Comment – It’s all change in France, Turkey and Britain
Across the continent, new leaders will be taking charge. What does it mean for gays? Ben Leung reports.
For those of us living in Europe, the next six weeks could well be one of those extraordinary periods that future generations look back on with fascination.
I am heading off to North America for the whole of May, and I have this niggling feeling that I could be coming back to a Europe which will have a different feel to the one I leave behind.
With two monumental elections taking place at either end of the continent – France in the west and Turkey in the east, and with the impending resignation of Tony Blair in Britain, one can’t help but feel things are not going to ever be the same again.
What impact will all this have on the LGBT communities of these countries?
Immediately, not much, simply because LGBT matters can’t really be described as matters of national importance when one is entrusted with the mandate to govern.
Further down the line, however, it’s anybody’s guess.
As I’m no Nostradamus, nor am I an optimistic so-and-so, let’s examine the worse-case scenario.
The easiest one to work out is undoubtedly Britain.
With no credible challenger, it’s safe to say that Gordon Brown will be seeing the Queen in Buckingham Palace some time in early June.
Now, I don’t think Brown is going to do anything to upset the LGBT community.
Depending how long he can hang onto his premiership, and he has until May 2010 at the very latest to call for an election, the status quo will probably remain.
But anyone hoping for more liberalisation or more LGBT-friendly legislation might be found wanting, for the Chancellor isn’t exactly renowned for being terribly proactive towards LGBT matters in the past.
As highlighted by PinkNews.co.uk last year, Brown has shied away from all LGBT matters since becoming Chancellor.
The arguments are that he’s either homophobic or he doesn’t care. Either way, I can’t see Mr Brown diminishing what Tony Blair has achieved for the gay community and therefore not much will change.
If, however, he’s still at Downing Street ten years from now – I sincerely hope not! – then there could be a cause for concern in terms of advancing equality rights or same-sex marriages.
Decade-long premierships are still relatively uncommon in Britain. Across the channel, it’s the norm.
It’s strange to think that during my lifetime, there have only been two French presidents – Francois Mitterand and Jacques Chirac, and only now are we getting a third!
Rarer still is a genuinely exciting presidential contest – and this has excitement written all over it.
The 2002 version was fun only because the National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen gave Chirac and half the world a major fright in the final run-off.
This time round – and with the presidential term reduced in 2002 from seven to five years – it is anybody’s race.
The two notable front-runners, Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, appear to be running out of steam.
Previous no-hopers – Francois Bayrou and Le Pen – are threatening to spring a huge surprise – and they are just four candidates in a disparate field of twelve.
With over 40% of the electorate still undecided, there promises to be a lot of fun come Sunday night to see which two come out on top for the May 6th final face-off.
And what’s in store for the LGBT community here?
The usual topics of taxes, immigration and French employment laws are top of the agenda, so unless the far-right Le Pen gets elected, then little will happen immediately.
Further down the line however, there could be interesting times ahead for the LGBT community.
Of the prominent quartet, the socialist Madame Royal has by far been the most vocal supporter for gay rights.
As Minister of the Family and Children, she was the main architect behind the legislation to recognise same-sex parents, and even published leaflets denouncing anti-gay bullying in French schools.
More crucially, she wants to legalise same-sex marriages should she be elected the first-ever female president of France.
Her chief rival, the tough-talking conservative UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, isn’t in favour of same-sex marriage but is said to be in support for new legislations covering same-sex adoptions and benefits.
That, is an improvement on his incumbent’s record on LGBT rights, a record which has been fairly sound.
Under Jacques Chirac, same-sex civil partnerships came into force in 1999 whilst legislations to outlaw homophobia were introduced as recently as 2004.
However, both Sarkozy and Royal could be upstaged by the centre-ground part-time farmer, Francois Bayrou who has already eaten into the share of the undecided vote.
As far as I can tell, Bayrou is by far the least progressive of the trio, having voiced opposition to same-sex marriages and adoptions.
Then again, like Sarkozy, Bayrou hasn’t done or said anything which would point to a particularly anti-LGBT agenda.
Therefore, unless Le Pen gets the keys to the Elysee Palace, I think we could expect more of the same – maybe with some extras thrown in – whoever they elect on the first Sunday in May.
Turkey, on the other hand, could be verge of a watershed election in its turbulent history.
Founded on a secular constitution by Kemal Ataturk in 1923, its people could well be electing a first-ever Islamic president in Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Seculars, Erdogan critics, defenders of Ataturk and anti-Islam opponents have all accused Mr Erdogan as secretly pushing for Islamist agenda in a country where religion and state are deliberately separated.
Over 300,000 people took the streets of Ankara last weekend to protest against his intentions to run, and much of their discomfort was directed at Mr Erdogan’s wife,
She is known to wear an Islamic headscarf, something which they say compromises Erdogan’s position at the heart of a supposedly secular government.
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Now, I have no idea how much of an Islamist he is. What I do know is that it could all just be a ploy to win over the Muslim vote – much like Saddam strategically taking the Qu’ran to the mosque at the height of the Gulf War to ‘demonstrate his faith to the world.’
But let’s assume he’s a genuine article. If Erdogan is elected, he could introduce a raft of Islamic-style laws – but certainly not anything as strict as sharia law – which could pose problems for the Turkish LGBT community.
At the moment, there are no explicit laws against homosexuality in Turkey, but Turkish society generally frowns upon such acts. The constitution, however, recognises transgendered people.
But we all know what Islamic states are like when it comes to homosexuality, so depending on how ‘Islaimc’ an agenda Erdogan will push for should he be elected, there could be crucial times ahead for gay rights campaigners in Turkey.
Many Turks are losing their appetite to join the EU after the numerous obstacles imposed by the likes of Austria and Germany.
There is every incentive for Mr Erdogan to look eastwards and follow the examples of his more conservative neighbours in the Middle East and the Caucasus.