Gay Middle East Web Site: http://www.gaymiddleeast.com/
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at: www.al-fatiha.org
Other articles of interest can be found at: groups.yahoo.com/group/al-fatiha-news
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah
UTube video on persecution of gay in Iran:(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAzMuHyg8Eg)
Gay Islam discussion groups:
April 17, 2007
An Iranian Gay Blogger Activist, who fled Iran’s police, captured by Turkey’s Police and was deported back to Iran, needs your help
This is an urgent appeal on behalf of a courageous Iranian gay activist who was deported from Turkey back to Iran two weeks ago. For security reasons, we will call this activist Babak. He is 27-years-old, and has been working as a translator/writer for Cheraq, the Iranian Queer Organization’s (IRQO) on-line monthly magazine for the past year. He is a gay writer and blogger who actively pursued queer rights through his insightful articles.
After receiving threats from under-cover Iranian police, Babak fled Iran and went to Turkey, where he was arrested by police for lack of documents. Arsham Parsi, Executive Director of the IRQO, who was in Turkey presenting a report on queer Iranian asylum seekers, contacted the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and informed them of Babak’s case. The UNHCR office called theTurkish police, and requested that Babak be released and allowed to file a claim for refugee status. Unfortunately, he was instead deported to Iran, where he was jailed, beaten and tortured. After being released on bail, Babak was forced into hiding. He presently has contact with only one person and has no access to internet or phone services. It is critical that he be smuggled out of Iran before his trial.
Babak was born in Iran and sent to Bahrain as a child labourer. He returned to Iran a young man with a cause. Fluent in both Arabic and Farsi, he is a precious resource. He translated and wrote tirelessly for the LGBTQ community in Arabic and Farsi newspapers. His research in Persian and Arab classic literature yielded strong evidence of gay men’s long history in both nations . This research endows gay Iranian men with a positive, legitimate identity, and contradicts the government’s claim that homosexuality is a disease imported from the West to attack Persian social values.
The LGBTQ family is a global family. Our mandate is to help out members of this family who are in desperate need – particularly individual activists like Babak and Mani, who have been persecuted for the way they love and for the crime of defending the rights of our brothers and sisters. We at the IRQO have scarcely any financial resources, as we do not charge membership dues. We have sent Babak a few paltry dollars, but our treasury is bare. Please consider making an urgently needed donation to the IRQO to help Babak flee persecution. Your donation will also help support other queer Iranian refugees, who are residing in Turkey until they are granted official refugee status by the UNHCR and find asylum in a gay-friendly country.
Even $10 or $20 would be enormously helpful. You can help them now by clicking on the "Donate" button on our website at http://www.irqo.net and using your credit card via the secure PayPal system. Or, you can mail a cheque, made payable to Arsham Parsi and send it to:
41 Waddington Cr.
Thank you for supporting Iran’s persecuted gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people. Financial assistance is urgently needed to get Babak safely out of hiding and into Turkey. Please show your support by donating.
April 22, 2007
Help an Iranian gay in Pakistan
Please read the following letter and send it to UNHCR office in Pakistan. He is facing many problems in Pakistan; IRQO, Human Rights Watch and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have also sent support letters regarding his case last year. But even after his reorganization, he has been waiting again, with no respond from UNHCR.
You can read Sam’s story here: http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2006/01/kidnapped_anoth.html
UNHCR email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
send your email and cc it to: email@example.com
To: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – Pakistan, Islamabad
Subject: UNHCR case number 622-05C00372
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing on behalf of an Iranian gay refugee in Pakistan with case number 622-05C00372 who escaped Iran and flee to Pakistan. For security reasons we’ll call him Sam in this letter. Sam has been staying in Pakistan close to 22 months. He has been recognized as a refugee 14 months ago, but unfortunately UNHCR hasn’t sent him to a safe country yet. As you know Pakistan is a homophobic country and execution is the punishment for being gay in that country. Sam is one of many Iranian queers who’ve been lashed because of their sexual orientation. He escaped Iran to protect his life. Sam is fearful for his safety in Pakistan and he is dealing with traumas.
I’d like to ask you to give him your support as an urgent case and send him to a country which is considered safe for homosexuals. It will be great if you introduce him to Canadian Embassy because IRanian Queer Organization is based in Canada (formerly Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization) and they can support and help him there.
May 02, 2007
Babak Fled Iran to Turkey Again With Your Help
Babak, the Iranian Gay Blogger, who was deported to Iran from Turkey , managed to go back to Turkey after he was released on bail. He reported to UN and stayed in Turkey as an asylum seeker. Babak worked as a translator/writer for Cheraq, the Iranian Queer Organization’s (IRQO) on-line monthly magazine for the past year. He was taken to jail after Turkey ’s police deported him to Iran , and was severely beaten and tortured. A friend paid $1500 to release him on bail. A passer took him back to Turkey but once there, kept him at the safe home and asked for extra money to let him go to the UN. We managed to pay the passers with your donation. He was released and was able to register at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee in Turkey and he is safe now but needs money for food and shelter.
We are continuing our appeal on behalf of Babak and the other Iranian queers who escaped Iran and are in Turkey now and in need of financial support to for food and shelter. Please consider making donation to the IRQO to help the Iranian queers flee persecution. Your donations will also help support other queer Iranian refugees who are residing in Turkey until they are granted official refugee status by the UNHCR and find asylum in a gay-friendly country. Any donation will be extremely helpful. You can help them now by clicking on the "Donate" button on our website at www.irqo.net and using your credit card via the secure PayPal system. Or, you can mail a cheque, made payable to Arsham Parsi and send it to:
41 Waddington Cr.
Toronto , Ontario
Thank you for supporting Iran ‘s persecuted gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people. Financial assistance is urgently needed to get Iranian queers safely out of torture and into Turkey . Please show your support by donating.
IRanian Queer Organization – IRQO
Formerly Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization – PGLO www.irqo.net firstname.lastname@example.org
May 11, 2007
Change Sex or Die: An Exclusive Interview with an Iranian Transgendered Activist on Iran’s Surgical "Cure" for Homosexuality
Plus breaking news on mass arrest of gays in Iran (see end of this report).
The following article was written for Gay City News — New York’s largest lesbian and gay weekly — which published it yesterday:
The situation of the transgendered in Iran has been the subject of frequent media reports that paint a rosy picture of life for them in the Islamic Republic, and which characterize Tehran – in a recent description in the U.K. daily The Guardian – as "the unlikely sex-change capital of the world." Western journalists seem to find it exotic that, in Iran’s patriarchal society – in which sexuality and expressions of sexual identity are religiously codified with the force of law, women are restricted to second-class citizenship, and homosexuality is a crime punishable by death – sex reassignment surgery has mushroomed, with the approval of the country’s religious authorities.
This came about after Maryam Khatoon Molkara (left), then a 33-year-old pre-op transman, forced his way into an audience in the early 1980s with the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and founder of and undisputed authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Moved by Molkara’s pleas, Khomeini was eventually persuaded to issue a fatwa which declared that sex-change surgery was permitted since it was not mentioned as forbidden in the Koran. Western journalists present the contemporary Iranian theological discourse on transsexuality that has developed in the ensuing years since Khomeini’s fatwa as a curiosity that contradicts the West’s prevailing view of Islamic attitudes toward all things sexual.
But Afsaneh Najmabadi, an Iranian who is a professor of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University, says she feels "uneasy" when reading these "celebratory" portrayals of Iran’s attitude toward the transgendered. "Every time I read one of these reports I want to say BUT, BUT, BUT, because there are some scary things going on that have gone almost unnoticed," she said. Najmabadi, author of "Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity" (University of Chicago Press), says that Iran’s official position on the transgendered has manufactured "a religio-psycho-medicalized discourse on ‘unnatural and deviant’ [ghayr-i tabi’i and inhirafi] sexualities" that is "deeply troubling because of the explicit framing of transsexuality within a particular mapping of sexuality that simultaneously renders homosexuality, and more generally any sexual and gender non-conformity, as deviant and criminal."
And while a positive and progressive attitude toward sex-change surgery is liberating for genuinely transgendered people, it can have an enormously deleterious effect when deformed to be used as a supposed "treatment," or even as punishment, to "normalize" homosexual desire. Because homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran, and because the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been engaged in a what he has called a "cultural revolution" that involves highly-organized persecutions targeting feminists and homosexuals, the choice presented to Iranian same-sexers is often a stark and unpleasant one, a choice epitomized by the title of a recent documentary by the France 2 public television network’s newsmagazine "Envoyé spécial," which called its half-hour broadcast on the transgendered in Iran "Changer de Sex ou Mourir" – "Change Sex or Die."
How Iran’s official discourse on the transgendered conceals a multitude of evils and ills can be seen in the following, eye-opening interview with Atrian, a 26-year-old male-to-female transsexual activist also known as Sayeh, who fled Iran last year to Turkey. Atrian was extensively interviewed in Kaysen, Turkey, on April 5 by Arsham Parsi (left), the 27-year-old executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (or IRQO, the new name adopted by the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, or PGLO). Parsi was on a fact-finding trip to meet and help the many LGBT Iranian refugees in Turkey whom the IRQO is assisting. The interview with Atrian was conducted in Persian, and a transcript was provided exclusively to this reporter, and translated into English for Gay City News by Morteza Dehghani.
Atrian says that there are many people who accept sex-change surgery to escape persecution as homosexuals. "A significant number of people who get a sex change in Iran are gay, as you cannot state in Iran that you are a man and want to be with another man, even if your appearance is feminine," Atrian declared. "There are only a small percentage of people who get a sex-change operation who are actually transgendered. Out of some 100 transsexuals whom I’ve encountered," she reported, "only 20 of them were genuinely transgendered, and the rest are gay." Atrian explained, "If you are known to be gay, you will be hanged. Therefore, many gays try to plead for societal acceptance by announcing themselves as transgendered. A lot of gays have been brainwashed into believing they are ill. Some believe that if they present themselves as women, they might find a boyfriend more easily."
It is not often mentioned in Western reports, but to gain approval for sex-reassignment surgery, one must have a certificate signed by the religious authorities declaring that one is "mentally ill." So, Atrian said, "Many gays believe they will get accepted more easily by society by claiming they are ill [as transgendered]." Unable to endure the barrage of government persecution, scathing religious opprobrium, and often the hatred of their own families, said Atrian, "Many gays, for many different reasons, become emotional and get the operation. But soon after getting the operation, they’ll cry for days at the mistake they have made."
