Turkish Parliamentary Candidate Too Open About His Sexuality?

Published: 3 June 2015

Country: Turkey

By Adil Yilmaz

Turkish_MP_CandidateTurkish media outlets supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s conservative party AKP did not hold back their homophobia when reporting on Turkey’s first openly gay general elections candidate Barış Sulu. The LGBT rights activist standing for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in the city of Eskisehir was subject to a public smear campaign led by government-friendly media, aimed to discredit Sulu by exposing his personal life.

Haber 10 and Yeni Akit published a series of personal photos of Sulu and his partner to ‘expose his immoral and indecent lifestyle’. These media outlets described the photos as ‘inappropriate’ and ‘scandalous’, as the couple did not try to hide their relationship. Although the photos were far from displaying explicit content, even an innocent kiss appeared to cause outrage among some right-wing media which considered it necessary to blur out the entire photo to protect their readers from being exposed to two ‘half-naked men kissing’.

This not only constructed kissing between a gay couple as a shameful act that needed censorship, but also simultaneously overly sexualised them and fed into homophobic discourses on gay sexuality that reify notions of ‘sexually insatiable’ and ‘perverted’ gay men.

Sabah TV’s news report on Sulu’s candidacy also put a strong emphasis on his sexuality and the relationship with his partner. The reporter repeatedly stressed that Sulu does not ‘hide his relationship’ and ‘is overly comfortable sharing photos with his boyfriend’, implying that HDP is represented by candidates that have no shame admitting and living their homosexuality, a fact that seems rather shocking and inconceivable to the news agency.

Sulu’s openness regarding his sexuality and his gay relationship does not fit in the Turkish mainstream narrative of homosexuality as something to be ashamed of and be quite about. In fact, his confidence is perceived as an act of resistance that openly challenges Turkish society’s homophobia and dares to voice concrete political demands for LGBT equality. Right-wing media outlet Sabah construed Sulu’s activism as a provocation, blaming him for ‘pushing an LGBT agenda’ and ‘forcing his life choices’ upon the common people instead of focusing on the upcoming election. In this context, Sabah did not miss the opportunity to mention Sulu’s wish to marry his partner as soon as gay marriage is legalised in Turkey.  This way, Sabah constructed Sulu as a manipulative politician who wants to use the Turkish people for his own personal gain, only standing as an election candidate to legalise gay marriage and wed his partner.

Right-wing media’s attempts to discredit Sulu as a politician were opposed by Turkish LGBT organisations KaosGL and Pembe Hayat, which published articles condemning the discriminatory media attention around Sulu and expressing their solidarity with him.

In contrast to the homophobic propaganda by certain right-wing media outlets, IMC TV gave Sulu the chance to elaborate on his political goals in an interview. Sulu was given a platform to advocate his political goals of making LGBT lives visible, tackling the binary gender regime in Turkey, and fighting homophobia and transphobia in the educational system.  IMC TV managed to provide non-biased and responsible media coverage, as the channel put a focus on political contents instead of exploiting Sulu’s personal life to impose and reinforce anti-LGBT sentiments.