This Pride Month, we are speaking to seafarers from the LGBT+ community around the world to hear their experiences of working at sea and their words of support for other LGBT+ crew.
Onur, from Istanbul in Turkey, is excited for Pride Month but sad that he won’t be on land to celebrate. He is currently working as a 2nd Mate and wants to see solidarity among LGBT+ seafarers grow stronger: ‘To be a part of the LGBTI+ community always makes me feel perfect and strong. That’s why I’m an LGBTI+ activist both at land and onboard.’
Onur explains that there can be a great deal of LGBT+ phobia on board. When he was serving as a cadet, he experienced crew members ‘gossiping’ about him and using offensive language behind his back. He is determined to deal with prejudiced crew, but says: ‘Sometimes you prefer to hide. Nobody can accuse you. We don't have to be brave. But we must survive.’
Throughout history, LGBT+ communities have created and used languages and slang so that they can communicate safely with each another. Polari, for example, appeared in the UK while homosexuality was illegal in England and Wales1. Onur says: ‘When I have to hide, I am also using Lubunca language that is similar to Polari language. Sometimes when I talk to my partners, I speak in Lubunca. The heterosexist ones never know this language. This language has been used by trans sex workers and all LGBTI+ community in Turkey knows it now.’
These languages are an important part of LGBT+ heritage, but a world where minorities feel they must still communicate in secret languages for safety is a world that must change. Pride Month is all about celebrating the LGBT+ community and its culture, and promoting acceptance and equality worldwide. Solidarity among the LGBT+ community helps others know they are not alone – Onur says: ‘Don't feel lonely and never forget we are everywhere’ – but allyship is just as important and we all have a part to play.
Onur raises the important point of using inclusive language: ‘I generally alter some words like “Seaman” or “Man overboard”. The sexist words like this disturb me. Therefore I use “Seafarer” instead of “Seaman” or “Person overboard” instead of “Man overboard”.’ Wider use of gender-neutral terminology is a key step towards equality.
Onur shares one final thought: ‘I feel like I need to work harder than a heterosexual person for proving myself to break down prejudices that the Queer is weak. These struggles are intersectional with feminism. The ones assigned as a woman at birth can experience the similar feeling.
‘While I was feeling like this, the Master came to me and said: “You don't have to prove yourself just because of your orientation or preferences. You are who you are. Just take care of your job.” Impressive! I was lucky to have a good Master. I haven't tried to prove myself since then. I am what I am.
‘I wasn't always this lucky. Of course, as you can guess, I also had difficulties in this sector, but no one can prevent the change of the maritime sector. Because we have always been and we will always be. Together we will change.’
1 https://www.lgbtculturalheritage.com/lavenderlanguages (accessed 7 June 2022).