Efe Songun, the newest HRC Global Fellow, is the founder of Harup, a project space that combines LGBTQ advocacy and arts that he started in 2016.
Efe Songun, the newest HRC Global Fellow, is the founder of Harup, a project space that combines LGBTQ advocacy and arts that he started in 2016. As a Global Fellow, Songun is working alongside HRC staff in Washington, D.C. for the next year. HRC’s Global Fellows program brings established and emerging LGBTQ leaders to the nation’s capital for professional development opportunities to build leadership capacity.
HRC sat down with Songun to discuss Turkey, his goals and the fight for LGBTQ rights.
How did you become an LGBTQ advocate?
I first became politically aware in the LGBTQ movement in 2011. As an openly LGBTQ individual in Turkey, I realized there was hypocrisy in the daily political language on human and LGBTQ rights and people’s freedom of expression--regardless of their racial, political or sexual orientation--was being suppressed. In May 2013 with the Gezi Protests in Istanbul, I started to become more politically involved within the LGBTQ movement. Ever since then, I try to live a life that tries to find a way to advocate, find allies and express freedom of expression in Turkey.
What is it like to be an LGBTQ advocate in Turkey?
The fundamental issue for LGBTQ rights is to get acknowledgement from the state in order to advocate for other basic rights, such as freedom of expression. Recent developments starkly highlight the issues the LGBTQ community faces. Since 2016, the government has banned Istanbul Pride Parade, and it has now expanded that ban to any public activities held any time of the year. With a local government shutting down a popular LGBTQ Film Festival, this has tightened advocates’ freedom of expression. In the long run, this can sabotage efforts of the LGBTQ community to advocate at the state level.
What does Harup do?
I founded Harup in 2016 as a project that collects, documents and exhibits oral histories of LGBTQ individuals. Since freedom of expression was diminishing with each positive step of the movement, I found it crucial to share the stories of LGBTQ artists and individuals.
How did you hear about HRC?
It was almost 10 years ago when I was an exchange student for a year in Wisconsin. That’s when I first came out. The first reaction from my support system was to introduce me to the Gay Straight Alliance at my high school, take me to a PFLAG meeting so that I would be prepared to come out to my parents and buy me an HRC shirt.
Only years later, once I became more politically active, did I learn more about HRC.
What will you be doing as a Global Fellow?
This year, I would like to concentrate on expanding Harup’s vision. My goal is to build its strategy and communicate with possible partners and like-minded institutions to work with so that after the fellowship I have a stronger platform for LGBTQ voices to be heard globally.