Turkish gays and lesbians delight in German freedom

9th December 2004, Comments 0 comments

Many gays and lesbians facing discrimination in Turkey have found a safer haven in Germany, with social recognition and benefits to boot, as Nick Woods reports.

Turkey has been hitting the front pages recently over the Muslim nation’s possible entry into the EU, along with a growing debate in Germany about Islam and the integration of foreigners.

Political parties have been jostling to debate the potential assimilation, with Turkey’s human rights record often highlighted as the key barrier.

One social group who will be look eagerly towards integration - a concrete sign of Turkey continuing on a more progressive path – will be gay Turks who have suffered discrimination at home.

Many homosexuals from Turkey have come to live in Germany - and particularly Berlin - where a freer life alongside social recognition is on offer.

A single gay man or woman from Turkey, or indeed anyone from anywhere outside the EU, requires a visa to enter Germany.

The three-month stay can of course be repeated but you have to return home first and the red tape may take weeks to organise.

*quote1*In Germany in 2002 however the 'Lebenspartnerschaftgesetz' recognised same sex couples that register with local civil authorities.

It means that non-EU nationals ‘partnered’ with a native receive a residency permit, a work permit, and some social benefits.

The registration procedure only takes about three months, and is definitely a golden apple for those seeking sexual freedom.

But for some gay Turks who already enjoy citizenship – possibly a result of their parents arriving in the 1960s as Gastarbeiter - the fight is still on for greater parity with married couples.

From 1 January 2005, the partnership law will be strengthened to grant pension rights, the right to half a deceased’s property and the possibility for one partner to adopt the other’s child.

The big question is whether the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, with its conservative majority, will go even further next year and grant tax breaks already open to married couples.

These fiscal benefits, to be embodied in a new law ('Gesetz'), would allow same sex couples to declare a joint income and benefit from family tax rates.

The same question concerns inheritance tax where married couples again have the upper hand.

One 37-year-old Turk who arrived with his parents in southern Germany from a town near Ankara more than 30 years ago says the partnership agreement is still too weak for him and his German boyfriend to consider it.

Bali Saygili, one of the founders of the seminal Gayhane - a gay Turkish/oriental night pumping out eastern beats once a month at the club SO 36 in Berlin's Kreuzberg district - says: "We will wait to see if the tax benefits are agreed first.

*quote2*"We are both 'selbständig' [freelance] and I already have German Staatsbürgerschaft status, so there is no real benefit for us unless the joint income declaration, as with married couples, is agreed."

But the electric engineer, one of the leaders of the Berlin-based Lesben- und Schwulerverband in Deutschland (LSVD), admits that for gay and lesbians recently coming from Turkey the openness within Germany can be liberating.

He says: "Basically, homosexuality does not exist as a concept in Turkey. As far as the state is concerned it has no legal status, but it is also not illegal. Pressure is based on society and religion."

Such pressure, of course, remains within the Turkish community in Germany.

There are still stories of men and women having to remain in the closet because of social or family pressure, or others of gays and lesbians being sent home to Turkey to be forced into marriages with people of the opposite sex.

It is Bali’s job at the LSVD, to educate the community. He calls it 'Integrationspolitik'. "My work in Germany is to get all Turks to accept the German democratic system and if they want to live here then they have to take that on board," he says.

"There are also some religious organisations who accept gay life and some who don’t. But the biggest problem for me is that sex is a taboo subject full-stop, so no-one talks about it. We use poster campaigns, for example, to try and get the message across."

"We also have to look at the relationship between German and Turkish men and women. Before, it was a question of sleeping with someone different but with no normal relationship to follow. Why not? That’s discrimination. But that is now changing."

There is definitely a blossoming of Turkish gay life, with an estimated 15,000 already ‘out’, and any trip to Gayhane will confirm it.

"We have definitely made some good progress in Turkish communities in Germany, but there is still a lot to do," concludes Bali.

Bali says it is possible to live a gay life in the bigger Turkish cities like Ankara and Instanbul, but in more liberal Germany the possibilities for a fuller and freer life are undoubtedly greater.

There is however one possible cloud on the horizon, as far as the work of the LSVD is concerned.

As spokesman Alexander Zinn says; "We can’t be sure at this point whether the rise of the Islamic movement will have an influence on tolerance in Turkish groups in Germany."

December 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: German news, gay in Germany, Turkish gays in Germany

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