Atrian recalled her visit to one gay man who had opted for sex-change surgery. "I was visiting him in the hospital, and he told me, ‘If you can, flee Iran.’ I asked him why – and as he was crying like a river, he replied: ‘I have committed a huge mistake. Why did I want to become a woman? I didn’t even become a woman, I’ve become something deficient, and I would give anything to go back to my previous state.’ In another incident, I was at a doctor’s office and encountered two transsexuals who were begging the doctor to operate them to go back to their previous state." This sort of thing, Atrian related, is quite common. Atrian described the typical path of what she calls "the many gays who are forced by the society into believing that they are transsexuals. This group is under constant pressure from their parents, telling them that they have been led into deviation from the righteous path. They start analyzing themselves, thinking ‘I am a boy, so how can it be that I like other boys? Because this is a sin! I must be a prostitute. I’ve deviated from the righteous path!’"
So, Atrian recounted, these gays "start contemplating ways to obtain society’s acceptance so that it would be okay for them to like other boys. And then they reason: The only way to do that is to attach a label to myself that shows I’m a sick person, because when you are sick, people pity you and say, ‘Oh my god, this poor kid! This is the way God has created him, it is a genetic disease!’ So, he will be forced to make himself known as a transsexual" who is mentally ill, in order to be treated leniently. "If you want to prove you’re not a homosexual," Atrian underscored, "you’ll be forced to get the sex-change operation. You don’t want to be forced to explain why you are attracted to your own sex, and the only way to avoid that is to get the operation."
And, added Atrian, "A lot of people become drug addicts after the operation because they realize it was a mistake, they become depressed, and often commit suicide because there is no way to undo the operation. But neither the doctors, nor the parents, nor anyone else take responsibility for these tragedies, because no one respects or values transsexuals." Atrian said that transsexuals are often raped by the very doctors who are involved in their surgery. "This is a quite normal occurrence, as normal as saying that your doctor smokes," she explained. "The doctor knows that the patient is scared and does not have any family support, therefore he will listen to the doctor who claims he wants to help him. But just because they are doctors doesn’t mean they are ethical."
Moreover, Atrian said, "You can’t complain about these doctor rape cases to anyone, because the police forces themselves commit the same sort of acts. When I’m already depressed and have problems about my situation, and when this doctor – whom I desperately need and who is in control of my future destiny – forces me to have sex with him, I think to myself, ‘How can someone possibly take advantage of another human being in this situation? What such a doctor is doing is similar to a supposedly charitable person who asks a hungry person for sex in exchange for a loaf of bread.’"
In Iran, Atrian said, sex-reassignment surgery has become a lucrative, assembly-line business. "The doctors performing the operations in Iran are so careless – for them, it is like cutting paper and not flesh," she explained. "Left and right, on a daily basis, they perform sex-change operations on people without even paying proper attention to each case, just because it’s a highly profitable business. Yet they are so proud that they are in a country that allows people to have sex changes. But they perform all these operations improperly, and often incompletely." Atrian asserted that, "Out of all the people they operate on, only a few remain healthy. How many of these patients do not become psychotic because of the way they’ve been treated and mutilated? How many do not commit suicide? How many can live a normal life after their operation? Most of them don’t even get the chance of finding a companion – they are shunned as transsexuals, and their past will always haunt them."
Atrian added that even some psychiatrists "take advantage of the simpleness of their patients. A couple of years ago, one of my friends visited a psychiatrist – and this doctor told him that, if my friend wanted to prove that he had feminine emotions in order to be permitted to get a sex-change operation, my friend had to have sex with him. This is not a common sort of incident with psychiatrists, but it happens from time to time." (Read this reporter’s August 19, 2006 interview with an Iranian lesbian whose psychiatrists attempted to force her to have sex-change surgery.) Transsexuals in Iran, Atrian said, are often targeted for beatings in the streets – both by the Basiji (the thuggish para-police used by the regime to enforce its draconian moral codes) and by people pretending to be Basiji. "Anyone who wears Basiji gear and has a motorcycle can beat you and nobody would question them for it, no one would ever check their IDs to make sure they are Basiji forces." (See this reporter’s February 9, 2006 interview with Mekabiz, a 21-year-old, self-described "transsexual man" who was tortured by police and raped with the complicity of his jailers,)
Atrian related that, "Even though the special forces of the police have no specific orders to arrest transsexuals, they too can arrest you. I myself have been arrested three times, and was disrespected in the most brutal way possible. I remember how four men who looked like Basiji beat me close to death in the middle of the street. They kept slamming their boots on my head so hard that even now, when I think about it, subconsciously my head starts moving to dodge their boots."
For transsexuals, said Atrian, Iran is "a sick society which made you ill in the first place and is now pointing at you and calling you sick." With help from the IRQO, Atrian has obtained a visa to Canada, and is now waiting for a departure date from Turkey, where homophobia and transphobia are rampant and where she has been beaten several times and been threatened with death. "I hope to get to Canada alive," she said. "Even if it is only for one year there, I would like to be myself and live without needing to pretend to anyone that I’m a poor and helpless person, live without needing to beg them not to belittle me or attack me. I don’t want to feel the need to explain to people that I’m not a dirty and inferior person. My life," Atrian added, "is not like a cigarette that you can smoke and then throw away, as I will live and suffer in its ashes. I might get to Canada, or I might not. But I will never forget that all my rights were taken away from me in Iran. From now on, I want to build my life."
Breaking news: May 11:
Arsham Parsi, executive director of the IRQO, has just e-mailed me the following news of some 80 gay and transgendered people who were arrested yesterday, May 10, in a raid on a party in the city of Esfahan, and another report of mass arrests of 200 in the city of Orumiyeh
Here is Arsham’s summary of his phone conversations with two of his friends and IRQO supporters in Iran about the raid:
Payam, 22 years old, in Shiraz, via telephone "I received a SMS from one of my friend (Mohammad) who invited to go to that party. He wrote me all gays were arrested by police and they were beaten. They were about 80 people and about 10 gays and transgender went to Esfahan from Shiraz "This party was Farhad’s birthday. He invite his friends but unfortunately police understood about this party. I was invited too but because you (Arsham) told me I must not go to any party or date or event I did not go and stayed in Shiraz. You can call to Mohammad and he has more information. One of my friends told me 2 days ago police arrested about 200 boys and girls in Orumiyeh (North-West of Iran)."
Another report, from Mohammad, 26 years old, from Shiraz, in Esfahan, via telephone:
"Farhad is one of my pals and I was invited to his birthday party in Esfahan. I went to his home in Vali-e-Asr Blv. Bakhshi St. about 7 PM last night (May 10, 2007) and after few minutes with one of my friends left his home to buy some gifts and go to barber salon. When we came back it was about 10 PM and we found the street is very crowded. Some people watching there. We stand in between people. There was some police cars and one special prison car same. Police arrested all of them, about 80 people. "They have torn clothes and their faces and bodies was bloody, they were heavily beaten and some police were beating them on the street. There was an ambulance too and I heard one of them jumped out a window. Farhad F is 19 years old gay from Esfahan and he invited all his friends from Esfahan, Shahin Shahr, Shiraz and Tehran His family was there and they were arrested too. All of their cell phones is off and I don’t have any information about them. I don’t know where they are. "
For more information on the plight of the Iranian LGBT community, or to make a credit card donation via the secure PayPal system to help refugees from persecution like Atrian, visit the IRQO Web site.
May 13, 2007
80 Gay Men Have Been Arrested in Isfahan
Translated by Shadi
Eighty members of the Iranian gay community have been arrested by the security personnel in Isfahan. On May 10th close to 10 pm security forces raided Farhad’s birthday party, assaulted brutally the host, his parents, and all the guests. Everyone at the party were arrested on the spot. Police used batons to beat those arrested before taking them into custody. Farhad’s family who were present at the party have been also arrested. The first report put the number of those arrested at eighty; yet more recent reports have raised the number to eighty seven. In a phone call, Peyman said: "I went to buy a gift for Farhad and so I arrived late for the party. As soon as I turned in to their street, I saw police cars parked everywhere; all my friends were arrested while seven or eight policeman beat them with batons. Fearing the usual punishments for attending a party, two had jumped from the second-floor window and were in a bad condition. Farhad’s family were also arrested. Everyone was transported into a big car and taken into custody. All their cell phones are off and we have no information about the situation inside the jail."
In another phone call, Kia reported: "Guests had come from Shiraz, Tehran, Shahin Shahr to Isfahan for Farhad’s birthday. When they were coming out of the house followed by the police, their clothes were ripped, their faces and bodies were covered in blood. They were beaten up badly." The next morning all those arrested were taken to court, and later to the jail. The court is not permitting the families of those arrested to visit their children, and is not accepting bail for their temporary release. Farzin said: "A few girls were among the guest and were also arrested but were released the next day. All the gay men and at the party are now in jail. I am extremely worried for their wellbeing and I fear that those of us who were not in the party, will be arrested next."
On Sunday May 13, we also received news that the arrestees were under severe tortures and in bad conditions in the jail in Isfahan. Their lives are in danger. We suspect that preventing family visits is partly due to the physical conditions and also part of their torture. We ask for prompt request for their release as any day might be too late. Such arrests in the past had resulted in wider arrests and naming names, which has created disasters in the years before.
This news was reported by colleagues in Shiraz and Isfahan. Many emails of concern about the wellbeing of those arrested have been received. Further information will be posted on the IRQO website.
06 June 2007
Release of Arrested Gay Men in Isfahan
At least 16 of the 17 men arrested on 10 May at a private party in the central Iranian province of Esfahan are known to have been released. Twelve were reportedly released in the weeks following their arrest while four of the remaining five were released on 29 May. All of these men were required to post bail and will reportedly face a trial scheduled to take place in June. There are conflicting reports as to whether the fifth man has been released.
They were among 87 people reportedly arrested at the party. Of these, 60 have been released unconditionally, while 26, including those referred to above, were released on bail. The 17 men are believed to have been wearing clothes generally associated with women at the time they were arrested. They are not believed to have had access to lawyers or their families, and a judge has reportedly said that those detained following the private party will be charged with consumption of alcohol and "homosexual conduct" (hamjensgarai).
Amnesty International is not aware of any evidence that the men attending the party identify themselves as gay or were engaging in same-sex sexual relations. The arrests took place at a time when the authorities were mounting a security operation to enforce dress codes in Iran. During the arrests, those attending the party were said to have been dragged into the street by police and members of the Basij force (volunteer paramilitary units attached to the Revolutionary Guards Corps), who beat them severely, causing bruising and, in some cases, broken bones. It remains unclear if those detained were allowed access to medical treatment.
Amnesty International will continue to monitor the situation closely and take further action if necessary. No further action is requested from the UA network. Many thanks to all who sent appeals.
December 6, 2007
Journalist, Victim’s Lawyer Attest to Executed Iranian’s Railroading
by Doug Ireland
State Murder for Sex at 13 in the Islamic Republic
NOTE: This article is an updated version, supplemented by additional reporting, from that first posted on December 6.
The Islamic Republic of Iran murdered Makwan Moloudzadeh, a lad of 21, on the cold morning of December 5. Makwan was dragged at dawn from his jail cell in the Kermanshah Central Prison and hanged in secret within the prison, without the required presence of his lawyer and family, for the so-called "crime" of having had anal sexual relations, which the authorities claimed was rape, with boys of his own age eight years ago, when he was 13.
