Turkish gays face degrading tests to avoid army

Military doctors pressured to diagnose sexual orientations, BBC report says

March 26, 2012

Turkish honour guard soldiers salute during a service. A BBC report says gay Turks wishing to avoid military service must prove their homosexuality, often by submitting explicit photos or answering questionnaires from a health panel. (Associated Press)

Gay men in Turkey seeking exemption from the country's mandatory military service must prove their homosexuality, the BBC reports, even though many army physicians realize it's medically impossible to determine sexual orientation.

The resulting process to obtain a so-called "pink certificate" allowing gays to dodge conscription — and potentially dangerous deployments to combat Kurdish separatists — is often humiliating, the British public broadcaster says in a documentary airing Tuesday.


'They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore women's clothes or used women's perfume' —Ahmet, gay conscript in Turkey

It's common for gay men to submit explicit photographs, undergo personality tests and answer questionnaires about their sexual preferences.

Lacking any valid "diagnostic tools," a physician told the BBC World Service, potential gay draftees must prepare whatever evidence they can to convince a military health panel of their homosexuality, sometimes deemed as a "psychosexual disorder."

"They asked me if I liked football, whether I wore women's clothes or used women's perfume," said one gay conscript in his 20s.

The man, using the name Ahmet to protect his true identity, said he refused requests to show a health panel pictures of himself dressed as a woman. Instead, he offered army doctors a photo of him kissing another man.

'Face must be visible' in explicit pictures

Gokhan, also conscripted in the 1990s and using a different name, said he submitted a photo of himself having sex with a male partner. He said he had heard it was otherwise impossible to obtain a pink certificate.

''The face must be visible,'' Gokhan said, adding he worries about the possibility they could be made public. ''And the photos must show you as the passive partner.'' 

Gay-rights activists participate in the 2007 Gay Pride Parade in Istanbul, Turkey. (Murad Sezer/Associated Press)

One former army psychiatrist said doctors feel pressure from military commanders to diagnose homosexuality, "even though there really are no diagnostic tools to determine sexual orientation."

''It is medically impossible, and not at all ethical," he added.

There are no laws explicitly banning homosexuality in Turkey and thousands marched in the 2011 gay pride parade in Istanbul. Still, homosexuality is not widely tolerated and gays can still face discrimination by employers and co-workers.

Gays are considered unfit for military service as they can cause "disciplinary problems" and would require separate lodgings and washrooms, a retired commander, Armagan Kuloglu, reasoned. But homosexuals can serve as long as they keep their sexual orientations secret, he said, drawing parallels to the U.S. "Don't ask, don't tell" policy repealed last October by the Obama administration.

Homosexuals have been permitted to serve openly in the Canadian military since 1992.

Although homosexuality is not widely tolerated in Turkey due to social stigma, the possibility that straight men might feign being gay to avoid military service is a concern for the army, according to the BBC report. The news service said some Turks have expressed resentment that others have an acceptable reason to be barred from dangerous deployment or combat with Kurdish rebels.   

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