Social Policy Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (Sosyal Politika, Cinsiyet Kimliği ve Cinsel Yönelim Çalışmaları Derneği-SPoD) received a core grant from our Gender Equality Fund in 2021, to ensure the coordination of its financial and administrative activities, while working on improving LGBTI+s’ access to social services.
Read below our interview with SPoD:
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected civil society organisations’ activities. Can you tell us about the impact of the pandemic on your field of work, target audience and organisation?
We felt the psychological effects of the pandemic quite deeply. Increasing hate speech targeting LGBTI+s, impunity, being stuck in homes and seeing each other only online was quite demoralising. We have overcome these tough times by listening to each other more, organising self-care meetings and supervisions, and volunteer meetings.
Like everyone else, we had to move all our activities to online platforms. We continued to provide counselling through online tools. Some of our volunteers had to head back to their family homes, and they could not continue working because they were not “out” to their families. Yet, thanks to our sense of solidarity, we filled these vacant positions and continued our services without interruption.
We have overcome these tough times by listening to each other more, organising self-care meetings and supervisions, and volunteer meetings.
You published the 2021-2023 Strategy Document in which you introduced your priorities for the given time period. How and why did you decide to prepare a strategy document? What will be your priorities for the 2021-2023 period?
We created the strategy document to have a plan and roadmap against the efforts to restrict the LGBTI+ movement. We conducted evaluations both within the association and with our stakeholders and members through surveys and meetings. As SPoD, we hope that this document will remind us not to get driven away in the ever-changing political climate and to remember our limitations and capabilities. We have determined 4 main objectives for the next 2 years:
- Enabling Society to Reach Accurate Information on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
- Ensuring that the State Fulfills Its Duty to Recognise and Protect LGBTI+’s Human Rights
- Fostering the LGBTI+ Community’s Culture of Solidarity and Common Struggle
- Strengthening the Organisational Structure and the Governance of the Organisation
We’ve broken down these main objectives into sub-objectives and arranged our operations and activities to attain these goals.
You have published a report titled LGBTI+ Persons’ Access to Social Services During the Pandemic that revealed the LGBTI+ community’s experiences of access to social services. Can you mention the key findings of the report and your suggestions to tackle the problems faced in these areas?
During the pandemic, the majority of LGBTI+s had no information about social assistance and financial aid, housing services, or psychosocial support. They believed that they would be discriminated against for their sexual orientation or gender identity in attempting to access these services. They also have concerns regarding confidentiality in public institutions and organisations. LGBTI+s who had experienced violence yet did not apply to any institution afterwards expressed that they were afraid of being assaulted again and that impunity would prevail.
The participants also said that transphobia is particularly prevalent in these institutions, that evidence of violence is concealed, applicants are misled and/or incompletely informed, and that they are not believed. By requiring an enforced return to home, the pandemic showed that LGBTI+s do not feel safe in their own homes.
During the pandemic, the majority of LGBTI+s had no information about social assistance and financial aid, housing services, or psychosocial support.
The majority of LGBTI+s in the research thought that citizens and CSOs were not included in decision-making processes. They also stated that protective and preventive measures for disadvantaged groups (women, children, disabled, elderly, LGBTI+s, HIV/AIDS cases, refugees) were not put in place, and institutions did not provide LGBTI+ inclusive services.
It is vital to consider the diverse needs (disability, refugee or immigration status, life with HIV, etc.) of LGBTI+s in policy and service delivery. Public institutions should form units and commissions to create gender equality policies, and start adopting LGBTI+ inclusive policies. They should improve the capacity of service providers to provide rights-based and inclusive services. LGBTI+ civil society groups should provide training and supervision assistance in this regard.
To fulfil the needs and demands of vulnerable groups, public-civil society cooperation should be fostered. Municipalities should establish units that directly support LGBTI+s and ensure that these units are active. Public and local government employment opportunities should be open and accessible to LGBTI+s who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. To guarantee that LGBTI+s feel comfortable while applying to municipalities, communication campaigns must be launched.
It is vital to consider the diverse needs (disability, refugee or immigration status, life with HIV, etc.) of LGBTI+s in policy and service delivery.
LGBTI+s who experience violence must be assisted with safe and accessible temporary housing in line with COVID-19 measures. Shelters should accept LGBTI+s, or shelters for LGBTI+s should be created. Social Service Centers and the Social Assistance and Solidarity Foundations should provide increased social assistance and online psychological, social, and legal support. LGBTI+s who have lost their jobs or are on unpaid leave should be granted financial assistance in the short term, and they should be involved in registered and safe work areas in the medium and long term.
A framework for collecting data on gender identity and sexual orientation should be established, and indicators about LGBTI+s should be included in all types of public needs and expectations surveys. To build inclusive service models, Social Services Law No. 2828 must be extended to include sexual orientation and gender identity in its framework.
An emergency violence hotline and/or online services should be established, which can provide LGBTI+s support regarding issues such as gender identity, sexual orientation, and sexual health (sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS). Mental health professionals must provide effective counselling and support groups and advocate for influencing and reforming legislation that affects LGBTI+s. Local governments should establish Voluntary Counseling and Test Centers in collaboration with the General Directorate of Public Health to enable people to receive HIV counselling and receive prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Mental health professionals must provide effective counselling and support groups and advocate for influencing and reforming legislation that affects LGBTI+s.
You provide psychosocial and legal counselling to LGBTI+s to document violations of rights and support their fight against these violations. Can you tell us about your accomplishments in these areas and the challenges you face?
4 different teams perform the psychosocial support activities of the association. These teams are:
Social Service Unit: SPoD initiated this unit in October 2018. We formed close relationships with social service departments of universities and supported social workers through trainings, seminars, and publications. The unit provides support and advisory services on topics such as housing, social assistance, access to post-violence support mechanisms, and job application processes.
The unit established the Social Service Workers Network Map for professionals who are working with LGBTI+s to extend SPoD’s work and initiatives in this field. This network aims to direct counselling requests received by SPoD to local institutions and organisations. Attending the Social Service Unit’s training for social workers is required to participate in the network.
Psychological Support Unit: Individuals who apply for counselling are directed to 33 psychologists and psychiatrists who work in this field. The experts continued to provide counselling through online platforms during the pandemic and they received supervision support.
Sunday Talks: SPoD hosted Sunday Talks in its office every Sunday between 14.30 and 16.30 since 2016. In these sessions, participants choose a theme and share their experiences, emotions, and views around the theme. Now, there is a unit manager and 17 moderators within this team. Sunday Talks stopped with the pandemic and pursued a new format. SPoD organised Talks Without Distance as online experience sharing gatherings where participants discussed various topics, including music, movies, workaholism, and entertainment, in addition to pandemic related issues.
Hotline: In 2017, SPoD launched the LGBTI+ Hotline to provide counselling on discrimination and violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation, sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases, gender transitioning, how to obtain a report stating unsuitable for military service, and social service institutions. It also provides emotional support for issues such as the coming out process, peer bullying, and relationship problems. The Hotline charges standard fixed line fees and provides anonymous service in Turkish. It can be reached via phone at 0850 888 54 28 between 12:00 and 18:00 on weekdays or by email via email@example.com.
You are receiving a core grant under the 2021 term of our Gender Equality Fund. How will you use this grant?
With this support, we will be able to realise our plans for the financial management of our association, while also enhancing our resource development capacity.
Along with its advocacy work, SPoD aims to develop service models for LGBTI+ communities, setting examples for public institutions, to help eradicate discrimination and offer LGBTI+ specific services with public-private cooperation.