An attempt to bring North Cyprus’ LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) community out of the closet has highlighted the homophobic attitudes still prevalent among some parts of the population.
On 1 Nov, the Queer Cyprus Association (Kuir Kıbrıs Derneği) unveiled a major outdoor advertising campaign. Colourful billboards around the country displayed the words “Mediha deyze, ben geyim” (aunt Mediha, I’m gay) and “Kamil abi, ben lezbiyanim” (uncle Kamil, I’m a lesbian).
The bold campaign immediately captured the attention of Turkish Cypriots, generating huge public debate. While most seemed favourable to the message and advertising, some people took to social media to condemn the move, claiming it was ‘provocative’ and could ‘normalise homosexuality’, which some argue is ‘sinful’, and could ‘influence children to turn gay’.
Within 48 hours, several billboards in Lefkoşa, Girne, İskele, Mağusa and Karpaz had been defaced or torn down. In addition, posters in İskele were ordered to be removed by the local council, with no information given to either the company responsible for the billboards or the Queer Cyprus Association (QCA).
The vandalism has been widely condemned by TRNC trade unions, civil society groups and members of the public, including pioneering young doctor Ülvan Özad. On a Facebook post, she asks ‘how many people have been discriminated for simply saying these sentences’, while pointing out ‘how many others’ have lived in self-denial as they don’t have the courage to say these sentences’? She ends by saying she is not a homophobe and condemns these forms of homophobic attacks.
It also prompted the QCA to release a statement, which concluded with the following lines:
“As we seek to create a future society whose diverse elements all get by living in peace, it is impossible to accept efforts to sabotage such an important step. We condemn all those individuals and organisations whose hate-motivated, homophobic-rooted behaviour leads to such physical and psychological attacks, and we want it publicly known that we will take all necessary legal action [against them].”
Laws banning homosexuality in the TRNC were lifted in 2014. Since then, any form of discrimination or hate crime against LGBTI citizens has been unlawful. However, cultural challenges remain as some sections of Turkish Cypriot society, bound by their conservative upbringing, refuse to tolerate homosexuals.
The QCA was formed in 2007 to promote the existence and equal rights of North Cyprus’ LGBTI community. They group undertakes a range of work, including hosting workshops, demonstrations and social events to engage and inform society.
Backed by the Cyprus Community Media Centre and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the QCA’s current advertising campaign is part of their long-term ‘Unspoken’ project to break the Turkish Cypriot taboo over homosexuality.