A political controversy has erupted in Turkey after a minister described homosexuality as a "disease" that can and should be cured. The comment provoked a strong reaction from the country's gay and lesbian movement.
Turkey's gay community is growing more vocal
Turkey's Islamic-rooted government has frequently been criticized in the past by human rights groups over its treatment of the country's gay community. But now a Turkish gay rights group has asked prosecutors to charge Family Affairs Minister, Aliye Selma Kavaf, for what they called her derogatory comments about homosexuality.
The complaint, by the LAMBDA Association, charges that Kavaf's remarks in a newspaper interview were "an insult, incitement to crime and incitement to enmity and hate" - crimes which, in Turkey, are punishable by up to five years in jail. Kavaf had said that she believed homosexuality was a "biological disorder, a disease."
"I think it should be treated," she was quoted as saying.
Kavaf "should apologize to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transvestites and transsexuals in this country for her discriminatory statements that turn homosexuals into a target," said Ruzgar Gokce, a LAMBDA member, outside the Istanbul courthouse where the group filed its complaint.
"The only person who is sick, is the minister," chanted dozens of gays and lesbians in front of the courthouse.
Firat Soyle, a lawyer for LAMBDA, said the complaint was only symbolic since the minister enjoyed parliamentary immunity and would not face prosecution.
Turkish society is changing
However, the protest is an indication of how quickly Turkish society is changing. Until recently, the gay and lesbian community was largely invisible. But, in the last decade or so, it has become increasingly assertive. One of the organizers of the demonstration, Aykan Safaoglu, told Deutsche Welle that, while he was angered by the minister's comments, some good had come out of the controversy.
"I got really angry, but afterwards I was quite happy. Many NGOs, parties and unions made supportive statements, so it was a very good sign. Many people just don't think homosexuals are sick," Safaoglu said.
The prime minister's AK party is socially conservative
So far, the minister for women and family affairs has remained unmoved and refused to apologize. Kavaf's tough stance may be due to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refusing to reprimand her. He has avoided commenting on the controversy, perhaps because many of his supporters in his Islamic-rooted AK party are religious conservatives and sympathetic to Minister Kavaf's views.
The controversy will raise eyebrows in Brussels, where observers say there are growing questions about the sincerity of the Islamic government's commitment to implementing European Union membership requirements.
Author: Dorian Jones (gb)
Editor: Susan Houlton