My Candidacy for the Head of District

Belgin Çelik

Untill a few months ago, I had never thought of being a candidate for the 2009 local elections. I was working on my reporting about the violation of human rights of LGBT individuals within Lambdaistanbul LGBT Solidarity Association (Lambdaistanbul LGBTT Dayanışma Derneği, Lambda). Then, some women friends whose work I myself closely follow from Amargi Women’s Cooperative (Amargi Kadın Kooperatifi) located in the same district with Lambdaistanbul Culture Center asked me, “Belgin, would you ever think of being a candidate for head of this district?” Although firstly rejecting, I then decided to be a candidate for Katip Mustafa Çelebi District after having thought of it calmly at home in the evening. I was sure of myself to be worthy of this position having worked on human rights for years and having experienced and witnessed all difficulties in Beyoğlu as a transsexual woman.

Of course, there were many other reasons for my decision. The new head of the district appointed by the governer as a result of the elected older one’s death was a transphobic, misognynist person who made even the houses outside of his district raided. We made a lot of reporting on the events took place when he made the girls’ houses raided (You can find this work in 2007 LGBT Human Rights Violation Report). Moreover, I myself went for a meeting with him in order to ask how on earth he had the authority to make those houses raided. He answered me that the state gave him the authority and he helped the police in this issue. In addition to it, there were very improper sentences he uttered about Mor Çatı women’s shelter (Mor Çatı Kadın Sığınağı) located within the same district. When I thought of all of these, I decided that it was high time someone stopped him.
Besides, I had been living in this district for years; I knew people and their problems. That the head of the district is a very close position to the people living there seemed attractive to me. People cannot always have contact with a mayor or with a member of the parliament; however, the head of the district is someone whom they can go and share their problems anytime. Thus, it is a very significant position according to me. I also noticed that I could provide a bridge between the people of the district and the LGBT and feminist movements since we have within our district Amargi Women’s Cooperative, Socialist Feminist Collective, Mor Çatı Women’s Shelter, and Lambdaistanbul Culture Cenre. As I thought of all these, I said, “Why not?” and added, “On the contraray, it would be nice…”

I dreamed of a district where we all would decide what to do together emphasizing the importance of participation in local politics. In short, I wanted not only the votes but also the opinions and the participation of the people of the district. What is most important is that many people from various groups live in the district together: from transsexuals to feminists, from Romans to Jews, from Muslims to Christians, etc. Without tolerating any discrimination, my primary aim was to provide an atmosphere for all groups within the society to work collectively.

Firstly, we made an election team of 6-7 people. We were very few but worked hard. I will never be able to pay in any way back to my team friends. We formed a counsil of elders mostly from women who knew the district well. After that, we determined the problems of the district by interviewing people within. All together we talked about what kind of solutions we can generate for these problems. We prepared our leaflets, bills and made them printed. And I should add that of course we had some troubles about that owing to our inexperience about what/how to do in my candidacy process. For instance, although our first bill seemed pretty well, we could only realize after seeing the other bills hung on the streets that ours was a bit unseen among them. After this, we immediately designed some new bills and embellished the streets of the district with them, also being careful about not polluting the environment.

During the campaign, we visited many houses and had conversations with the people of the district. Furthermore, we made a district festival in which we listened to music from the musicians of the district, our children played with the clowns, and all together we cooked and ate. I got great support from the people of the district, from my friends, family, and everybody.

Especially women accepted my candidacy with great joy. During our visits to the houses, the first sentence of most women was, “You are a woman candidate, of course my vote would go to you!” One day while hanging on our bills, we came accross with a group of women waiting at the school’s door for their children’s coming out. They congratulated me on being a woman candidate; emphasizing that they would always want to vote for women candidates, they started sharing with me that the husbands apply physical violence towards them and the police is not properly interested in the problem; that not being economically independent, they feel themselves submitted to this situation. Just think that we made this conversation spontaneously, so this event made me more excited about being the head of the district as a woman. I knew that were I to be selected, women would share their problems with me; I would listen to them and we would create solutions together. Also on that day, I did my best so as to support those women who were complaining about the violence their husbands apply.

I was the first woman candidate for head of our district. In the current situation, even though it is unfortunately the women who have to spend their time mostly in their houses or within the districts, no woman had ever been a candidate for this position in our district. Always the men applied for the position and they gave priority to men’s demands ignoring the women’s problems. For instance, we do not have any green area in our district but everywhere is car park. Who drives the cars: Men. But we neither have some place for women to gather or an area for children to play nor we have a day nursery for women to leave their children. We wished to change all of these with woman’s perspective and energy. Besides, we had an idea of holding a fair in our district periodically with an aim of supporting women’s gaining economical independency by valuing their labour. I speak in past tense now but let it be not understood wrongly as if we have withdrawn all the solutions we would love to improve concerning aforementioned problems since I have not been elected! We have a dream within the counsil of elders that we may form a cooperative of the district on the following days continuing to work for the sake of transforming the area.

In Turkey’s local election history, my candidacy as a transsexual woman was the first example. In such a system reminding us our citizenship in times of elections, otherwise ignoring and marginalizing us; this time I made myself visible as an individual by asking for a place in local politics. I think that we as LGBT individuals must take our place also in politics just like we act in literature, arts, media, that is to say in every area of life. Without being scared or forbearing we could reject the mono-typed costumes that are chosen for us, and could courageously wear what we want to wear depending our free will. Everyone has their own dreams and we can realize them through our minds, opinions, and creativity only if we know that we are worthy and we walk courageously. Let my candidacy be a first example provided that we will continue in this way all together with LGBT and feminist organizations within much greater solidarity.

During my candidacy process, of course I had a hope of being elected; however, I acted with such a thought: whether I will be elected or not, every single vote for me is very significant and promising for change. In the 630 populated district, I got 78 out of 380 votes used. This is a good beginning for the first try.

But here, maybe stating in the paranthesis, I want to declare a well known but partly ignored – unless experinced individually – side of the elections. It is also a contest in which all kinds of unlawfulness is accepted licit. We have witnessed many things. We had the chance of getting to know every kind of candidate: those who send the ballots attached to the election certificates, who do not take down their bills even when the propaganda bans start, who carry some voters for themselves from outside of the district, who wait just near the polls – though there is a law for candidates to keep a distance of at least 500 m to the polls on the election day – so as to give every voter a ballot secretly. Thus, these are all very very important to be always on the watch never giving up the struggle and at the same time, to take care of the votes for your supporters and to encourage them to vote by checking their names on the polling lists.

That the previous head of the district has been elected again certainly saddened me. Nevertheless, this process was a precious experience for me both to comprehend the meaning and the value of making local politics and to conceive the necessity of discussing more about talking, making politics for the area we live in. I was not elected on my first try, but who knows, the result may be different for next time. Who knows, we may have a feminist or LGBT head of the district or even a mayor one day!

Lastly, I want to make mention of all my transvestite and transsexual friends we have lost as a result of hate killings, starting from Ebru who was killed in my candidacy process. I wish that my candidacy will strenghten and encourage women, transvestites, transsexuals, homosexuals, and all the discriminated groups of society.

Hoping that our struggle will continue growing stronger …

I hereby give my thanks to Esen Ezgi Taşçıoğlu for supporting me in writing this article.

The quarter where this district is located (TN).


From Amargi- Issue 13

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