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METU LGBTI+ Solidarity Receives the Student Peace Prize 2021

Thursday 15th of October we could finally announce METU LGBTI+ Solidarity as the 12th laureate of the Student Peace Prize. Read the Peace Committee’s decision here.

The Peace Committee’s Decision

The Peace Committee has been led by Sunniva Folgen Høiskar (President of SAIH), and has consisted of the following expert members; Christian Borch, John Peder Egenæs, Hilde Restad and Gro Lindstad, and the following student members; Joachim Børlie, Tilde Birgitte Dalberg, Herman Siggerud and Emma Bø.

On behalf of all Norwegian students, the Peace Committee has decided that the Student Peace Prize for 2021 is to be awarded to METU LGBTI+ Solidarity from Turkey. METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is a student group located at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey. They are awarded the prize for their brave, substantial long-term work for a diverse society and an inclusive education for all. This takes place in a Turkey that has become more repressive for human rights activists and LGBTI+ persons. The committee hopes that through receiving the prize, METU LGBTI+ Solidarity will get increased attention and support, and keep inspiring others with their work.

The group has worked for LGBTI+ persons, who experience suppression in Turkey, since they were founded in 1996. They have, among other things, held weekly meetings for LGBTI+ persons on campus, facilitated therapeutic conversations for trans- and non-binary persons and organized larger gatherings such as annual pride parades. METU LGBTI+ Solidarity does an impressive job for individuals and also engage broadly outside their own group, getting attention from the general student mass. They are well organized and have managed to increase their activities all the while the context they are working in Turkey is deteriorating. They are able to reach out with a broad spectre of activities and in many channels to get their message across, both digitally and on campus.

The authorities in Turkey have been tightening their grip on freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and curbing human rights. Shrinking space is more than just a notion or a phrase in Turkey. In the current situation, minority groups are especially vulnerable, and the work of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is all the more important, but also much more challenging. Many of the members of the group were arrested in 2019 when they were celebrating Pride with a parade on campus. In Turkey, METU LGBTI+ Solidarity forms part of a larger picture of critical actors who dare to oppose the human rights breaches carried out by the authorities. We hope their courage can be an inspiration to other organisations and also have an effect and gain attention more broadly into the Middle East region. The awarding of the Student Peace Prize 2021 to METU LGBTI+ Solidarity will also contribute in shedding light on the global “anti-gender” movement and the systematic efforts carried out both globally and locally (for example in Turkey), to reverse the rights of LGBTI+ persons and women. Organisations such as METU LGBTI+ Solidarity are at the forefront to combat these trends and create awareness in society.

The committee wants to highlight how the work of METU LGBTI+ Solidarity contributes to reaching UN sustainable development goal nr 4 on the right to education for all. An education that is not inclusive to LGBTI+ persons or a campus and a society where LGBTI+ persons fear violence or harassment means that that goal is not reached. What makes METU LGBTI+ Solidarity’s work so impressive is their different ways of working. They function as a vital support apparatus for LGBTI+ persons at the university, while at the same time doing information work and changing attitudes on campus and in society in general. This work is essential in order to reach the goal of leaving no one behind, a central agenda in the UN development goals.

The peace committee for the Student Peace Prize hopes the prize will contribute to supporting METU LGBTI+ Solidarity in their future work for inclusive education and human rights for all in Turkey. The committee further hopes the prize will contribute to increasing attention around the global backlash on LGBTI+ rights and the continuously worsening situation for human rights activists in Turkey. METU LGBTI+ Solidarity is an inspiring organization, and we hope that awarding the Student Peace Prize will give them increased attention and support in Turkey and globally, so that their work and their ability to use diverse work forms and platforms can inspire others. The committee finds METU LGBTI+ Solidarity a worthy recipient of the Student Peace Prize 2021 and believes their great work across societal groups, platforms and also with the current restraints of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue and become even more important both in Turkey and in the whole region in the time to come.

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