Given recantings by plaintiffs during his trial, it is impossible to know what, if in fact anything, actually transpired during the alleged rape. Amnesty International released a statement denouncing the execution as a "mockery of justice." The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission’s executive director, Paula Ettelbrick, said in a statement, "This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law. How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?" And the trial of Makwan, held in June, was indeed a farce.
"The only plaintiffs who had given statements to the intelligence police saying they had been raped by Makwan came into court and repudiated those statements, saying that they had been extracted under torture," the only Iranian journalist to have covered Makwan’s case extensively, Mitra Khalatbari of the newspaper Etemade Melli, told this reporter by telephone from Tehran.
Khalatbari, who covered the story for months and courageously agreed to speak on the record to Gay City News, added, "Makwan himself told the judge that his admission to the Intelligence Police that he had had anal sex with one boy in 1999 was also obtained by torture, and that he now denied it and proclaimed his innocence." Prior to his execution, Makwan engaged in a hunger strike of ten days to protest the physical and psychological torture he’d been subjected to while in custody to make him confess.
"There was no other evidence," Khalatbari, speaking through a translator, told Gay City News. "The judge did not bother to order medical examinations to see if rape had taken place, nor did he bother to order medical examinations to see if torture of the plaintiffs had taken place," she continued. "The judge’s verdict of guilty, and his sentence of Makwan to death, was based purely on his personal speculation," she added.
Makwan – after having had his head completely shaved, a grave insult in Iranian culture – was paraded by police through the streets of his home town of Paveh on the back of a donkey, as police permitted passersby to hurl insults and invective at him and pelt him with stones, eggs, and other objects. Makwan’s lawyer, 29-year-old Saeed Eghbali, told this reporter by telephone that the so-called "confession" which Makwan gave to the police under extreme duress has no probative legal value under Iranian law.
"Iranian law says that a pretrial confession has no value for the court," Eghbali told Gay City News through a translator. "Under our law, to be valid a sexual crime must be confessed in front of a judge four times, in four different sessions to have legal weight, and this did not happen in Makwan’s case." Eghbali went on to explain that the prosecution in Makwan’s case presented no witnesses and no other evidence against him.
"There were six plaintiffs, who were supposed to have a case against Makwan for rape – but they all withdrew their complaints and said their complaints were made under various forms of suasion, and that they should not have heeded those who made them file complaints – and moreover, such plaintiffs must provide evidence that rape actually took place, but no such evidence was presented in court." said Eghbali, choosing his words carefully. Eghbali’s name has been in the Iranian press a great deal lately; he has criticized the prosecutors and the judicial system, and given well-known and well-documented regime practice toward domestic critics and dissidents, one must assume that his telephone is tapped. This may well explain why the attorney, unlike the gutsy journalist, deliberately avoided using the word "torture" at any point in his conversations with this reporter.
However, Makwan’s family told journalist Khalatbari that, when they retrieved the lad’s dead body for burial, they discovered both his arms had been broken. Eghbali had every reason to be cautious in his interview with Gay City News. When I asked Eghbali if he were afraid of reprisals from the regime for his vigorous legal defense of Makwan and his public criticisms of the clerically-dominated judicial system, he sighed, paused, and said: "There is always that probability, that fear, that the government would get back at us – but, because I have always adhered to the letter of the law in my pleadings and statements, I hope to avoid any action against me by the authorities."
Eghbali pointed out another illegality in the court’s guilty verdict against Makwan. "When they withdrew their complaints before the judge, all six plaintiffs offered to take a medical examination to show that no anal rape had taken place, but the judge refused to accept their offer or to order any medical examinations, even though the letter of the law requires it," Makwan’s lawyer said.
Eghbali said he is currently representing a boy who is under the age of 17, but who has already been in jail for ten months, charged with anal sex and the rape of another boy, for which he too faces the death penalty. The attorney declined to give the name of this defendant at this time or provide any other details, saying that the evidence against his client in this case was so flimsy that he hoped to avoid a trial. But, Eghbali said with emphasis, "It is very important that you understand that under Iranian law, in a sodomy case, both parties to the sexual act must be punished. Iranian law specifically defines the active and passive partners in a case of male sexual relations, and the only way the passive partner can escape punishment is to claim he was raped."
This, Eghbali said, helps explain why there have been so many cases publicized by the regime charging rape against a male involved in sexual relations with another male. The state murder of young Makwan – who was only 20 if one uses an American calendar, but 21 if one uses an Iranian calendar – was triply illegal, in violation of international law and Iranian law. Two international treaties to which Iran is a signatory – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child – both forbid the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18. As Human Rights Watch pointed out, "These provisions reflect the reality that children are different from adults. They lack the experience, judgment, maturity, and restraint of an adult."
Iran has ratified both those treaties, and has taken no steps to abrogate or nullify them. The French government formally "condemned the execution, despite multiple interventions of the European Union, of Makwan Moloudzadeh, for a crime he is supposed to have committed at the age of 13." Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pascale Andréani said the French government "regrets that Iran has not respected its international obligations" under the two treaties, "which both forbid without ambiguity the execution of persons condemned for crimes committed while they were minors."
And, although the Islamic Republic of Iran is one of only nine countries in which homosexuality is still punishable by death, the Iranian penal code forbids execution for sodomy of anyone who is not at least 15 years old – and Makwan was just 13 at the time of the alleged crime. Moreover, journalist Khalatbari told me, "Iran’s chief justice, Ayatollah Seyed Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, declared Makwan’s death sentence to be against the principles of Islam, citing a religious decree issued by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Ayatollah Shahrudi then ordered the execution halted until there could be a retrial."
"A few days later," according to Khalatbari, "the case was sent to Tehran, and despite the chief justice’s opinion, Makwan’s death sentence was confirmed and sent back to Kermanshah for immediate implementation," in an obvious attempt to rush through the execution before the retrial Shahrudi had ordered. Khalatbari told me that "even in the last hours of Makwan’s life, the authorities continued to break the law. The execution order specified that he was to be hanged in the public park in Paveh where the so-called rapes had been committed – that would probably have happened on a ‘public day,’ like the coming Friday. Instead, he was hastily executed in secret, on Wednesday, in the Kermanshah Prison. There was no prior notification of the execution to the family or the lawyer, as the law requires, so Makwan’s lawyer was not allowed to be present, as the law also requires.
"Thus, Makwan was not allowed to say goodbye to his family, nor were there any plaintiffs present at the place of execution with whom Makwan could plead for his life and ask their forgiveness to escape death." Khalatbari heard about the execution when she got a phone call from Makwan’s lawyer while she was in a bank. "I was so very upset I left all my documents in the bank – I didn’t realize it until the bank called me to tell me I’d left all my things there," she told this reporter.
Khalatbari immediately returned to her newspaper, Etemade Melli, and wrote a stinging account of the manipulations of the Justice System (Qoveyeqazaiye, which includes all judiciary and prosecutors) and other authorities to bypass the chief judge’s "stop and re-try" order and proceed in surreptitious fashion to execute Makwan. But after reading Khalatbari’s article, the editorial board of Etemade Melli refused to publish it. I asked Khalatbari why. She replied, "They are constantly afraid that the newspaper will be closed, and they thought I challenged the Justice System too directly."
Etemade Melli is controlled by one of President Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s opponents in the last presidential election, the Hojatalislam Mehdi Karobi, a former speaker of the Iranian parliament who placed third in the 2005 contest. After her article was rejected, Khalatbari said, "I cried all the way from the newspaper’s office to home, thinking about how unfairly Makwan was executed. But all this crying didn’t calm me down. Indeed, today was one of the worse days of my journalistic career. I’ve had many bad days, but I have never been so sad."
"I want to apologize to Makwan’s father and uncle… maybe we didn’t do enough. Maybe. With the execution of Makwan, I feel like I have lost a member of my own family," Khalatbari concluded. Khalatbari subsequently said she had been told by her editors to write no more human-interest stories about Makwan of the kind she had previously filed, and to confine herself to narrow legal issues. In a statement reminiscent of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s infamous claim in New York that "there are no homosexuals in Iran," on December 11 the ISNA news agency reported that a spokesman for the Judiciary, Dr. Alireza Jamshidi, claimed, "The chief justice did not issue an order to stop his [Makwan’s] execution."
But not only did Khalatbari report the existence of that order, both Makwan’s lawyer and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have copies of the official legal documents containing it.
Makwan’s funeral in his hometown was attended by large numbers, from 3,000 to 6,000 people according to various reports. "This shows that the people of Paveh had sympathy for Makwan and that he did not have the reputation of being either a troublemaker or a thug, as the authorities tried to claim," said Eghbati, the murdered youth’s lawyer. As many as 78 minor Iranian children are facing execution right now in Iran, as are several dozen more Afghan children arrested in cross-border smuggling operations. In June, Amnesty International issued a report entitled "Iran: Last Executioner of Children;" which you can read online at http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde130592007.
Doug Ireland can be reached through his blog, Direland, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland.
Hossein Alizadeh, communications director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (http://www.iglhrc.org), a gay native Iranian granted asylum here as a refugee from sexual persecution, provided translation services for this article.
26 May 2007
7 Interview with an Iranian Lesbian Couple
by Arsham Parsi
Translated by Shadi
Arsham Parsi: Please introduce yourself.
I am Shaghayegh, I’m 33 years old, and this is my girlfriend Nazanin who is 32. We have recently fled Iran. We are lesbians and have been living together for some years.
AP: How do you define a lesbian?
Shaghayegh: A lesbian is a woman who is sexually and emotionally drawn to other women, only has relationships with women and is never attracted to men.
Nazanin: A lesbian in Iran has a different reality. Many are forced to live with a lie, or forced to marry. When they give in to this marriage, they put themselves in a position where they will be in a way violated, and by lying to themselves, their husband and even their children, they commit the greatest sin.
Shaghayegh: Lesbians do not have an existence in Iran because they are all forced to be bisexual in Iranian society. They are pressured, because of society or family, to marry at least once or be with a man or be raped by a man. They don’t have a right to choose a life without a man.
AP: You are the first lesbians whom I have personally spoken with. Gay men do not personally know of any lesbians. Heterosexuals also don’t know lesbians. Perhaps even some lesbians don’t know of other lesbians. Why are lesbians no where to be seen?
Shaghayegh: Fear. Fear of coming out. Fear of what others will think of them once they know. Fear that they do not have a place in our society. We don’t even accept ourselves, how can we expect heterosexuals to accept us? We fear our families. Even the two of us who have had no pretensions and have stood by everything and come this far, until only a few years ago we despised the word ‘lesbian’. Even back when I had a girlfriend, was having sex, and had no man in my life, I ran away from the label ‘lesbian’ because I was unaware of its true meaning. I only began to come to terms with myself when I started to read articles about what a lesbian is and what the term means. Unlike what is generally believed in our society, a lesbian is not someone who acts in porno films. The term is used for someone who only has feelings for other women. And this feeling can be very intense; I only need to believe in myself to know that.
