Interview with H. Metehan Ozkan: What it means to be parent, family and activist in a conservative society?

Kategorija: Conference2014 / Datum: avgust 26, 2014

MY CHILD is an independent feature documentary-in-production where parents of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) individuals in Turkey intimately share their experiences with the viewer, as they redefine what it means to be parents, family, and activists in a conservative, homophobic, and transphobic society


1. Your film “My Child”, which presents the process of outing of parents whose children are of different sexual orientation, will be screened in the Belgrade City Hall within the International LGBT Conference “The Future Belongs to Us: LGBT Rights on the Road to the European Union”. What does this mean to you?

‘My Child’ is about a very courageous and inspiring group of mothers and fathers in Turkey, who are parents of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) individuals. They have not only gone through the difficult path of accepting their children for who they are, but also have taken the next step to share their experiences with other LGBT families and the public. In this documentary the parents intimately share their experiences with the viewer, as they radically redefine what it means to be parents, family, and activists in this conservative, homophobic, and trans-phobic society.

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Photo: One World Romania

With this movie, we haven’t only target LGBT people and their families but also the society in general to fight against homophobia and transphobia. Not only in Turkey, but also in our region. Taking into account that the countries in the region have cultural similarities coming from a shared history, we believe „My Child“ has a lot to say to all participating countries from the Balkans.

2. The film talks about the traumatic experience of accepting your child’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It represents the process parents go through – from feeling ashamed, feeling hurt, to the feeling of love and final acceptance. How much impact did this film have in Turkey? Could you tell us more about LISTAG (Families of LGBTs in İstanbul)?

LİSTAG (Familes of LGBTs in Istanbul) founded in 2008, is a solidarity and support group for friends, families, and especially parents of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) individuals, actively working against homophobia, transphobia, discrimination, and hate crimes.

LİSTAG organizes weekly meetings where newcomers are introduced to the group and forthcoming activities are planned, as well as monthly dinner parties where they get together with families of LGBT individuals. LİSTAG also meets every first Thursday of each month with volunteer psychiatrists and psychologists from the Society for Sexual Education Treatment and Research (CETAD) to discuss subjects like sexual identity, sexual orientation, sexual roles and behavior, and gender. LİSTAG parents joins also “coming out” meetings at Lambda Cultural Center every third Saturday of each month.

To gain visibility in Turkey, they participate in discussions, panels and meetings in cooperation with NGOs and universities, giving interviews to the media. In addition, LİSTAG has been participating in the annual Istanbul Pride March since 2008, and has become one of the most striking groups in these marches. LİSTAG also cooperates with other parent and family organizations in the world, organizing joint meetings with AGEDO (Italy), BEFAH (Germany), FFLAG (England), and AMGYL (Spain).

Since 2008, LİSTAG has opened up an important political space within Turkish society. Acting in solidarity with LGBT individuals and their organizations, LİSTAG has intervened in the current political sphere, by releasing public statements and engaging with politicians, thus becoming a crucial component of the movement. It has also encouraged LGBT individuals, by reminding them that it is not impossible to come out to their families.

Redefining what a family is…

The most important contribution of LİSTAG to our society, has been in offering an alternative to the notion of a traditional family. LİSTAG parents, sometimes faltering, other times accepting, always making an effort, and never losing the capacity to re-discover, but most importantly always with ‘unconditional love’, have been able to question and challenge the culturally inherited traditional family codes based on kinship and territory. With reference to Judith Butler’s concept of ‘performativity’, we can define this new ‘family’ as “an intentional family, which comes to being through conscious effort.”

In every meeting and demonstration they participate in, LİSTAG parents stand by their LGBT children with the message ‘I’m on my child’s side!’ and remind us that another type of family is possible and despite the prevailing assumptions, anybody’s child or relative can be an LGBT individual.

These parents, through their children’s sexuality, have managed to openly discuss their own sexuality, as well as issues around sexuality in Turkey. They have also made great efforts to help other families whose children have recently come out, by teaching them that homosexuality, bisexuality, or transsexuality is not a physical abnormality or perversion. In this way, they have been lifesavers to countless families by reminding them that they are not alone in this world.

The film features seven parents (including two couples) of LGBT individuals and two LGBT-rights activists who make up the core of LİSTAG (‘Families of LGBT in Istanbul’)

Impact of „My Child“ in Turkey…

“My Child” has been the voice of the LGBTI movement in Turkey since the very first time it was screened in February 2013. More than 20 000 people have watched the film only at our organised screenings. We dont know how many people more accessed it through internet and DVDs. The public here has very little information on LGBT issues, so there needed be some clear information delivered to them. There are many parents who just found out their child is LGBT. It’s a shock for many parents to find out their child is LGBT. They might be scared because they were raised in a homophobic society, because of the harm that might come upon their family, or simply because they’re not informed. People are afraid of what they don’t know. Giving them that information is very important and we wanted to show that in the film.

BENİM ÇOCUĞUM Destek Kampanyası Fragmanı 1 – MY CHILD Fundraising Trailer 1 from Can Candan on Vimeo.

Some senators and people in power in Turkey still claim that homosexuality is a disease and can be cured. A lot of it is around ignorance! On the other hand, At the film premiere in Ankara three members of parliament from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) attended. We also organized a special screening for the Turkish deputies, attracting the attention of only five out of 550. Later on, Istanbul MP Binnaz Toprak requested a Parliamentary Research to determine the problems of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people, their reasons and solution offers. Although this request was rejected by the votes of the governing part, LGBT issues were discussed for the first time at the General Assembly of the Turkish Parliament and two deputies who have spoken in favour of the request invited all the other deputies to watch „My Child“ to learn more about the LGBT issues.

3. This year, a PFLAG group was formed in Serbia. Do you see any commonalities between Turkey and Serbia when it comes to the rights of LGBT persons?

I see many common issues between Serbian and Turkish cultures. The impact of religion and the value of family play an important role in the national identities of the people. I believe legislative changes can only protect a legal coverage but we can not really make a positive change in our societies unless we start a grass-root level activity. LISTAG parent in „My Child“ redefine what it means to be parents, family, and activists in a conservative, homophobic, and transphobic society. We show people who are against LGBT rights on the basis of protecting the traditinal family that „another family“ is also possible…

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