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Rights for LGBT Türkiyelis in Germany

By Jennifer Petzen

I was originally asked to write an article summarizing the state of rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people of Turkish background in Germany. However, my research of over three years in Germany has shown that the sexual rights of a sexual minority cannot be looked at in a vacuum; they must be considered within the broader framework of civil, social and economic rights for people with migration backgrounds. And it is no exaggeration to say that this broader framework of rights can be limited arbitrarily concerning people with a migration background.

But first, a review of sexual rights for sexual minorities in Germany: same-gender couples can register as partners and receive all rights except tax benefits and the right to adoption (indeed, even single heterosexual women in Germany do not have the right to adopt). These rights include the right to sponsor a partner from another country. The sponsoring partner can also extend health insurance to the partner if it exists through a salaried job. Socially, there are many openly queer clubs, associations and venues, although gay-bashing is not unknown.

There is another crucial component to the social aspect of queer migrants: racism. While one would like to think that the gay community is one that accepts any kind of queer, it is well documented that middle-class white gay men have long dominated queer rights movements (in North America as well as Europe). In Germany, everyday banal racism exists alongside structural racism. One may be denied entrance into a gay club for looking like a “southerner”; the flip side is that many darker skinned queers are exoticized as sex objects but not thought of as suitable life partners. In terms of structural racism, there is scant funding for Turkish-speaking HIV prevention/counseling, and one would be hard-pressed to find anyone adequately versed in migration law to help deal with the particular kinds of legal issues that queers with migration background might face.

Economically, there are still prejudices against hiring queer people, especially transgender people. Since Germany has not implemented the anti-discrimination law as proscribed by the EU, it is still legal to discriminate in the areas of housing and employment on the basis of sex and national background. It is here that the broader framework of civil rights comes into question. Second and third generation people of migration background are at a structural disadvantage in many ways. First, since Germany denied its status as an immigration country for many years, attempts to change the structure of necessary institutions (education systems, government bur) were slow, bungled and inefficient. The government did not hire bilingual employees and did not see fit to have basic forms printed in other languages. The needs of bilingual children, or monolingual children who needed to learn German, were ignored or pretended to be misunderstood, with the result that a huge number of migrant children were undereducated or sent to Sonderschule, or schools for the handicapped. Even today, this negligence of these children continues and the rate of matriculation among students with a migration background is as low as 40% in some cities. 

Another factor in the situation of many people is that they choose not to adopt German citizenship because they don’t want to sever their ties with Turkey, and this limits their rights in Germany. Since dual citizenship is outlawed in Germany, many people see no choice but to keep their Turkish citizenship. This legal situation is an unfair one for people who have grown up in Germany. Their access to many civil rights is limited in some ways, and they are subject to stricter penal codes than ethnic Germans. For example, if a German citizen gets convicted of a crime with a punishment of more than three years, they would go to jail. But for a legal resident of Germany with a migration background (even two generations ago) the law calls for the person to be deported back to their “country of origin.” In the last few years, there have even been cases of naturalized citizens being stripped of their citizenship and being deported.

Thus, although certain rights may be accorded to sexual minorities, the distribution of other basic civil rights is far from being just. And to be clear, it must be said that these rights are distributed. They do not exist a priori for the enjoyment of everyone—working classes, people of color, people with migration backgrounds, women as well as sexual minorities are all disadvantaged in this system.


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