Nazanin: Due to the beliefs Iranian families have and their ancient culture and the tradition that exists in our society, the most important of which is marriage and the limited amount of time a girl has in her father’s house. And the accidental comments lesbians may overhear in their childhood, which goes back to what social class their family comes from and what kind of a culture they have been raised in. Although, that is not a general rule and some people who come from supposedly cultured circles also see homosexuality as a horrifying thing. You must be very strong to wash away from your mind what you have grown up hearing since childhood. Some people can fight their families from the very beginning. Some girls may be very boyish. Others may be the kind of people who try to fool themselves and their families. Since internet came to Iran, it’s been able to help distribute information on this issue (at least before the filtering system was established). When we have a source of information that people can read and study, even if they do so in their own isolation, it becomes much easier for them to come to terms with this issue, or at least gain a little familiarity with it. For example, if we pay attention to satellite television, we can witness the influence of it on all of society today. Even children in primary school are very different from those ten or fifteen years ago. The idea of having girlfriends or boyfriends is already established; a little boy draws a heart for a little girl; mothers buy gifts so that their children will play together and in other words become ‘friends’. These things were seen as inappropriate years ago, not only for children but also for adults.
Shaghayegh: It is said our culture does not accept the idea of having girlfriends or boyfriends, but there are girls in Iran for whom this isn’t an issue because they remain unattached. There are many who pass the age of puberty and still have no boyfriends, and their whole family says “wow, this girl is so chaste”, measuring her chastity by her not having a boyfriend. They do not think that perhaps she is not attracted to the opposite sex. Someone who doesn’t have a boyfriend is not necessarily religious or pious. She may be hiding her sexual orientation under the guise of piety, saying “yes it is not right for me to have relations with boys” so she can more easily establish close relationships with girls. We have many such people in Iran and our culture has nurtured this kind of thing. I can say that the percentage of bisexuals, gays, and lesbians in Iran is exceptionally high and unfortunately none dare to speak out about it, so they end up becoming involved in relationships which are harmful to them and to others around them. For example some girls get married and have a relationship with a woman on the side or their husband has a relationship with a man; this infidelity destroys their family and destroys their children. These incidences are not unusual.
Nazanin: This issue goes back to our closed culture, a place where extramarital relationships between men and women is forbidden. Well, in some cases sexual attraction is expressed in different ways. Maybe a girl cannot begin a relationship with a boy, so she does so with her best girlfriend. We cannot say this girl is hundred percent a lesbian, this may have merely been a sexual experiment. As Shaghayegh says, same-sex attraction exists in all people, some people encourage it and some don’t. This is why these incidences occur a lot in Iran. They [the parents] can close the door and say “well, since you’re with your girlfriend then everything is fine, go ahead and study together”. So it becomes possible for them to be alone together and have sexual relations.
AP: You mean that social situations sometimes force one to engage in same-sex sexual relations, while other times one is personally attracted to someone of the same sex (irrespective of one’s social situation)?
Nazanin: Exactly, and unfortunately in Iran this is very common-place.
Shaghayegh: Most people have had this kind of experience at least once, and it doesn’t necessarily define their sexual orientation. The person who continues in this vein and emotionally prefers this path is called homosexual or bisexual. But a person does not become homosexual based on one same-sex encounter. I believe the homosexuality goes back to genetic factors and exists in a person from childhood; for example, in school [a girl] falls in love with [another] girl in her class. There are many reasons explaining why this preference is not instilled by society. People who have just had one experience may forget about it and never engage in similar acts again – this is also very common [in Iran]. Let’s back up a little. I am comparing lesbians with gay men. The first factor that forces gay men to think about themselves and understand they are different is how society perceives them Every homosexual man I have spoken to has had others call him ‘feminine’ in reference to his gender identity. This name-calling provoked them to begin questioning themselves. I have not heard a similar name used in reference with lesbians.
Nazanin: No, it isn’t used. People make comments like “this girl is manly” which doesn’t necessarily have alienating consequences because in Iranian society people will befriend and support such a woman, interpreting her masculinity as being cool and hip, having an edge, an attitude, a style.
Shaghayegh: Lesbian girls are able to come to terms with these names and these perceptions until a certain age. Its effect on them is visible – they cut their hair short and wear boyish clothes. Even lesbians who look very feminine tend to dress differently than other girls since childhood and it causes people within their family circle to talk and say “this girl is like a boy”. If she reaches puberty [and still maintains this outer appearance], it is said this woman has strength of character, she’s a strong woman; they still don’t understand her. Two things happen at this point – either she conforms to the norm in society or, like others who are ‘butch’, maintains her masculinity by looking completely like a man. She is not transsexual to want to have a sex-change operation; she is a woman who has the style and look of a man and is homosexual. And usually in society they call such a woman ‘lion-woman’ [butch] – she can be a match for a hundred men – but they don’t consider the masculine quality in her could be a sign of her sexual orientation. Many women don’t understand this quality within them and suppress it. They are forced to marry and the men who marry them are usually gay men who haven’t gotten to know themselves, so they choose these kinds of women and begin a life with them. The woman sees her man as a woman, and the man sees his woman as a man and that’s how they live together. If their life progresses peacefully, a few years later when the woman is no longer scared of her family, her husband or her children, she reveals her lesbianism, divorces the man, and tries to live an independent life.
This is one of the reasons why divorce statistics in our society have risen exponentially. The women who are unable to get divorced are not the kind of women who can be financially self-reliant and stand on their own two feet. This woman is a passive bisexual or homosexual who cannot sustain herself in society and as a result is forced to submit to her husband and remain under his control and suffer thousands of violations to her body. We have seen many such people, who after the age of forty or fifty got tired, finally left their life of captivity and now live alone. Lesbians are homosexual women. I believe society and the patriarchal order gives them two negative labels. One, that they are women, and two, that they are homosexual.
AP: Many women and women’s rights defenders are not necessarily defenders of lesbian rights and are, in fact, sometimes intense opponents of it. What are your views on this?
Shaghayegh: I agree that we have two negative labels, one being women in a patriarchal and Islamic country that does not consider women human, and the other our lesbianism. Being a lesbian itself has two negative points. First, that sexual attraction to another woman is haram and blasphemy; if it is revealed, you are killed. Second, that in lesbianism there lies an inherent masculine tendency that does not submit to anyone and as a result is forced to fight, and that fighting causes further problems for a woman. In terms of feminist issues, I haven’t had any encounters. I myself am a lesbian and I oppose men completely; just like how men do not consider women as human, I in turn, as a lesbian woman, cannot consider men as human. I want to show that if a woman is not higher than a man, she is not lower either. I don’t know what feminists are talking about – they want to defend women’s rights, but they themselves violate these rights and abandon a woman because of her sexual orientation and private affairs.
AP:You mean some of these people fight against sex-based discrimination, but they themselves discriminate against certain people because of their sexual orientation?
Shaghayegh: It is exactly like this. Sexual orientation is a completely personal and private matter. All people on earth have harboured these different sexual attractions at one time or another; even those who claim they are heterosexual have at one point in time, unbeknown to others, had a sexual fantasy, and it may have even been acted upon and no one else knows because it is a private instinct that people have. But people tell each other “no you have no right to do this, it is bad”. This is something that has existed in every stage of human existence, everyone has experienced these things. And someone’s private life only concerns them. It’s as if I condemn you and say “why did you dream you had sexual relations with a man or why are you with a woman?” I have no right to condemn you for having a dream. The life of a homosexual in Iran is exactly this. Meaning, because you have a feeling that is yours and no one can take it away from you, you are condemned.
In the same way that one cannot stop someone from dreaming, one cannot choose their sexual orientation, it is instinctual. By having this instinct you are condemned of a crime whose punishment is death and stoning and hanging; A crime whose minimum punishment is torture. The worst torture and punishment is the rape they commit before they decide whether you are to live or die. People look at us as if we are animals or as if we are sick. In their view we are dirty, and so they find it justifiable to rape us. The person who rapes a homosexual – that person is sick, that person is an animal. The person who sees a homosexual as an animal and decides to rape him/her in order to correct him/her, is sick. We see this a lot. Girls who are arrested by officials are raped or beaten, and are let go after if there is no evidence against them.
I know someone personally who had this experience; since they had no evidence against her, they raped her, whipped her, beat her. She developed epilepsy and is now under the care of a doctor because of the many physical/emotional blows inflicted on her. She has now been kicked out of university as well. This is the most that happens to us. If she had been killed, maybe it would have been much better for her. Now, until the end of her life, she must have this experience before her eyes – what happened to her in prison, how her life was destroyed. For this reason she cannot go to university, and as a result of the physical ailments she has developed, isn’t able to have emotional relationships.
AP: You spoke of incrimination. What is the punishment for lesbians in Iran? Some are of the opinion that the conditions for lesbians are better than those for gay men – the punishment for gay men is hanging; while lesbians are whipped the first three times they are arrested and only hanged on the fourth arrest.
Nazanin: The punishment for lesbians is most definitely execution. Before execution they are raped, which is a mental torment worse than death. In my view there is something that should be considered – that a gay man, whether physically or mentally, is after all a man. But a lesbian is a woman – physically and spiritually she is more delicate and emotional. Well, yes, many people say that in the case of women, the first three times they are whipped and only if it is repeated for a forth time they are hanged. But the reality is not so, because that very first time they arrest a lesbian, they take her and torture her almost to death and rape her. Execution is better than that. Unfortunately, if so far there has no been any talk of these executions and rapes it has been to save face for the families involved, because she is after all female, she is considered the daughter of a traditional family. Revealing the rape of a woman, even if she is heterosexual, is very difficult for a family – it is cause for disgrace.
Usually they are not willing to issue a complaint and it is very rare for such a case to reach the court. In our society, even if justice is on the side of the girl and it is proven she was raped, from that day on people will look at her in way that is worse than rape. This is besides the fact that the law pertaining to the crime of rape requires four male witnesses to prove its legitimacy. As a result, the things that happen to a woman in Iran are rarely addressed.
AP: I have spoken with many heterosexuals. Most of them say “we cannot accept gay men but have no problem with lesbians”.
Nazanin: Who said this! I think these heterosexuals who say “we accept lesbians” are mostly men. Because they take pleasure in the thought of two women being together and want to see them in the act, and even when we say we are lesbians in an effort to reject a man’s sexual advances, first he take pleasure in looking at us, and with those sick thoughts he has, he thinks to himself that now I can have sex with two women at the same time. It is because of their sick minds that they say “we accept lesbians”. Meanwhile it is enough to say to them “I am not willing for your hand to touch my body and I’m not at all willing to see you”, then that this man who is apparently a supporter becomes an enemy of this lesbian and may even reveal her, something which might cost her her life.
