Gay, bisexual and transgender Turks face widespread discrimination and homophobia, often suffering beatings by the police which leave them too frightened to report hate crimes, Amnesty International said in a report.
The rights group urged Turkey’s new government to draw up laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and to punish perpetrators of homophobic attacks.
The report comes ahead of the annual gay pride march in Istanbul on Sunday, June 26.
Local gay rights associations say 16 people were murdered in Turkey last year over their perceived sexual orientation, and violence is routine. Transgender women, who often have no other option but to work as prostitutes, are particularly threatened.
A survey of 104 transgender women by Turkish gay rights group Lambda Istanbul found 89 percent said they had experienced physical violence during police detention.
Amnesty said comments by government officials in Turkey, a majority Muslim country which aspires to join the European Union, had encouraged homophobia.
Aliye Kavaf, a Turkish minister of state for women and family affairs, said in 2010: “I believe homosexuality is a biological disorder, an illness and should be treated.”
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which grew out of a banned Islamist movement and has a socially conservative ethos, has governed Turkey since 2002.
The party won almost 50 percent of the vote in an election on June 12, and has vowed to rewrite the constitution, the legacy of military rule in the early eighties.
“It is the responsibility of all the parties in the parliament to ensure that any new constitutional settlement in Turkey outlaws discrimination on grounds of sexuality or gender identity,” said Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher.
Turkey offers more liberty to homosexuals than other Muslim countries, while discrimination and prejudice is also rife in European countries, particularly Russia or the Balkan states.
Turkish law has never criminalized homosexuality or required a higher age of consent for same sex couples. In nearly all Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa by contrast consensual homosexual relations are banned, although the degree of enforcement varies.
But the report details cases in Turkey of individuals subjected to police brutality, discrimination and violence at the hands of family members, or dismissed when they seek help.
In 2008 an openly gay man was shot dead outside his house in what is believed to have been an honor killing by his family. Prior to his death, the man had complained to police and asked for protection but officials never investigated his complaint.
Gay men also suffer discrimination within the armed forces. Military service is compulsory for all Turkish men aged between 18 to 40. They may be exempted, however, on the grounds that their sexual orientation constitutes a “psychosexual disorder.”
When asked for proof of their sexuality, gay men are often subjected to humiliating physical examinations or must supply photos of themselves engaged in gay sex.