Turkey could be the first Muslim majority country to have an openly gay mayor if Can Cavusoglu has his way. The 43-year-old author and entrepreneur has announced his mayoral pre-candidacy for the 2014 municipal election in the town of Bulancak, located on the Black Sea Coast.
The MBA graduate revealed to Xtra that he is shocked by the attention he received — both in Turkey and abroad — after he announced his pre-candidacy in September. But he adds that any response at all is a positive step.
Xtra reached Can Cavusoglu at his home in Florida.
Xtra: Do you think Turkey is ready for an openly gay mayor?
I announced my pre-candidacy on Twitter, and when I woke up the next day and went online the news was everywhere, not just in Turkey. I was shocked at how quickly it had spread. This means to me that Turkey is ready for this. The fact that Turkey is even talking about a gay candidate, whether positive or negative, means that Turkey is ready for one.
I think of all the negative things that have been happening lately in Turkey, like the Gezi protests, excessive [police] force, rape cases, child marriage; among all the negativity, this is a positive.
Do you feel your life could be in danger when you return to Turkey and begin to campaign?
Of course, I'm already getting threats. How bad it would be I don't know. I will take important precautions. I've said it already that people will try to harm me. Yes, I am LGBTI, but it is my political views that also are causing concern. Some parties have taken an interest in my campaign; I've heard they think I am trying to divide the CHP [The Republican People's Party].
Were people aware of your sexuality when you lived in Turkey?
I came out four years ago while in Turkey. Some friends were accepting and others were not. But my family supports me 100 percent. I live with my sister and brother-in-law.
I am sure you are aware that Grindr has been blocked in Turkey. What are your views on the current ruling party and its treatment of gay rights/people in the country?
Blocking Grindr is like blocking Google; it's not going to stop people from finding what they want. The government is just trying to give positive signals to voters by showing they have the power to shut down Grindr.
I personally think the blocking is a big mistake; it's taking away people's choices. In one sense it tries to protect heterosexuals. [Grindr] is something people choose to communicate with. They're blocking freedom of choice. It's the same with no alcohol sales after 10pm — they're trying to suppress people's ability to choose. Everything is about the voting system. They've banned abortion, a woman's personal issue. This will have side effects.
How do you feel about the current government's approach to LGBT issues?
An AKP [Justice and Development Party] minister called homosexuality a sickness. She was sending a message to the voters. Now, what if because of what she said there are homophobic attacks? What if the attacker says, "Oh, he was coming on to me and I thought this is sickness"? What is the law supposed to do about that?
Turkey needs to face the reality of LGBTI in the country. They have been in the country for hundreds of years. They have had to be double-faced. They are targeted, humiliated, lose jobs. They are forced into prostitution. They are mugged, harassed, beaten and killed, and it's been this way for hundreds of years.
However, when it comes to money, it's a different story. Then they are on television and in headlines; people talk about them. They are singers, and [the concerts] sell out like crazy. Turkey needs to face this reality. Before using people for economic advantage they need to understand human rights are more important.
What are your plans for Bulancak if you are elected?
The economy is built on farming, but there [are] major problems; hazelnut farming is arduous and seasonal and very much affected by the weather patterns. Unexpected freeze and hail leads to a bad harvest and tough times for families. I am proposing alternative means of farming, like terrace farming in China and Peru.
Also, Bulancak is located right at the coast of the Black Sea, and can you imagine there is not a single café by the coast? First thing is to open a nice art café for both locals and tourists. Artists can display and sell their artwork; local musicians can entertain tourists during weekends.
Last but not least I plan to operate a temporary shelter for abused women to help women have a chance to decide for themselves what they will do when a situation occurs. Basic services would include temporary housing, legal assistance, family therapy, reunion activities, divorce assistance, employment assistance and relocation.