In Turkey, activists are exploring new ways to work for equality for LGBTQ people, despite a conservative government that has been in power for years. One strategy they have taken on is adapting the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index (MEI) for use in Turkey, an idea that began in 2015 with HRC Global Fellow Boysan Yakar.
Boysan, who worked for a municipality in the central Istanbul district of Sisli, quickly saw HRC’s MEI as a powerful tool to urge municipal administrations to take steps toward LGBTQ inclusion. Boysan spent time during his fellowship meeting with the thought leaders behind HRC’s MEI, and he successfully applied for funding to implement the project on the ground in Turkey.
Though staff from the HRC team were prepared to go to Turkey in November 2014 to begin implementation, Boysan was tragically killed in a car crash late last September. However, other activists within the organization SPoD- translated as Social Policy, Sexuality, and Gender Identity Studies Association- were committed to carrying on Boysan’s project. In late February 2015, HRC Global traveled to Istanbul and Ankara to work with local advocates on transposing the MEI to the Turkish context.
The week was full of consultations and meetings. Ezgi Seref, a project officer from SPoD, and Jordan Long, Associate Director of HRC Global, spent time developing the concept that would be the foundation for a Turkish Municipal Equality Index. They clarified the criteria that they would use for selecting which municipalities to rate in the pilot launch of the index, what the evaluation criteria would be based on, and into which categories ranked municipalities would fall.
Using that framework for the Turkish MEI, Seref and Long held consultations about the concept with important constituencies. They met with local LGBTQ advocates in Istanbul and Ankara, members of greater civil society such as women’s rights organizations and human rights advocates, and the mayors of several municipalities in Istanbul. Each consultation helped Seref and Long clarify the elements of the concept of the Turkish MEI, crafting the foundations of a tool that would have greatest impact in Turkey.
Seref traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the project of transposing HRC’s MEI in Turkey as a part of the inaugural Global Innovative Advocacy Summit. She identified the challenges of finding what kinds of policies and actions can be evaluated independently from municipalities- a necessary element of the MEI tool- and how it is not simply using the same scorecard that is used in the U.S. Seref presented alongside Cathryn Oakley, Senior Legislative Counsel at HRC, who described similar challenges in crafting the original Municipal Equality Index. Oakley pointed out that these challenges are not unsurmountable, but provide the opportunity to design a tool that drives local government toward equality.
Seref and her colleagues at SPoD are currently seeking out funding to support the further development and implementation of the Turkish Municipal Equality Index.