In the 1980s and 1990s, Turkish police routinely raided gay bars, detained transvestites, and banned gay conferences and festivals.
Next month, in a sign of how the state has loosened up, gay activists will hold forums on several university campuses to discuss their rights ~~~
Gay men and lesbians in Turkey say they lack legal protections and face social stigma in a Muslim nation with a secular tradition of government that has implemented broad reforms in its bid to join the European Union ~~~For the most part, they face less pressure than in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim ~~~
However, Turkey's gay men and lesbians are jostling for more rights in a crowded field.
"There are so many problems in Turkey," Ali Erol, a member of the gay rights group Kaos GL, said ~~~ "It looks as though gay rights are put down below in the list of things to be taken care of."
In March, the chief editor of the group's magazine, also named Kaos GL, was acquitted of charges that he had illegally published pornography in a July 2006 issue after a judge noted that copies were seized before they were put on sale. ~~~
The issue that got the magazine in trouble showed two images of men in explicit sexual poses, beside an article that editors described as an analysis of issues relating to pornography. ~~~
In recent years, Turkey reworked its penal code to bring it into line with European standards. The new version does not specifically ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, although the issue was discussed at the draft stage.
Justice Ministry officials had said that laws barring discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and political views were enough to protect its citizens.
He noted that even some Turks who describe themselves as liberals say, "'We don't want to protect these people.'"~~~
Some gays, notably poet Murathan Mungan and the late singer Zeki Muren, achieved celebrity status and openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. ~~~
Yet, for many, being gay is an exercise in deception. One gay man who spoke on condition of anonymity said he was distraught years ago because high school classmates kept calling him "ibne," a derogatory word for gay in Turkish.
The man, now a university student, said he avoids physical contact with his boyfriend ~~~
Unable to find regular jobs, many transvestites and transsexuals work as prostitutes, an often dangerous profession that has led to the murders of some at the hands of clients.
Some deadly hate crimes were never publicized because police did not reveal the sexual orientation of the victims, according to gay activists. In some cases, they said, gays who were harassed or physically harmed because of their orientation did not report the incident or go to court because they wanted to avoid scrutiny.
''We want to share and learn the experiences of all gays and lesbians who struggle against homophobia in the Middle East, Balkans, Europe and the other parts of the world,'' the group said in a statement. It has invited international speakers, including journalists and European lawmakers who will discuss gay issues in their own countries.
The Kaos GL magazine paid tribute to Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist who was allegedly slain by extremist nationalists in January, by printing a somber image of him on the back cover of a recent issue.
"Those people who murdered Hrant Dink do not like us either," Erol said. ~~~Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.