Hande Kader: Outcry in Turkey over transgender woman’s murder

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Plainclothes police detain LGBT rights activists as they try to gather for a parade banned by Istanbul authorities 26/06/2016Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionIstanbul authorities cracked down on attempts by gay activists to stage a parade earlier this year

The murder of Hande Kader, a transgender woman, has caused an outcry in Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul. Turkey remains conservative on LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) issues, but on Sunday activists will stage a rare protest in Istanbul, writes Rengin Arslan of BBC Turkish.

“Hande was one of the nicest people in the world. She was very calm normally but also hyperactive. She always went to the LGBTI marches. She pursued a cause that she felt right until the end.”

Davut Dengiler describes his 23-year-old flatmate, Hande Kader, whose body was found in a forest in Istanbul last week.

Ms Kader, a sex worker, was last seen entering a client’s car one night. Mr Dengiler had hoped she was still alive but he found her body in Istanbul’s morgue for unidentified persons.

“I was about to leave the morgue. I felt a sense of lightness for not having found her there. At the last minute, a doctor there said, ‘There’s also a burned body – look at that as well.’ I did. I told them identifying features. They then looked at the computer, at the report. The doctor put his hand on my back and gave his condolences. I lost myself,” he said.

He explained Ms Kader’s reaction to the deaths of other trans people: “She would go crazy when trans individuals were killed. She’d be so sad… She had been stabbed and beaten before. This didn’t happen only to Hande. It happens to all of them.”

LGBTI activists protest against violence towards trans people, but the rest of Turkish society rarely reacts.

Under the state of emergency, declared after the failed coup attempt of 15 July, restrictions on demonstrations are in place.

But for the first time, famous figures in Turkey have joined the calls to raise awareness of Ms Kader’s murder and to take part in a demonstration scheduled for Sunday evening in Istanbul.

Hande KaderImage copyrightHANDE KADER/FACEBOOK
Image captionHande Kader, 23, who went missing last week, had been detained at least once

According to data from the rights group Transgender Europe, Turkey has the highest number of trans murders in Europe.

But “there is no safe country for trans people” as the group’s 2016 report observes.

Ms Kader tried to call attention to trans murders in Turkey and the lack of justice. She was usually in the front at demonstrations.

Riot police use rubber pellets to disperse LGBT rights activists as they try to gather for a pride parade banned by Istanbul authorities 26/06/2016.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionPolice used rubber pellets to disperse LGBT activists as they tried to gather for a parade in June

But it is perhaps the images of Hande Kader that have been shared innumerable times on social media that best explain the trans woman who is still waiting to be buried due to the processes of identification, post mortem, and DNA testing.

In 2015, police had banned the annual LGBTI Pride march in Taksim Square in Istanbul. They tried to disperse the crowds, using water cannon, rubber bullets and pepper spray. But Ms Kader stood stubbornly against the police.

She reproached journalists: “You take pictures but you do not publish them. No-one is hearing our voices.”

Hande Kader’s voice was silenced finally by murder, in a way no one would want to imagine: she was burned.

She earned a living through sex work, always putting her safety at risk. Like other trans individuals forced into prostitution, she worked on the street.

She sought a way out but could not find it.

“She did not like this work,” her close friend Funda said, adding, “but who would like it, anyway?”

Violent ends

The trans individuals I spoke to nearly all have stories about how they “escaped death.”

activists kiss at the banned Istanbul Trans Pride event, 19 JuneImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionHomosexuality is not illegal in Turkey but analysts say homophobia remains widespread.

Kemal Ordek is one of them. Ordek, who uses the gender-neutral pronouns “they/their”, says they were “lucky” to survive an attack at home.

“There are very few trans individuals who die of natural causes – nearly none,” Ordek says.

“When you are pushed to sex work, it’s not possible for people to reach old age. They are killed. I don’t know how I survived. That’s the sad part.”

Ordek, a sociology graduate, earns a living mainly through sex work and is also the president of Red Umbrella, an association that defends the rights of trans sex workers.

“We are viewed not as people who can integrate into society but as the dirt of society. What grabs our attention most when we are walking on the street are the looks that see us as sexual objects,” Ordek says.

‘Turning point?’

“When I first became an activist, I would not be able to sleep thinking about the kind of news I’d get in the middle of the night,” Ordek says.

“Even now, my phone is at the highest ringtone when I sleep at night. I wait for news: someone will be stabbed, someone beaten and I’ll get called and I’ll have to go there immediately. This is a never-ending mourning and state of trauma.”

The identity reassignment process for trans individuals in Turkey is long and painful. Many don’t dare to start on it. Because of this, trans women can’t change the [gendered] colour of their IDs and can’t work in brothels where they might have more security.

Sinem Hun, a lawyer who works closely on trans identity reassignment cases, says the state “wants to see” that both trans men and trans women have undergone surgery to their genitalia to establish that the gender reassignment process has taken place physically.

At the same time, she says, sterilisation is mandatory.

“There are trans individuals who cannot change their identity for five or six years,” says Ms Hun. Very few doctors are qualified to carry out these operations, a difficult and expensive process in Turkey.

Transgender surgery and sterilisation in Europe

  • Required for gender reassignment in 24 countries, including Turkey, Russia, France, and Switzerland
  • Not required in 15 countries, including the UK, Sweden, Italy and Spain
  • Gender reassignment surgery not considered legal in Hungary, Cyprus, Moldova and Albania
  • Hungary and Albania do not recognise transgender in law

Source: Transgender Europe’s Trans Rights Europe Index

The struggle to stay alive in Turkey where trans individuals are pushed to the margins or cities, as well as the struggle to prove their existence, comes to life in a sentence that is repeated, emphasised, written at every demonstration: “Don’t be silent, shout, trans exist.”

For trans individuals, the struggles for social acceptance and to stay alive are one. Legal processes and democratic wins may determine when they will be equal citizens in Turkey and other countries, but trans, LGBTI individuals and their allies hope that Hande Kader will be a turning point in the response to trans murders.

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