ISTANBUL — The battle over gay rights in Turkey is now centered around a smartphone app.
A Turkish court has banned the application Grindr, which gives gay men a way to meet and share information, on grounds of obscenity and misuse of personal information. The ban went into effect last month after the 14th Anatolia Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled in favor of an anonymous complainant who charged Grindr with using his personal data without consent. The court described the app as “a friendship website that has gay members,” and “features prostitution and obscenity.”
According to the app’s creator Joel Simkhai, who found out about the motivation of the court’s ruling in Radikal, Grindr — together with gay rights activists — will appeal the decision. The U.S.-based app has approximately 6 million users worldwide, including 125,000 who access it in Turkey each month. “Your country has the most users for us in the Middle East,” Simkhai said. “But now Turkey is also the only country which has banned Grindr with a court order.”
The app’s founder said it is used by “hundreds of thousands of men in the Middle East not only for meeting each other, but also for sharing information on a safe platform, and solidarity thanks to technology.”
Simkhai concluded, “They used to burn books; now their method for limiting people’s freedom of speech is stopping their access to technology.”
Omer Akpinar, media coordinator for the NGO Kaos GL LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) which will join Grindr in the appeal against the court order, said no visuals with sexual content are shared on the app, and that profile photos must be approved by management.
“Being gay is not easy in Turkish society,” Akpinar said. “That makes the Internet an important tool for LGBTs to socialize and get information." Technologies like this are essential for the propagation of crucial health information. When they are shuttered, LGBTs lose not only a critical resource but also freedom of expression and communication.