Perceptions of LGBT, polarisation and change

Thousands have gathered last Sunday, 18 September, in Istanbul to demonstrate against LGBT under the banner of conservative islamist organizations.

The demonstration adopted the main narrative of the pro-government media and of government figures according to which the LGBT community is undermining the traditional values of Turkey, the Turkish family and the Turkish nation.

However, according to different polls, the perceptions of homosexuality are changing in Turkey. Not only over time but mainly according to political, ideological and sociological background and also to age.

The effects of the ongoing deep political polarization are reflected also on the way people see homosexuality and the LGBT community.

According to a survey conducted by İstanbul Sebahattin Zaim Üniversitesi ve İstanbul Aile Vakfı and published in January 2022, 36,6% of the respondents said that homosexuality is a perversion that should be banned by the state and 33,5% said that homosexuality is a sickness that needs treatment (https://www.haksozhaber.net/anketlere-gore-lgbt-sapkinlik-olarak-goruluyor-149878h.htm).

Nevertheless, high as they are, these rates are averages and averages can always be misleading. Underneath them, perceptions seem to be more differentiated and changing. 

It is noteworthy that these rates weaken in the ages of 18-24, amongst which 22,1% say that homosexuality (LGBT) is a perversion and has to be forbidden by the state and 21,5% that it is a sickness in need of therapy while these rates increase considerably with age.

What is more important is that amongst this age range, 37,8% believes that homosexuality is not a sickness but a choice that has to be respected. The younger generations clearly think differently concerning homosexuality than the older ones.

Amongst the older generations, this perception is getting weaker: In the age range 25-34 it is only 19% and continues to weaken until it reaches 8,2% amongst those of 54 years old and older. 

However, the rates of those who believe that homosexuality is a choice and that it has to be protected from the law is considerably weak amongst all ages, showing that (some) individual choices are not yet seen as in need of legal protection from the state. 

Polarization between political views –and mainly between “kemalists” and “islamists”- has a very clear effect on the perceptions of homosexuality.

While  47,4% of those identified as kemalists believe that homosexuality is a natural state, only 16% of those identified as islamists believe the same. This rate is even lower amongst those who identify as center rightists, 12,1%, and conservatives, 11,6%. Those who identify as nationalists are at 23,2% while the highest rate is amongst those who identify as liberals, 51,7%. Those who identify as leftists are at 44,7%, lower than the kemalists, and the democrats are at 33,5%.

These rates are revealing of the complexity of the Turkish political spectrum and the different perceptions of various situations and ideas.

What is clear though, is that the groups of kemalists, leftists, liberals and democrats, which can be considered as belonging to the wider opposition in Turkey, clearly have a less intolerant perception of homosexuality and LGBT than the groups of islamists, nationalists, conservatives and center rightists, roughly composing the supporters of the current government.

These polarized differences can also suggest that the perceptions of homosexuality and LGBT are indeed in a dynamic of change in Turkey. 

Back in 2015, the Dutch Social and Cultural Planning Office, in a worldwide survey on the perceptions of homosexuals, recorded that 85% of the Turks said that they did not want a homosexual as a neighbor (https://www.bbc.com/turkce/haberler/2015/05/150511_turkiye_escinsellik).

In 2020, a survey on perceptions on homosexuality in Turkey by Turkiyeraporu, recorded that 55,6% of the respondents said that they would feel uncomfortable if they knew that a neighbor was homosexual (https://turkiyeraporu.com/arastirma/turk-toplumunun-gozunde-escinsellik-1823/).

Undoubtedly, comparing two different surveys cannot lead to precise conclusions but a certain trend may emerge: That between 2015 and 2020 Turks seem to be a bit less intolerant towards homosexuals.

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