Securing freedoms and rights for gays and lesbians in Turkey will help the country show how compatible it is with European values, a Dutch member of the European Parliament says. According to Marietje Schaake, the human-rights coordinator for the Liberals, a more 'human discussion' is needed about sexuality and gender identity.
Turkey needs to improve its treatment of gays and lesbians in the country in order to show movement toward “more European values and standards,” a Dutch member of the European Parliament said Monday.
Fundamental freedoms – whether to practice one’s religion or express one’s sexual identity – are the core of European Union values, according to Marietje Schaake, the human-rights coordinator for the Liberals, the third-largest group in the European Parliament. “These freedoms should be understood by people as something that everybody has, and everybody has a different identity that they should be able to express within the limits of the law,” Schaake told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview. “For women and for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] people, guarantees under the law to be able to live safely and freely are very necessary.” Turkey does not have a good record on dealing with gay and lesbian organizations, many of which fear being shut down. The government is planning to amend relevant legislation to prevent discrimination as part of the country’s EU accession process, a change many observers say would show how compatible Turkey is with European values. Equal treatment and equal rights for LGBT people is an important agenda item for the Liberal Group and Schaake’s political party, which is called D66, the Dutch deputy said. She said her group is active around the world in making sure the rights of gays and lesbians are safeguarded. Schaake also criticized recent remarks by Selma Aliye Kavaf, the Turkish state minister for women and family affairs, saying they raise serious concerns about Turkey’s progress on the issue. Kavaf prompted protests in Turkey and abroad when she said in a March interview that she believes “homosexuality is a biological disorder, a disease” that “needs to be treated.” Such statements by Turkish government officials are not helpful and not in compliance with European standards, the Dutch deputy said. “I think to make a transition toward more European values and standards the political leadership in Turkey should not make these statements because they are actually fostering discrimination,” Schaake told the Daily News. “They could actually inspire people to treat LGBT people differently because it seems as if the leadership approves of seeing these people as different and as outsiders.” She said such controversial remarks might stem from a lack of knowledge. “Maybe information can help Turkey’s leadership because there are also diverse voices in the political sphere,” Schaake said. “Hopefully by bringing people together, by explaining it is not a disease, we can make this a more human discussion.” Asked if she had any plan to meet Kavaf, the Dutch deputy said: “Not specifically, but I’d be happy to meet with her.” Challenges lie before freedoms in Turkey A Dutch member of the European Parliament has expressed doubts over polarization in Turkey between Islamists and Kemalists, but said she did not believe in such a division. “What we see now in Turkey is that it is becoming very polarized; there is really a tendency to label people as belonging to one side or another: Kemalists vs. Islamists. We hear all these group terms and I don’t believe in this division in Turkey,” said Marietje Schaake, the human-rights coordinator for the Liberal group in the European Parliament. “I believe in a great diversity in Turkey and I think we should have an open debate that does not brand people immediately but that invites people to talk about what they want Turkey to look like and what their opinion is,” she said. On the topic of media freedom, Schaake said she heard many journalists saying they don’t really feel free to express themselves completely and have fears of being branded as being in one camp or the other. “I think this is very dangerous. These are not issues that can be dealt with in the law but that should be dealt with between people,” she said. “The law should allow for the greatest freedom of expression.”