkans, Caucasia and the Middle East. It was a great pleasure and honor to see that our efforts to strengthen one another and become liberated together was also the wish of others!
But of course we are aware! Homophobic hate chokes our voices and blockades our lives on a global scale by imprisoning us in invisibility. To go against the policies of denial, which carry homophobic hate all the way to violence by monopolizing religion and politics, we must establish local, regional and global networks of solidarity and empower each other in the fight against homophobia and hate. Only such an insistent work will stop the spiral of hatred which took David away from us.
20 years ago when we made our very first steps in Ankara, we were sure of two things: Liberation of homosexuals will also free heterosexuals! And undoubtedly, if no struggle, then no freedom!
The David Kato Vision and Voice Award that I am proudly receiving will make me stronger and give me more courage in improving our struggle, and continuing our advocacy towards the liberation us all.
I dedicate this Award to the millions of silent lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex voices around the world who are confronting hatred and persecution."
Translation by Nevin Öztop and Ömer Akpınar.