AP: Some men, for whom women are only a means to satisfy male sexual desire, look at a relationship between two women in the same vein.
Nazanin: It is exactly so. Look at porno films made for a straight audience. It is impossible for it not to include a scene of two women having sex. It is impossible for a man not be shown with two women. Because they [straight men] take pleasure from it, it is only there to serve their carnal and sexual appetite – for them this is one kind of sexual relationship.
Shaghayegh: Many people who see these kinds of films say “the lesbians in this film ultimately satisfy themselves with sex toys. Then why don’t they go after men in the first place?” Well this is totally obvious. Because they are not lesbian, they’re only acting in the porno film and have a commercial purpose. Lesbian sex is not like what is shown in these films.
AP: What is lesbian sex like, and how different is it from the way it is depicted in porno films?
Shaghayegh: Lesbian sex is emotional, the emotion of two women for each other. It is not sex, it is love making. It is possible that after fifty times of lovemaking a couple might like to, for the sake of fantasy, have hard sex, but still emotion plays a dominant role in the exchange. Commercial sex differs from real lesbian sex. We lesbians don’t accept those figures represented in porno films as lesbians. Because they are not lesbian. Lesbians are almost like feminists in that they do not see themselves in need of a man. Straight men think lesbians are willing to come to their bed with another woman, because a straight woman is not willing to do such a thing. But they don’t realize that lesbians are not willing to conduct any sexual relationships with any men in any form. The best answer I can give to those people who think lesbians and gays are the same people they watch in porno films is this: then according to this mentality, relationships between heterosexuals are the way they’re represented in such films, including sick sex involving many people or involving even animals. This point of view is not at all accurate. Porno films do not speak for everyone. Although I am not saying all lesbians are emotive [in their sex lives]; yes, there may be some lesbians who are sick. Like heterosexuals who call their [the lesbian] community vile. This percentage [of people] exists in any society.
Nazanin: If someone truly wants to become familiar with the truthful relationships lesbians have and gain information about their sexual lives can watch romantic lesbian films. There is also a TV show called The L Word which is about the lives of lesbians in Los Angeles, and no man exists on that show. The statistics show that most of the audience for the show is straight. Because they want to know what the life of a lesbian is like. All these films are on the internet and people can download them. When I was in Iran, that’s what I did.
Shaghayegh: Most people, as soon as they want to get to know a lesbian, ask “how do you have sex?” Well these people can watch these films. I personally don’t like to speak about my sexual relationships and have always had a problem with this question. Instead of porno films, you can watch films about lesbians, [that portray] those feelings that a lesbian woman has. [In terms of sex] gay men have male genitalia, so penetration occurs. But since lesbians do not have such a thing, penetration does not take place. Lesbian sex has no need for penetration with a dildo; two lesbians can satisfy each other without penetration. Ultimately I can say that while they are not lesbian, they cannot understand what this kind of relationship is like.
AP: Well, since these films are made in light of the culture of their own countries, they may not give a correct representation to those in Iranian society. What is the difference between Iranian lesbians and those abroad?
Shaghayegh: There is no difference in terms of emotion, affection, love, or sex. The only difference we have is that our rights are taken away from us in Iran and we have no security of person vis-à-vis the government. We ourselves have experienced these circumstances. If someone were to find out we were lesbians, threats would be made, that if you are not with us or if you do not do this or that, we can very easily drag you to the execution pole, and we had no defence. But lesbians in Western countries, if they are not accepted by other people at least they are defended by the government and the law. For a while we lived in a city that was extremely religious and we were not safe, but now we feel this [Swiss] government supports us and if someone insults us we can seek safety with the police. I could not do this in Iran, because [if I did] I would be made the primary criminal and that person from whom I had sought safety would rape me. You identified rape as the biggest problem for lesbians. What is another problem that threatens the daily life of lesbians in Iran, a problem that forces them to choose to flee their country? Usually, information about the situation of gay men in Iran is within reach of human rights organizations, but the situation of lesbians is consistently obscure. What explanation can you offer about this?
Nazanin: Worst of all is the seclusion of being an Iranian lesbian; you are unconsciously banished. In the beginning you can have contact with your friends to an extent but in a short amount of time, you lose your closest friends. It is difficult to reveal the truth to your friends, sometimes you are uncomfortable answering their questions, you don’t know what to say. For example this issue of not having a boyfriend – you bring up false names of guys but how long can you keep up these games? And after a while your friends obviously pull away from you and you are left alone. You’re forced to find people like yourself, and well, many problems come up in that community of lesbians and it reaches a point where you can’t even maintain connections with these lesbians and you become completely alone, to the point where you have no reason to leave your room.
Shaghayegh: I can mention two situations; one, when a girl knows herself as a lesbian; two, when she still hasn’t come to know herself. When she still hasn’t recognized herself, she tries to keep away from boys and only spend time with her girlfriends. Until a certain age she can continue in this way, but after a certain age they force her to get married and she has no way to escape. This is essentially a rape sentence. Maybe I can’t find the appropriate word for this cruelty, this coercion. Maybe rape is a very basic term but until that time that you have not been raped you cannot understand it. I think it is the worst torture. It is more difficult than death because death is one moment and after that you don’t feel anything. These lesbian women who get married are raped every night. Well, obviously, they are inflicted with many mental and spiritual problems. Spasms, physical diseases, feelings of hatred and revenge, etc all result from these rapes and they can affect a lesbian in Iran and constantly repeat themselves in cycles.
The second situation is the lesbian who knows herself or is somehow discovered by her family. They might catch her red-handed, [in this case] they are disgraced, and she may even be beaten by her family. If she’s lucky enough that they don’t abandon her (which would force her to become a runaway and go to the parks and as a result be drawn into prostitution) they’ll force her to consult a doctor. They consult psychologists and psychiatrists. They have in the past taken the two of us to such doctors as well. They give us all kinds of pills. One of the pills the doctor gave Nazanin caused her to be hospitalized for two days because they had given her a pill used to anaesthise the mentally-ill. And these doctors don’t deal with you in an appropriate manner at all – they consider us dirty human beings. I remember my mother took me to a gynaecologist. She kicked my mother out of the room and said “your daughter is dirt, get out of my office”.
When the recommendations of these doctors fail to change things, they decide the patient needs a sex-change procedure. They say “well, my dear, it’s okay. Now that this isn’t working, change your sex so you’ll become a man”. For an Iranian family having a boy is an honour and they can deal with women who become men, but they cannot bear men who become women, because that is hugely shameful. My father said to me, “I am so upset that you have this problem, it is as if my son was gay.” I said “What is the difference? I am the same way.” Well, sex changes are very easy in Iran. Fortunately the doctor I had gone to for hormone replacement therapy told me, “You are completely a woman”. With much resistance I was able to remain myself. I was abandoned, but I stood on my own feet. I had Nazanin. I had the power of a lonely, independent life which many do not have and are driven to prostitution. I did not have a sex-change, but many do.
Nazanin: Many families said “go ahead and commit whatever errors you wish to commit, but don’t do it before our eyes”. Some girls were forced to go out with a boy and then bid him farewell at the edge of the street. Well, all these problems exist and they are beyond explanation and remain like fire under the ashes. They call a gay man effeminate and curse at him in a thousand different ways. He is beaten, sentenced to hanging and torture, etc, but he is marked, identifiable. But a lesbian is not identifiable, she cannot scream, she cannot swear, and all this negative energy remains inside her.
Shaghayegh: Imagine for yourself someone within whom all this negative energy and problems and rape and pain remains, who does not have any support from their family and cannot get a job and work, cannot even rent a room in a hotel (because if she goes to a hotel they send her to places where they ask her “for what reason have you left your home? You must be a runaway. Tonight we will take care of you ourselves”…) so she is forced to sleep on the street. You can imagine for yourself what psychological/emotional situation this person must be in. Let’s assume what I just said has happened. If she is able to, with difficulty, find a place she can rent, she find an asshole (excuse my language) and present him either as her boyfriend or father or a relative so he can sign the permit in her name.
This is only the beginning of her problems, because she is a single woman so in the workplace she is sexually-propositioned constantly and because she rejects these offers, she is eventually fired. If you are running a business yourself, it is easily destroyed by others, because you are a woman. When you don’t have a protector you don’t have a job, you don’t have [financial] support, what are you supposed to do? Well, some decide to endure the rape every night of every week so that at least they will have a protector. They tell themselves at home I am raped but when I leave the house I will be with my girlfriend.
Nazanin: Many cultured, wealthy families send their children abroad. They say “whatever misdeed you want to commit, do it there so we don’t see. Whenever you think you’d like to return and live here, you must marry so we won’t feel ashamed before aunts and uncles.” So even if they accept it, they say keep your distance, go so we don’t see you. We will accept, but leave. Leave so no one asks questions, and if they ask what is so and so doing, we’ll be able to say “he/she is abroad”. No one will be able to reach you and they won’t know, and we don’t lose face. Ultimately, as the saying goes, open-minded families abandon their children in a chic way.
Shaghayegh: We only want security of person. We are not interested in hurting anyone. I mean we do not have the ability to hurt others. No matter how much we say “we are butch, we are strong”, we are women and we don’t stand a chance against the physical power of a man. Yes, most lesbians go to self-defence and karate classes. In women’s karate and basketball teams you can see lesbians. At tournaments you should see how many there are, and no one interferes with them because everybody is the same. I mean, if you’re seeking lesbian hangouts you should go after sports teams. We don’t want to harm anyone; we only want the right to live.
AP: What is the lesbian social network like in Iran?
Shaghayegh: A number are connected to each other through the internet, through networks where everyone knows each other, and unfortunately none are ready to see each other and many often end up losing face. They tell each other’s families, they complain about each other. For example they say “if you don’t go out with me or if you don’t do this I will tell everyone you’re a lesbian”. They know each other completely and are in touch. Others who are not into the internet are lesbians who have contacts with girlfriends from high school or childhood, etc. They are not informed about any of these things and may not even know they are lesbians, only that they are in love with a girl. Sometimes they are forced to marry. I know people who were together from middle school and were even kicked out of school a number of times; they were always together and would die for each other, but they were forced to get married. Both got married at the same time and the interesting thing is after they married, both couples went to the north of Iran together for their honeymoon and these two women were together and those two men were together. But no one knows and everyone says “wow, what successful couples”, but no one knows what relationships exist between them.
Nazanin: Generally the social network between lesbians in Iran is not very interesting. Before there were certain sites through which lesbians would get to know each other. But since they have been shut down [filtered] the situation has become much worse. Most of them say “I am not a lesbian but I’m in love with this person until the end of my life”. They don’t even accept they are lesbians when they have sex with their girlfriend, they think lesbians are actors in porno films. In Iran we have a gay community and a lesbian community and the two don’t have much contact with one another, but in fact they must be in contact because both groups are homosexuals.
