This week, the Turkish government launched yet another attack on gay rights
It can be tempting to believe lesbian and gay equality is widespread and accepted. But when a huge platform such as Netflix is forced to scrap an entire series because it includes a gay storyline, it is time to question that belief.
The Turkish series, ‘If Only’ was halted on the eve of filing because Turkish authorities refused the producers a filming licence when it came to light that one of the five central characters is a gay man. The ‘If Only’ screenwriter, Ece Yorenc, described the decision as “very frightening for the future.”
Government opposition to lesbian and gay rights in Turkey has grown in recent years. The Istanbul Pride march has been banned for five years in a row. Which just goes to show how influential political pressure is when it comes to the arts.
The pressure from the Turkish government on Netflix is merely a reflection of real life for lesbians and gay men living under the Erdoğan administration, known for its authoritarian nationalism. The fundamental human rights violations being faced by gay men and lesbians in Turkey include religious and state-sanctioned laws, homophobic violence, and systematic breaches of rights in regard to employment, housing, family life, education and health care.
But anti-LGBT bigotry is also rife in democratic, progressive countries. And this is reflected on our screens.
From The Killing of Sister George to women’s prison dramas, lesbians do not tend to be everyday characters on mainstream TV. This all changed with the film The Kids Are Alright, because for the first time, Hollywood had released a movie that wasn’t about lesbianism, but rather the trials and tribulations of love and of family relationships. But such on-screen portrayals are still surprisingly rare.
The Gay Liberation Movement is 50 years old, but the situation in Turkey right now shows how precarious those hard-won rights are. As with Poland, and some US states, our rights are being rolled back. The Netflix debacle may be seen by many as a conservative government balking at the idea of any positive representation of gay people, but it’s much more widespread than that. The way that we respond to lesbian and gay rights is a good indication of how open a society is.
We still have a lot of work to do before young lesbians and gay men can enjoy seeing themselves reflected back on a TV screen in countries that treat them as inferior and even dangerous.