Turkey’s Alevis to open their houses of worship to LGBTQ funerals

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5/20/22

The mood at an ordinary symposium organized by various civic groups in mid-May suddenly took a joyous and emotional turn for Turkey’s LGBTQ individuals after a groundbreaking announcement by a prominent leader of the country’s Alevi community, which represents a distinct and often stigmatized branch in Islam. The surprising announcement came on May 13 at the symposium organized by Alevi organizations in Izmir, with the participation of various civic groups, including representatives of Turkey’s LGBTQ community. Ercan Gecmez, the head of the Haci Bektas Veli Culture Foundation, one of the main Alevi organizations in Turkey, announced that Cemevis — Alevi houses of worship — would begin to offer funeral services to LGBTQ individuals to help them bid their final farewells to loved ones without facing discrimination. “We have a surprise announcement,” Gecmez told the participants. “The doors of the Cemevis are wide open to the LGBT+i individuals,” The announcement marked a first in Sunni Muslim-majority Turkey, where homosexuality and transsexuality remain taboo and LGBTQ individuals suffer from discriminatory practices or discourse even in the country’s most pluralistic circles. Yildiz Tar, editor in chief of the online news portal of the Kaos GL, a major Turkish gay rights organization, had just taken to the speaker podium to deliver a speech when Ercan asked permission to speak to make the announcement. The crowd broke into applause at the announcement, Tar — whose pronouns are they/them — observed. The announcement was “very surprising” and “pleasing,” they added. Gecmez explained to Al-Monitor that their doors would be open to LGBTQ individuals regardless of their religious beliefs. “For Alevis, we will ensure a burial with Alevi religious rituals. If they don’t want any religious rituals, then they can [organize their funerals] however they wish. Our places are theirs,” he said. The move was decided among three major Alevi organizations before the symposium and was announced as a “joint decision.” “We listened to the heartbreaking things that LGBT+i individuals suffer during their funerals. It was impossible for us to remain indifferent to these,” Gecmez said. The decision signifies more than a symbolic milestone, aiming to save LGBTQ and particularly transgender individuals from most of the discriminative practices throughout funerals.

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