“Turkey is Ready For This” Culture Change Campaign
Case study by Necmettin Tugkan Gundoglu and Julia Lukomnik for SOGI Campaigns
Image credit: Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPOD)
Turkey could have been a safe haven for LGBTI+ people. But in 2015, the government cracked down on LGBTI+ organizing. The government’s rationale – and the narrative they’ve been spreading since – is that Turkey is not ready for LGBTI+ rights.
Since 2022, the Social Policy, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD) has been combating this narrative with the “Turkey is Ready For This” Campaign. The campaign combines traditional culture change work with modern social media engagement tactics, in a bid to shift public opinion.
The Campaign was seeded in 2021 at the School of Politics, which brought together activists from across the country. Through deep political education and a focus on overcoming polarization, the activists compiled their demands for legal change. With these in hand, SPoD published the Constitutional Demands of LGBTI+s in the Struggle for Equal Citizenship.
The publication is the starting point for the “Turkey is Ready for This” campaign. SPoD recognizes that legal change in Turkey will be a long process, and strategized their campaign accordingly. As they recall: “from the very beginning [the campaign] was not aimed to achieve the protective and inclusive legal changes as constitutional demands of LGBTI [people]. Because these were far more long-term [goals].” To set the stage for the long term legal change, the campaign had two immediate goals. First, to build connections with lawmakers And second, to shift public opinion in favor of LGBTI+ people’s political rights.
The booklet of political demands gave SPoD a noteworthy reason to reach out to lawmakers. At the same time, a booklet created by constituents from across the country increased SPoD’s political credibility and five of the fourteen parties in Parliament agreed to speak with them in early 2022. As SPoD engaged with parliamentarians in Ankara, they filmed the ups and downs of their experiences.
SPoD intended to use the documentary to gain media attention for the campaign. They screened the film at a prominent arts museum in Istanbul, inviting activists and media to an opening night gala. They hoped that by inviting mainstream media to the film screaming, these media outlets would cover the campaign and spread its message to their wide viewership/ readership. But the mainstream media refused to cover the campaign.
SPoD turned to independent news outlets. In Turkey, and across the world, independent news outlets have gained prominence with the rise of YouTube. Through YouTube, SPoD’s live streamed interview with Medyascope was promoted to over 300,000 subscribers.
SPoD also tapped it’s allies to produce YouTube and Twitter content under the hashtag #TürkiyeBunaHazır (Turkey is Ready For This). SPoD used these platforms’ microtargeting capability to promote the content and documentary to specific audiences through advertisements and sponsored posts. The prominent use of popular cultural motifs in the campaigns’ social media content was particularly helpful in getting people to share content with their networks.
While there’s still a long way to go before achieving equal citizenship for LGBTI+ people in Turkey, SPoD’s “Turkey is Ready for This” Campaign is pushing forward a new narrative to change hearts and minds.
1) Even when political or legal change is far off, political activities can be used to produce communications content that influences public opinion;
2) Independent media outlets on YouTube, Twitter, and other platforms often have large followings. These are useful to engage with, especially if mainstream media will not cover a campaign;
3) Communications campaigns that use cultural frames that resonate with audiences are more likely to be shared.