Nazanin: Because gays do not understand lesbians and do not understand what kinds of relationships lesbians have and when they ask “how do you have sex together”, it is very offensive for lesbians so they quickly pull themselves away. Without anybody being aware of it, a wall is established between them.
Shaghayegh: Yet connections do exist; usually gays and lesbians are each in touch with at least a couple of people [from the other community]. But these are not like the extensive connections gays have amongst themselves. Some look for lesbians in chat rooms and well, unfortunately, this is not an appropriate place because most of them are not lesbians. Real lesbians who are in the room are no longer willing to establish connections with anyone, since they constantly come into contact with sick heterosexual people who are there to satisfy their own curiosity. Usually lesbians are not in chat rooms and only establish connections through emails and profiles.
AP: What solution do you suggest, as a lesbian couple, for ending this separation and establishing unity?
Shaghayegh: Increase the knowledge gay men have about lesbian sex. They have a right to gain correct information, because they’re not aware and would like to know.
Nazanin: Giving information, watching appropriate films, getting to know lesbians, all these can benefit the connection between the communities. Unfortunately the symbol of a lesbian woman is two naked women with big breasts. This is completely wrong. Gays must get to know lesbians better, and lesbians in turn must get to know gay men better so they can establish good relationships. Then we must tell all gay men that asking questions about how you [lesbians] have sex is forbidden!
AP: Well, lastly, what would you like to add?
Nazanin: I would like to say a lesbian can pray and be the most pious person. God has created us and our differences are like [the difference between] white people and black people. We are homosexual while others are heterosexual.
Shaghayegh: A lesbian is not someone who sees everyone naked and wants to have sex with everyone around her; she lends more importance to love and emotion. Being a lesbian is not an abnormality, it is a sexual orientation. Do not avoid homosexuals. People don’t avoid vain people or peculiar animals, yet they avoid homosexuals and see them as unnatural. Society places these labels of good vs. bad, abnormal vs. natural vs. unnatural on individuals; who is this society? It is us – human beings.
May 23, 2007
Horrific New Photos of Iran’s Torture or Gays Plus, 87 Arrested in Raid on "Gay" Party
I wrote the following report for Gay City News — New York’s largest lesbian and gay weekly — which publishes it tomorrow:
Terrifying new photos showing the effects of police lashings last month on an Iranian gay couple have been released by the Iranian Queer Organization. Also, Iranian authorities staged a brutal and violent May 10 raid on a birthday party in Esfahan which they suspected was a gay party, beating the guests and arresting 87 people, including four women, one of whom had a child with her. Some 80 of those arrested made bail or were released immediately but face possible prosecution in the future; while 17 of those arrested were imprisoned awaiting trial, and a judge told their families that they would be charged with “homosexual conduct” (hamjensgarai in Persian) and the consumption of alcohol. According to the most recent telephonic reports from Esfahan received by Arsham Parsi, executive director of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO–formerly the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization), 12 of the 17 jailed in Esfahan were eventually also allowed to post bail and released pending their trial, which is scheduled for a month from now. Five are still incarcerated — including the lad whose birthday was being celebrated, 19-year-old Farhad, and his uncle, who were unable to make the $250,000 bail each set by a judge, Parsi told me this Wednesday.
“I’ve been told that Farhad faces prison and perhaps execution,” Parsi said by telephone from Toronto, where he has been living since he was granted asylum by Canada last year as a sexual refugee from persecution in Iran. Parsi said that, according to multiple accounts he has received from Iran, police brought along on the raid both a film crew and four mullahs to serve as witnesses to what they suspected would be gay sexual activity at the party. The mullahs accompanied police because, under the religious Sharia aw in force in the Islamic Republic of Iran, four witnesses are required for conviction on a charge of homosexual sex involving penetration, a crime which carries the death penalty. Consumption of alcohol carries a penalty of 100 lashes, and, after a third conviction, the death penalty.
Police and members of the Basiji — the thuggish parapolice attached to the Revolutionary Guards, who are used to enforce morality — severely beat the Esfahan party guests, both inside the house where the party was held and in the street outside it, resulting in broken bones for some of the partyers, according to these accounts by eyewitnesses and guests at the party. A voice-mail left on the office telephone of the IRQO by one of those arrested said, “The police beat us so hard that one of us threw himself out of the third-floor window and broke his legs; he is now in hospital. When we were arrested, we were forced to sleep on the floor, and the police were walking on us. We don’t have any voice here and you are our voice, please tell the world about our horrible situation in Iran, it is our daily life.”
Parsi told this reporter that eight of those jailed were transgendered or had been wearing female attire, that they had all denied having had anal intercourse with men, but that police had subsequently had them examined by a legal medical officer who claimed he had found evidence of anal sexual intercourse on the part of “most of them.” Parsi said those examined all told the arraignment judge that was because they had been raped, but the evidence of the legal medical officer can be used to convict them of a sexual crime that carries capital punishment. Parsi added that he had received a telephone call from one of the transgendered who was arrested, and that “she told me the awful story about that night and her jail experience. She told me that the police kept bags over their heads while they were in jail, and that they were hardly allowed to go to the toilet — they were permitted to use a toilet only twice in the four days they were in jail.”
Esfahan is Iran’s third largest city, with a population of 1,600,000, and is also home to one of Iran’s most important nuclear facilities, and thus is under tight police control and surveillance. Further evidence of the brutality of Iran’s heavy-handed theocracy towards homosexuals came with the release by the IRQO of horrific photos of the wounds of a gay couple who had been subjected to 80 lashes in April “just for being gay,” as Parsi put it. The gay couple — Farhad, 26, and Farnam, 23 — escaped from Iran to Turkey last Saturday. They were arrested when police broke into their home in Tehran. According to an Iranian Ministry of Justice document furnished to this reporter by the IRQO, Farhad and Farnam were charged with both “organizing immoral parties” and with the crime of “tafhkiz” , which can be translated as intercrural sex or interfemural sex. Parsi, who spoke to the fled gay couple by telephone, said that “the police told them, ‘The 80 lashes are just for your immoral parties. For your tafkhiz you will get a lot more.’” Fearful of imprisonment and more torture on the tafkhiz charge, the couple fled Iran just days before their trial on that charge.
The violent Esfahan raid and jailings were vigorously denounced by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Amnesty’s statement said in part, “Amnesty International opposes the criminalization of consensual adult sexual relations conducted in private and urges the Iranian authorities to urgently review law and practice to ensure that no one can be prosecuted for such reasons…AI is concerned that [some of] the men may be held because of what they were wearing at the time of their arrest…If this is the case, then they are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression.” Joe Stork, deputy director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, noted that the Esfahan raid came as the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was conducting a new campaign against “immoral behavior,” begun in April, that includes a stringent crackdown on women who violate rigorous Islamic dress codes. According to Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency, police said on April 25 that 150,000 people had been detained so far in this campaign. On May 13, police told the same news agency that 17,000 people had been stopped and interrogated at Iranian airports since the campaign began, of whom 850 women had been detained and released only after signing “commitment letters,” while another 130 faced prosecution.
“In Iran, the walls of homes are transparent and the halls of justice opaque,” HRW’s Stork said, adding: “This ‘morality’ campaign shows how fragile respect for privacy and personal dignity is in Iran today.” IRQO’s Parsi told this reporter that Farhad and Farnam were among five new refugees from persecution in Iran — two of the others gay, one of them transgendered — who arrived in Turkey on the same train last Saturday. “One of the guys arrived without a penny,” Parsi said, “he completely needs support, and for the moment he is living in one of our safe houses in Turkey, where we have eight people already living in a tiny two-bedroom house.”
Parsi said that his organization can only afford two such safe houses in Turkey, and that “both are very, very small and dirty, with totally inadequate toilet facilities and no way to bathe properly.” Added Parsi, “We now have over 30 gay, lesbian, and transgendered Iranian refugees in Turkey who totally depend on IRQO’s support — they cannot get jobs in Turkey, where there is a lot of homophobia and transphobia — and our small budget simply cannot adequately meet their needs. We appeal to all our brothers and sisters in the West not to forget the suffering of LGBT Iranians, or that we urgently need your donations.”
Contributions to the Iranian Queer Organization — an all-volunteer group that is the largest Iranian LGBT association, with over 40,000 people on its e-mail list — may be made on credit cards via a secure PayPal account through the organization’s website at http://www.pglo.net/
Interview with Two Iranian Gay Men (in Turkey) By Arsham Parsi Translated by Ramin
Could you please introduce yourselves?
I am Pooya, 26 years old and I am homosexual.
I am Soroosh, 23 years old, and also homosexual. I have been in Turkey for 6 months.
How do you explain the life of a gay man in Iran?
Pooya: A gay man has no life in Iran at all to be explained. Life is meaningless for him and he receives no acceptance for himself and his lifestyle. He has lots of problems involving his family, his society, the government, etc. I have a master’s degree, but I was not accepted even as a secretary in Iran as I was different from others. They didn’t say directly that it was because I am gay but they didn’t offer me any job and their reason was clearly implied. My family didn’t understand me. People made fun of me and they tormented me in such a way that I didn’t dare go out of my home. There is no place for a gay person in Iran as the culture does not accept the presence of homosexuality. A homosexual is not allowed to talk about himself and everyone looks at him in a different way. They call him a faggot, or they call him feminine. Whenever I talk to a gay man, I deal with the term “feminine”. Every gay man becomes unhappy of this label and they take it as a humiliation.
From your point of view, who is feminine and why is this word used?
Pooya: People used to call me feminine in any gathering. Everybody laughed at me and so this word was hateful for me. It was used to humiliate me. That’s why every gay man flees from this word.
Soroosh: Feminine was a label that I had to carry since my childhood. This word was not unfamiliar to me as I heard it everywhere – in my family, at school, everywhere in society. They called us feminine so often that we became used to it. Sometimes I really felt that I was feminine and this was my name. This word is very insulting in our society and any man hearing it becomes offended. My father and my brother became so upset when others called me feminine. They were ashamed.
Why do people use the term feminine?
Soroosh: They don’t understand. If a man likes to be clean and to wear clothes that are out of society’s norms, they call him feminine.
Pooya: Even wearing vibrant colors or cologne is considered to be feminine. For example I like wearing red but in Iran I couldn’t do this and it used to be a desire for me.
Soroosh: When I carried my back bag on my two shoulders and walked in the streets, the drivers used to blow their horns for me and when I carried it on only one shoulder they passed. Our people do not even have the culture of carrying a bag back and they consider carrying it on two shoulders as a girlish act, let alone wearing vibrant colors or colognes!
In your view, what should be done in a society where wearing vibrant colors or colognes are abnormal?
Soroosh: I believe one person cannot change this culture. It will take a long time. Public awareness and education should be implemented to tackle this issue.
