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Prominent Turkish LGBT activist released after arrest

by Heather Cassell

Ali Erol, an award-winning Turkish LGBT rights activist and founder of Kaos GL Association. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Ali Erol, an award-winning Turkish LGBT rights activist and founder of Kaos GL Association. Photo: Courtesy Facebook  

Ali Erol, an award-winning Turkish human rights activist and a founder of the Kaos GL Association, was arrested February 2 at his home in Ankara, and released February 6.

Erol was taken by authorities from the home that he shares with his partner, according to a joint news release from Kaos GL Association and OutRight Action International.

The agencies said Tuesday that while Erol was released, his case "is still under judicial review."

"Erol will be required to appear before the police periodically and is banned from leaving the country. The exact reasons surrounding his arrest and the prosecution has been kept confidential by authorities," the agencies stated.

Kaos GL is Turkey's first registered LGBT organization based in Ankara. OutRight is an international LGBT rights organization based in New York.

Its unknown why Erol was arrested, but Kaos GL reported that the organization's attorneys, who are representing Erol, stated that the activist's social media posts were included in the detention warrant.

Homosexuality isn't criminalized in Turkey. However, LGBT people are openly discriminated against and violent attacks, even by authorities, have been on the rise in recent years. Government leaders in Ankara followed Istanbul's lead in 2017, banning LGBT events indefinitely. Istanbul has banned LGBT events and been the scene of police brutality, shooting rubber bullets and arresting Pride marchers who took to the streets despite the ban for the past three years.

"OutRight calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Turkish LGBTIQ human rights activist Ali Erol," Jessica Stern, OutRight's executive director, said in the release. "He is an unjust casualty of an increasingly authoritarian government attacking democracy and curtailing the rights of Turkish citizens exercising their rights to expression and assembly. The persecution of LGBTIQ, and all, Turkish human rights defenders needs to stop now."

Since the failed coup in 2016, an estimated 50,000 dissenters, opposition leaders, human rights activists, and journalists have been heavily persecuted and arrested, according to the release. Many of the reported detentions of people cited the use of social media posts, according to a message from Kaos GL on Friday.

Yildiz Tar, media and communications coordinator for Kaos GL, called the arrest and lack of information about Erol "unlawful and worrying."

"This detention is an intervention in both freedom of expression and LGBTI rights," said Tar in the release. "We hope this mistake will be corrected."

Costa Rican presidential election rocked by same-sex marriage ruling
A same-sex marriage ruling last month turned Costa Rica's conventional presidential election campaign into a heated contest pitting two politicians, one anti-gay and one pro-gay, against each other in a runoff.

Last month, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital city, ruled on a petition submitted by pro-gay Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis in 2016. The petition was part of Solis' promise to advance LGBT rights during his presidential term.

The petition asked the court to review the implications of legalizing same-sex marriage, including adoption rights and transgender rights. The seven-member panel of judges overwhelmingly ordered Costa Rica to immediately legalize same-sex marriage and for transgender individuals to legally self-identify.

The ruling specifically stated that separate arrangements for same-sex couples was unacceptable and to remove judicial and medical barriers for people to legally transition from one gender to the other and receive proper government-issued identification.

Judge Eduardo Vio Grossi deviated from the court's decision.

The court's January 9 ruling went beyond the borders of Costa Rica. The court issued a nonbinding mandate for all 20 of the Caribbean and Latin American members of the Organization of the American States that haven't already legalized same-sex marriage and legislated for transgender individuals to self-identify to immediately implement decrees to abide by the order until laws and policies are updated.

Member states affected are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mexico City and several Mexican states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. and its Caribbean territories Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Uruguay.

Same-sex marriage is also already legal in Dutch Caribbean territories Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, and St. Martin.

Chile's outgoing president, Michelle Bachelet, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in August 2017.

Panama declared it would comply with the ruling. The country's Supreme Court ruled against a same-sex marriage case in 2017, reported the Washington Blade.

Same-sex relationships are criminalized in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Two separate cases are currently challenging the buggery laws that criminalize same-sex relationships.
Caribbean and Latin American LGBT rights activists celebrated and immediately petitioned their governments to comply with the IACHR ruling.

Latin American experts cautioned that the major legal shifts toward LGBT rights in recent years hasn't translated to social realities in the heavily religious countries where Catholicism dominates, and evangelicals are a growing presence.

The ruling also emboldened the religious right in Costa Rica and in Caribbean and Latin American countries.

The first indication of the religious furor over the court's sweeping mandate for same-sex marriage and transgender rights was conservative Pentecostal presidential candidate Fabricio Alvarado Munoz's garnering 24.9 percent of the vote in the February 4 presidential election. He led his liberal opponent, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who garnered 21.1 percent of the vote.

Since neither candidate met the 40 percent threshold, they are set for an April 1 runoff.

Voters are also electing 57 delegates that make up the Costa Rican Assembly in April.

Transgender center opens in Hong Kong
It took nearly a decade, but the Transgender Resource Center in Hong Kong announced it opened its doors.

The center has been open since December 31, 2017, however, it officially announced its opening February 3, reported the South China Morning Post.

Transgender individuals still aren't legally recognized in Hong Kong.

"It's really important to be visible in society," Joanne Leung Wing-yan, 54, founder and chairwoman of the center, told the newspaper.

"We are giving people a chance to know more about the transgender community so it doesn't really matter whether they support or disagree," she said.

Wing-yan founded the center in 2008 to raise awareness, provide counseling services, and organize social events for transgender individuals and their families.

Wing-yan works part-time as a program specialist responsible for organizing events to promote the transgender community for a U.S. legal association.

By opening the center, she hopes to help transgender people access medical and legal information more easily, she told the newspaper.

However, there's a lack of trust among Hong Kong transgender individuals. They remain reluctant to share information and resources with each other, something she's worked to overcome, especially since awareness and acceptance of the transgender community has risen within the past 10 years.

The group operated loosely until the space, run by her friend and psychiatrist Gregory Mak Kai-lok, Ph.D., became available in Whampoa, Kowloon last December.

"I'm glad to see Transgender Resources Center continue its operation in the new space," Kai-lok said on the center's website. "I hope by having a transgender community center within the community, more people would learn to understand the trans people and discard their prejudices."

The center operates on private donations and has 10 regular volunteers.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call of send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com .

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