Deva Ozenen, 20 was a prostitute and didn’t know if she would ever find a way out of prostitution because she couldn’t find a job, like many members of
the LGBT community there who face daily discrimination and threats of
violence. Sex work was the only way Ozenen could keep a roof over her head
and food on the table.
“There wasn’t any option: hunger or prostitution,” she recalls.
Now, at 37, she’s making history by running for a seat in parliament. On
June 7, for the first time ever, Turkey will have a transgender
candidate on the ballot — in an election largely seen as a test of
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s power.
Ozenen knows her odds of winning are slim in conservative Turkey, where
Erdogan has recently made fiery speeches with a Quran in his hand,
denouncing his opponents. But the fact that she’s in the fight means
“If I’m elected, I will be the voice of the oppressed,” she said, defiantly. “There’s a long way to go. I just began the fight.”
She considers herself a survivor. She has survived angry mobs, abusive
cops and clients who would pay for sex at night and throw rocks at her
by day. Ozenen still faces attacks on the street, even while
campaigning. Recently, an elderly woman attacked Ozenen when she heard
the candidate’s deep voice.
But the hopeful activist and could-be parliamentarian looks to the future with hope.
“If I can enter parliament, if I win the election, then I will have the
protection of the law,” she explained. “Then I will talk more bravely.”
Ozenen is running for the secular and recently formed Anatolia Party,
founded just six months ago by a female politician named Emine Ülker
As both a transgender candidate and a political newbie, Ozenen knows she has a long, hard road ahead of her.
Her main goal is to push for real legislation that protects LGBT people
from discrimination and outright violence. Turkey’s constitution
currently does not even mention LGBT people.
Even when transgender men and women seek medical help or assistance from
authorities, they are often mocked or turned away, Ozenen said,
speaking from experience.
Employment is rare once men and women begin to transition, turning many
in the community to work as prostitutes or “entertainers.”
“I had a lot of dreams when I was young,” she said. “But I hit the walls of reality when I grew up.”
“We cannot find a respectable job in Turkey,” she continued. “It’s
impossible. When you go for an interview, you’re rejected at the first
This is Ozenen’s battle. She wants to put a face to her community’s struggle.