Pooya: People must be made aware that such people do exist, they have the right to live like others and they should be accepted as they are. Wearing a T-shirt or a specific color does not represent the personality. We have to ask them to listen to us and talk to us about our tastes. They should not assume things and make fun of a person whose reality they know nothing about.
Do your families know anything about your sexual orientation?
Pooya: My family does not. But they have recognized some things and are suspicious. They know nothing about homosexuals etc. and believe that every man should marry a woman and have kids. They do not know that such things exist. That is why I believe that people should be informed. If I had a comfortable life, I would have never gotten out of Iran and come to live here, under the conditions you are now witnessing.
Soroosh: Every one has the right to choose his/her own lifestyle. When a person is not hurting me with their lifestyle choices, their private life should not be a problem for me; I have no right to criticize them. Our people are so curious to know why we are like this. When they find out, they deny it. I could never talk about who I am in Iran. This matter has obsessed me in a way that I want to cry out everywhere ‘I am a homosexual and I have the right to live’. A homosexual person should have the freedom to go to work, study, marry and have kids.
Pooya: A homosexual should have all the same rights that anyone else has in society. S/He should be allowed to talk and be respected. S/he should not be condemned or rejected because of his/her different sexual orientation.
Soroosh: We are also human beings. Just like a heterosexual who has rights in society and wants to marry, we want the same. There is no reason for people to judge us as deviated or corrupted persons as soon as they find out that we are homosexuals. I have no control over who I am attracted to. I have a twin brother who is heterosexual. I didn’t choose to be homosexual just as he didn’t choose to be heterosexual. I had to leave Iran and escape so far away just so I could be who I am.
Please describe your daily life in Iran.
Soroosh: I was not the real Soroosh in Iran. I was someone who wore a mask on his face. I was forced to isolate myself and feel lonely so no one would notice my problems and differences. If anyone had become aware, they would have raped, harassed, or made fun of me. They tortured us with the aim of helping us! For example they said: “You will get fixed. Have sex with a girl in order to change your taste.” They forced us to do many things which were unjust. When they discovered that these pressures did not work, they used other ways. They hit, insulted or raped us. All our moments in Iran were full of stress and torture. Although I have many problems here, it is still better than Iran. People in this city may be much worse than people in Iran, but at least my family is not present here to restrict or hit me for any small issue like the color of my clothes or the way I talking. At least I am not forced to play a role anymore. I am my true self.
Did you have family problems?
Soroosh: Yes, I had problems in every sense. I was forced to behave like my heterosexual brothers. My family did not recognize my differences and always compared me to my brothers. The only times I was comfortable were at nights when I could sleep. No one was awake to make fun of me for not sleeping like my brothers!
Pooya: For me it was the same. It was so hard for me that they did not understand me and found my behavior insufferable. I could not even wear the clothes I wanted for different occasions. Once I wore a sleeveless shirt and jeans at a birthday party of one of our relatives. A guest told me that he would have removed my name from his ID certificate if he had been my father. He wondered how a man could dress like this! This made my father hit me that night and the party became so bitter for me just for wearing a sleeveless shirt. Shouldn’t I have the right to choose what shirt to wear?! Is there really no heterosexual man who wears sleeveless shirts? Why did they always punish us?!
Soroosh: Homosexuals are the most miserable citizens of Iranian society. I know some one who used to live in a village. He did not know that homosexuality was not unnatural. Under the pressuring influence of society, he committed suicide in the stable of the family home in order to get rid of sin and mistake. This guy felt that he was the only one with these feelings due to lack of knowledge. If people are informed, every one can become aware of his/her disposition and orientation. Most homosexuals in Iran flee from their homosexuality since they are afraid. They always deny it, because if the truth comes out things will become even worse for them.
Pooya: Having no job, and being financially dependent on others are very huge problems for young gays. There might be a very bad future for such people. I disliked being dependent on some one else. I wanted to work on my own and spend my own money but no one would give me a job.
Soroosh: Sometimes homosexuals fall into prostitution. My father used to tell me: “You are like a girl and I have to pay you money for all your life. You have no productivity at all.” My brother used to tell me: “You are a pest. You just consume and produce nothing.” That was all because I was homosexual and not like them. That is why I say that queers have the most difficult conditions. One of my friends attempted suicide six times and he did it for the last time by taking rat poison. He was homosexual and his family used to force him to heal himself. One of my friends escaped from his home several times. I witnessed how inappropriately his mother used to talk to him. She said: “You have to stay at home until you die.” When the doctor talked to his father and explained his son’s homosexuality, the father responded that his son had only two options, either to die or to heal himself! His family believed that if he was gay he should die; otherwise he could live at home and was obliged to fulfill whatever was expected from him. This guy was forced to escape from his home and he is right now addicted to drugs. He was rejected at the time he needed help.
Pooya: He had no place to live and there are lots of people in the city who abuse homosexuals. He was forced to ask others for a place to sleep at night. Personally I became so sad when I was compared with others. They used to tell me that every guy went to the obligatory military service. They forced me to go there too; they did not understand that I could not go to the military service.
Soroosh: My father used to tell me: “You have to go to the military service to become a man.” They didn’t know that there was a very bad condition for the homosexuals who went to the obligatory military service. Gays are raped very often and garrisons are not safe places for them. They become depressed or undergo mental disorders during the military service.
But my family used to tell me: “You have to go to the military service to understand what manhood means.”
What is manhood according to your family?
Soroosh: Manhood means chasing girls or having a rough job. My brother used to tell me: “the moment I discover you are gay I will first kill you and then myself.” He continued: “I feel that you are so, therefore take care of your behavior.” The lives of gay people like us were exclusively defined in inconvenience, anxiety and panic for the things that might happen to us no matter where we were – at home, at school, on street or at university.
Pooya: I was a weak student at school as I never dared to raise my hand in class and ask a question that I did not understand. Once I raised my hand and everybody made fun of the way I talked. That is why I never did it again. Believe me I did not even know why people referred to me with feminine labels. I hated everything and wanted to slaughter all of them. They made fun of me and the school was hateful for me.
Soroosh: Once my brother’s friend told him: “Your brother looks very feminine.” My brother became so upset he pushed me into a glass window. The glass injured my hand and damaged the nerves. Now I have lots of problems because I have very little feeling in three of my fingers. All these pains just for one word! All of us have the same problems. You may not believe this story. The father of one of my friends poured hot water on his son when he discovered his son was gay!
How is your condition in Turkey?
Pooya: Our condition is not better than Iran. Five of us sleep in one room. Poor financial conditions make life very difficult. The sanitation condition is horrible. One of our friends has got a dermatological problem and his body has blistered all over. Our heads itch as there is no clean bathroom. Another friend has got sciatica due to the present pressures and has not able to walk for two months. My toe nails have turned black due to calcium deficiency. Since the expenses for drugs and medical treatment are so high, we are forced to take old medicine or what is sent to us from Iran.
Soroosh: We even do not have safety. They threatened us by gun a while ago and told us: “We, Turks, do not accept you and can kill you simply if we wish. We are Muslims and do not accept these issues.” We even have problems with police and they make fun of us too.
Pooya: We even have problems with groceries. Once I was coming out of a grocery store, the security men stopped me and began to check my body. They intended to molest me. They touched my hips. What could I hide there?! Was there any other intention than molesting me?! I am so sad that I am humiliated even here.
Soroosh: The condition is so bad. We can hardly warm our houses during winter. Our things were about to burn several times as we were forced to warm the house by coal and wood and sleep the whole night while wearing our jackets.
How do your overcome your living expenses?
We have no support from anywhere. Even after UN assistance and attending a financial interview, they pay us around $100 monthly while we must pay at least $200 for renting a home. We are deep into trouble but we have to be patient and suffer everything. We can not do anything. We have to be patient.
How is your file status in UN?
Pooya: Both of us are accepted and we are waiting for the admitting country. However, our condition has not changed compared to before. We are receiving the money that enables us to share with others. We are suffering all these difficulties with the hope that we would live in a country that accepts us as homosexuals. We don’t like to go somewhere like Iran or Turkey with the same fear and anxiety.
Soroosh: I like to go somewhere where everyone respects our rights. People accept same sex marriage. My dream is to marry legally so that my relations won’t be casual and desultory. Nowadays in western countries, it is common for couples to live together and share a life without officially marrying. It is interesting to know why homosexuals with relations traditionally like this are looking for marriage.
Pooya: I am not talking about homosexuals in the west. In Iran even two men are not allowed to live in one house and should explain it to many people. They don’t rent home to singles and etc. Therefore living with the sexual partner is not possible and the couples are forced to have only phone calls or distant relations.
Soroosh: I like to marry a man officially and I want a permanent relation from my marriage. Marriage is the minimum peace in life. I know that divorce also exists but for me equality is so important. I should have the same rights that a heterosexual does – the right to marry and establish a family. It is not right to claim that marriage is only exclusive to heterosexuals. Some heterosexuals do not like to marry and some do. In general, marriage should not be a right solely for heterosexuals but for all humans. We can either use this right or not. Same sex marriage is not a must, but it is our right.
Pooya: I am still not sure if I want to get married or not, but I am sure that I don’t want to be played by others. I want to dedicate my love solely to one person and I want him to do the same. I want a healthy and peaceful life.
Soroosh: One of the reasons for this issue is that we gays have always been played and abused. At the beginning of any acquaintance, the person we are with says they are in love and will commit forever. However after they abuse us, they bring excuses and that is all. Unfortunately there are lots of these abusers in Iran. They have difficulties in bonding with girls so they are forced to do it with boys. They are not homosexuals but they have sex with the same gender due to their conditions. Due to all these failures, I want to get married and become secure.
Dear Pooya, I am noticing a rosary round your neck.
Are you religious?
Pooya: No, I am not. I just believe in God and I pray to him with this rosary every night. I ask God to offer me a healthy life. I don’t want to be trampled in life. I want people to respect and accept me. I pray to God for my future life. My parents are Muslims, but how can I accept a religion that denies, executes or stones me?! Therefore I’d rather just pray to God.
Soroosh: No religion accepts us. I used to like Christianity and got familiar with some one who used to gospel. He really welcomed me to convert into Christianity. After he realized that I was gay he changed all his words and said that I was not eligible to become a Christian.
From your point of view, are the religious issues held against queers directly related to religion or to people’s interpretation?
Pooya: I believe it is related to people’s interpretation. They know nothing. They know neither about religion nor about homosexuals. They simply comment about the two things that they don’t know anything about. This is definitely wrong.
