From a Kurd to Kurds: We Must Stand Firm on LGBT Rights
Photo by Bezav Mahmod (www.bezavmahmod.com)
I am sitting on a couch in a small dorm room, flicking through the pages of the latest issue of Vogue Magazine. My friend is pouring me Kurdish tea that he just made in the kitchen he shares with other university students. Worried that my tea is bitter, he dilutes it with more water. He is the perfect host, a typical Kurd known for his hospitality. His name is Firat Jacob Tas and he has agreed to talk to me about being Kurdish and gay.
“I always knew I was homosexual, I always knew … I would rather say I always knew I was different, I just did not know why I was different.”
“As I grew up, I understood I was different with regards to my sexuality.”
“It was in seventh grade, I must have been 13 years old. I was on a school trip and I overheard some boys who were talking about adult movies. They mentioned gay porn, you know homosexual porn, and I thought, oh, that interests me.”
“That is when it hit me. I heard the word ‘gay’ combined with the sexual part and it suddenly made sense to me. I then went on to look into what the word meant, I read whatever I could get my hands on and it struck me: this was who I was. That is when I understood I was homosexual.”
“My initial thought was I did not want to be gay. At that time I did not want to be it. I did not want to be more different than I already was and now I could add being homosexual which was dirty, filthy and just gross.”
“I prayed to every god, I just wanted this curse gone. I felt it was a curse or a test from a higher power.”
“I came to accept it with time. It was a long process. Whenever I stood in front of the mirror and looked into it, I did not like what I saw. I found it gross and I felt bad about myself. I was hiding this side of myself and I did not tell anyone. I was afraid they would find out that I was homosexual or “feminine” as associated to being homosexual. I was afraid of people’s reactions. So I kept it hidden.”
“Years later, I took that struggle up with myself. I was 19 and I decided it was time that I accepted myself.”
“I told a near friend the last year of high school. Then I told my friends, my sister, my cousins. Half a year ago, I told my parents.”
Naila: And how did they react to it?
“I told my father first. The time leading up to it was the hardest I have ever been through. But I wanted to do it. I did not feel pressured. I told him and I put forward all my arguments and he did the same. At the end of the conversation, I asked him in Kurdish: Dad, do you accept me? And he replied: How can I not accept you? You are my son.”
Naila: Which role do you think the Kurdish LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community could play for the Kurdish struggle for freedom and identity?
“I believe that the LGBT community in the Kurdish struggle could give a platform to tear down the walls of the taboo subjects in our Kurdish community. It could give an understanding of the differences, not only by religion and political differences but also of sexual orientation.”
Naila: Why is there not the same support for LGBT rights within the Kurdish freedom fight as there is for women’s rights?
“Then I have to quote Abdullah Öcalan. He has said that a movement without women is not a movement. When you see the women at the front, when they are included, then you have a movement that will succeed.”
“PKK had Sakine Cansiz. We must not forget the women who paved the way [for women’s rights]. The Kurdish community’s societal structure has been revolutionized with regards to the sexes but the sexual orientation or just sexuality is not mentioned anywhere.”
Naila: Why is it not?
“There is a need for it. But it is only recently that the subject has been brought up. Sebahat Tuncel [Kurdish MP in Turkish parliament for pro-Kurdish party HDP] is an advocate for LGBT rights, not just for Kurds but also in general. She speaks openly about it but when she goes to the Kurdish regions, she does not bring it up. That is because it is still considered shameful, it is still taboo.”
“It was like in the 80’s, when PKK, whose ideology I agree with, had meetings: the local women did not attend those meetings, as the male members of their family did not allow them because there was no room for them.”
“This is the same [with regards to putting LGBT rights on the agenda]. We must create the room. We have seen during the local elections that there are mayors from pro-Kurdish parties who give posts to people from the LGBT community.”
Naila: Why does the Kurdish movement not have an outspoken spokesperson for LGBT rights who is also LGBT?
“It would be nice to have a role model that one could look up to, who could say, ‘Here I am, this is what we need.’ The Kurdish movement lacks someone who can put LGBT rights on the agenda. We lack a spokesperson because it is still taboo.”
Naila: Do you think it is going to change?
“As the situation is right now, no, but in a social aspect, yes. We see more and more LGBT people with Kurdish background come forward instead of living a double life.”
“It is not a disease; it is not something they choose to be. People do not choose to be lesbian; they do not choose to be homosexual. You are born like this.”
“As soon as the Kurdish people realise and accept that this is something you are born as, just as they are born heterosexual, and accept the person as an equal human being, then we will not have a problem.”
“I do not think that there is a need for a separate movement within the Kurdish movement but it [LGBT] must be given more space.”
Naila: What do you think of the argument put forward by some Kurds that now is not the time to deal with Kurdish LGBT rights? That there are more important subjects on the Kurdish people’s agenda?
“And years ago it was not the time to deal with women’s rights. That is my answer.”
“Why do you hate something you do not know? If your brother is not homosexual, then your friend is. If your sister is not homosexual, then your neighbor is.”
“We have to discuss the issue now. The problem is people do not see it necessary to discuss it. But we need to break down this attitude. We can do it by talking about it, by sharing information about it. Talk to your family about it, maybe one of them is homosexual. I am not saying talk about sex; I am saying talk about identity.”
“Homosexuality is part of an identity. My message is that we stand firm on who we are. The way we as Kurds are standing firm on independence and democracy is the way we must stand firm on identity and LGBT rights.”