Soroosh: They say that Islam commands homosexuals be thrown from a hill, be stoned or be executed. Gays are unclean. I have heard so many times from the clergy that the earth curses homosexuals whenever they walk on it. However many things have changed in Islam. New laws have been legislated which either did not exist or were different in the Prophet’s time. They have to do this in Iran too. In Islam the punishment for theft is cutting the thief’s hands. In Iran many people are thieves but their hands are not cut. In Islam there is a severe punishment for bribe, nowadays the banks are doing the same and they call it interest! There is no religious problem for such a thing. Shouldn’t the condition change for homosexuals as well? Like other definitions they make for different things, they should distinguish between homosexuals and rapists. My university professor raped me. There should be a difference between me and him! Shouldn’t there?
Dear Soroosh, how did your professor rape you?
My university professor closed the door and raped me. I could not do any thing. He should have confirmed my final thesis. When I wanted to get out of his office, he put his hand on the door and said: “I like you and want to have sex with you.” He forced me to have sex with him. I didn’t want it; he threatened that he wouldn’t let me graduate. I could neither shout nor ask for help. I could not tell anyone as it would cause me problems. Everybody would say I was lying and no one would doubt him. He was both a heterosexual man and a university professor. I had to keep quiet for my reputation.
What is the main social problem for homosexuals?
Pooya: Due to these ideas, most of the times they pressure homosexuals to do wrong things that have severe consequences. Like marriage to a girl which causes misery for the two sides. They force a couple to marry and a poor homosexual does this when he has no other option. Most of the time, this matter results in divorce and no body recognizes the cause – forcing a homosexual guy to get married. One of my homosexual friends was forced to marry. I asked him how he was satisfied. He said that he fantasized his wife as a guy during sex! I really got sad. He was forced to get married due to family pressures. I know lots of gays who married like this and all have problems.
Soroosh: Many gays commit suicide to avoid such fates. However, those who get married are in a permanent suicide. They are tortured when they see their children as they have betrayed some human beings by their silence. They might claim that they have a good life but what they are suffering is misery. Nowadays there is an organization for everything like women, victims, addicted people, or runaways. But the only organization that works for homosexuals is coroner which either certifies a rape act or a burial permission.
How can you as homosexuals change this bad condition?
Soroosh: I really don’t know how to make people aware. But your organization can educate them. It can tell people that homosexuals are not ill and inform them about what issues they are facing. They have not selected to be gay, they were born gay. I may live alone the rest of my life. I may not have a clear future with all these problems. I may have anxiety forever. However, I am gay and I am happy with myself. I have always been a gay man and I will die as gay man. Everybody rejects me so that I change. No, I am this way and I wish to help queers with the hope that they don’t suffer like me anymore.
Everyone likes to help but no one knows how. What is your plan?
Soroosh: If my financial condition becomes well, I will definitely give part of my income to organizations like yours which are really working. I’ve know your organization since a long time ago and I know you helped many of us. I have read your magazine and I have learnt quite a lot.
Pooya: I am ready to do any help. I am even ready to appear in the media. Financial support, informing people, writing, everything can be help. Many people are afraid of talking and educating others. How can they overcome the fear of revealing their identities?
Soroosh: To achieve a goal, you need to make sacrifices. If we are looking for freedom we have to do lots of things and overcome our fears. I am willing to suffer on this arduous road for the sake of others, so they may be able to walk the next steps. Especially those who get out of Iran should not forget the others left behind. They should not think now that they’re safe they can forget about the past. What is happening to those who are still under pressure? We all should become united for the sake of our generation and the next generation.
Pooya: We should never forget that a baby who might be gay could be born by tomorrow. Should s/he suffer all the problems from scratch?!
October 1, 2007
Queer Iranians and Mr. Ahmadinejad in the Press
by Arsham Parsi
Cheraq Magazine, No 33
Translated by Ava
On Monday September 24th, Mr. Ahmadinejad gave a talk at New York’s Columbia University. The President of Columbia, under great pressure for having invited Mr. Ahmadinejad, tried to compensate by creating a favourable atmosphere for himself, an atmosphere which did not materialize until the question about homosexuality was raised. A question was asked about the situation of homosexuals in Iran and in response Mr. Ahmadinejad replied: "In our country we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. This does not exist in our country. I don’t know who has told you that we have this." This response elicited laughter and booing from the crowd in attendance. As a result of the Iranian president’s response, the board of directors of IRQO (the Iranian Queer Organization) found itself confronted with a heavy volume of interview requests and questions last week in regards to this matter. We were giving interviews with numerous news agencies on a daily basis, explaining the organization’s perspective. Some of the major media outlets who approached the organization for interviews include: New York Sun, Fox News, BBC, BBC Brazil, BBC Farsi, Voice of America’s Iranian program (VOA), CNN television, CBC Canada, ABC Australia radio, Radio Farda, America’s National Public radio (NPR), New York Public Radio, KGO Radio San Francisco, Wall Street Journal, Brazilian newspapers, SBT Brazil (national television network), Iran Emrooz website, Seattle television and many other independent stations and newspapers in England, Spain, Holland, France, Germany, USA, Canada and Australia. Whenever possible we connected these outlets to queer Iranians living in that country who were willing to give interviews.
The question is this: what did this response mean? Is the president of Iran literally unaware of the existence of homosexuals? Or does he imagine such a phenomenon to be something particular to Western countries only and not something that could exist in Iranian society? Or if it does exist, does Amadinejad consider homosexuality to be a Western cultural import and therefore agrees with Judge Mortazavi that it must be met with legal retribution so as to prevent the spread of immorality? Or was it that the question caught Mr. Ahmadinejad by surprise and he simply did not have an appropriate response? Logic informs us that Mr. Ahmadinejad was not surprised by the question. We can as an example to last year’s incident when Mr. Khatami was confronted with the same question while giving a speech at University of Chicago. His answer was that in Islamic law there are punishments for homosexuals and other such groups, and this is something based on Islamic jurisprudence. Based on this we can logically conceive that the government of Iran knew this issue would likely come up during Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit. Therefore our guess is that before the speech was given there had been much time spent on forming a response to this kind of question.
The first point is why Mr. Ahmadinejad used the phrase hamjensbaaz (derogatory Farsi slang word for homosexuals, equivalent to the word Sodomize, faggot in English). One reason is to present a homosexual relationship in a negative way because this is the phrase most commonly used in Iranian society and most people do not know the difference in meaning between hamjensbaaz and hamjensgara (politically-correct Farsi word for homosexual). It is necessary to mention that even amongst the current Iranian Diaspora population in Western countries those who use the kind of language common in Iran thirty years ago still widely use the phrase hamjensbaaz when approaching the issue. So it is possible that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s translator used the phrase hamjensbaaz; maybe if the translator had used the phrase hamjensgara Mr. Ahmadinjead might have also used hamjensgara in his response to the question. Either way, this response does not differentiate between hamjensbaaz and hamjensgaraa as it refers to any individual of a different sexual orientation.
It was often claimed in the press that this statement pointed to the lack of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s knowledge about the situation of minorities in Iran and many news agencies called him uneducated. But in the press interviews we repeatedly stated that considering Mr. Ahmadinejad is the president of Iran, he is responsible for all the official and legal actions of the government. So he is naturally aware of information, statistics, and figures that have to do with administering the country. One should not use the assumption that he is uninformed as an excuse to not hold him responsible. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comment was not based on lack of information; its purpose was rather to announce an intense denial of queer rights in Iran. The message behind his response is that any question regarding the situation and social rights of homosexuals is irrelevant and meaningless. So by eliminating the issue, Mr. Ahmadinejad relinquished any responsibility to answer to it. Naturally if he had responded truthfully to the question, the next question would have been “why does Iran’s legal system punish homosexuality?”, “why are their rights not respected?” and …. By announcing a denial of the existence of homosexuals in Iran Mr. Ahmadinejad ended this chapter of discussion.
By denying that homosexuals exist, Mr. Ahmadinjead assumes a position that specifically addresses the issue of queer rights. If he did not wish to assert the government’s position he could have easily related the issue to the judicial system, religious commandments, and Islamic jurisprudence and left the argument at that, in much the same way that Mr. Khatami left the issue unanswered. Instead Ahmadinejad denied the existence of homosexuals and ceased to officially recognize or announce their citizenship rights – a clear assertion of the government’s position on this matter. In interviews our organization has reminded Western governments to note that these sentences were not spoken by any average person. These are the chosen opinions of the top one/two figures of the Iranian government. Accordingly, governments whom till now have claimed Iran to be a safe country for LGBTs and sent refugees back to Iran without recognizing the danger they faced, must now accept that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has never granted rights to this section of its citizenship, so much so that even in the explanation of this discrimination it denies their existence.
In spite of the points already mentioned, we believe that in some interviews Mr. Ahmadinejad was scrutinized in a way that was by no means acceptable. Mr. Bush’s government is also not accepted by many of the American people and is one of the opponents of queer rights, yet he is not officially condemned in international press, but rather addressed respectfully as Sir or Mr. President. In recent interviews we have tried to object to these biased and insulting representations in the media and respectfully use official prefixes when referring to the Iranian president because he was invited to give this talk not as an individual but as an official representative of the Iranian government.
The Farsi program of the Voice of America did not air Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments on Monday. We asked many friends to protest this censorship by sending letters, and in a telephone message to the Farsi desk of Voice of America we reminded them that censorship in any of its dimensions is not right. We were informed that the Farsi desk of Voice of America was under pressure by various groups including the Iranian government, groups implicated with opponents of freedom and elements of censorship. Fortunately Voice of America decided to cover this news and conducted a television interview, a number of radio interviews, and announced in its Shabahang program that it had received many letters about the station’s initial evasion of the homosexuality issue. This change of position was met with thank you letters from listeners.
All of us are aware of the long road we face before we reach our desired conditions in terms of rights and legal and social status for Iranian queers. For all of us it is a cause for happiness and encouragement that the issue of queer rights now exists in a sphere far beyond where it was when we initially began our work. A movement that began four years ago by a few active innovators in the basements of a few unknown houses in an unsafe atmosphere inside Iran, today sits in major news headlines related to Iran; the voice of this oppressed minority now functions side by side with other acknowledged Iranian minority groups working in similar conditions in the effort to attain their fundamental rights. This progress is indebted to the cooperation and support of individuals and organizations that have helped us in this cause and the continuation of this movement is only possible with their help.
10th October 2007
Iran admits that it does have gays
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
The President of Iran claims he was misrepresented by Western media when he was quoted as saying that there are no gays in Iran. A presidential aide now says that he simply meant not as many as in the United States. Last month, PinkNews.co.uk quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reply to a question posed about homosexuality during his speech at New York’s Columbia University as: "In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country… In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don’t know who has told you that we have it." Presidential media adviser Mohammad Kalhor today said: "What Ahmadinejad said was not a political answer. He said that, compared to American society, we don’t have many homosexuals,"
Kalhor told Reuters that due to historical, religious and cultural differences homosexuality was less prevalent in Iran and the Islamic world than in the West. In August a newspaper, Shargh, was shut down for printing an interview with a lesbian poet, Saghi Ghahreman. In July 2005, two gay teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were executed sparking protests around the world.