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January 7, 2010 – IGLHRC
Iran: Transgender People No Longer Classified as “Mentally Sick”
by Hossein Alizadeh
The following is a translation of a story written by the State-run Fars News Agency, and published January 7, 2010 on BBC Persian’s Website. While the decision of the government not to classify transgender people as mentally disturbed is an important step forward, the language used by the government officials is both unfortunate and shows the challenges that the trans community faces in Iran.
The Director of Socially Vulnerable groups at the State Agency for National Well-Being says that the Iranian Military will no longer classify transgender people (who are eligible a for medical discharged from the compulsory military service) as “people with mental disorders.” In his January 6th interview, Mr. Hasan Mousavi Chelk said: “So far, transgender people were exempt from the military based on their situation as “mentally disturbed.” But by including this classification in their discharge paper, they have faced numerous problems. Therefore it was decided to end the practice.”
The new policy comes after two years of consultation between the National Well-Being Agency and the Iranian Armed Services. The new regulations will allow transgender people to be classified either as “people with hormonal imbalance” or “diabetics.” Mr. Chelk says most of the Iranian public is not informed about transgender people, whom he describes as “people with sexual identity disorder.” He says the Iranian government considers transgender people as its citizens and has a favorable view towards them.” According to Mr Chelk, there are currently 4,000 self-identified transgender people in Iran.
January 27, 2010 – IRQR
Five Human Rights Groups Launch Worldwide ‘346 No Execution’ Campaign
Today, five human rights advocacy groups in five Western nations announced the official launching of the 346 No Executions campaign, a coordinated worldwide effort to inspire at least 346 citizens in each member nation to submit letters of petition to their respective foreign ministries, specifically requesting that diplomatic pressure be applied to the government of Iran to abolish its death penalty.
The Iranian regime routinely carries out government-sanctioned executions in arbitrary, capricious and inhumane fashion to homosexuals, women, young girls, religious minorities, minors and now Green protesters, all of which are in defiance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Iran is a signatory.
The five participating groups in the 346 No Executions campaign to date are: The Iranian Homosexual Human Rights Councils (Canada, United States), OutRage! (United Kingdom), The Hirschfeld-Eddy Foundation (Germany) and the Everyone Group (Italy). The participants hope to recruit more human rights groups in other countries to the campaign as word spreads. ‘346’ is derived from the official figure of executions carried out in Iran in 2008, according to the latest Amnesty International report.
Mr. Arsham Parsi, who represents the campaign as communications director of the Iranian Homosexual Human Rights Councils, recently stated that AI’s official figure of 346 does not accurately reflect the actual number of executions carried out annually by the Iranian regime:
"Three-hundred and forty-six is a conservative estimate," Mr. Parsi stated in a recent interview. "The unofficial number is likely much higher. Iran must stop taking innocent lives in such cavalier, arbitrary and brutal ways. Our campaign’s mission is to petition member governments to apply diplomatic pressure on Iran to cease and desist with these barbaric and unjust executions.
"It is the express goal of the 346 No Executions campaign to bring these arbitrary executions in Iran to an end. We seek to do this through letters of petition and by expanding the campaign to other nations, particularly in the European Union. Many EU member states conduct a great deal of commercial trade with Iran, yet the EU is also signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This dichotomy between principles and actions represents a clear conflict of interest in the EU vis-a-vis trade with Iran and the fundamental human rights EU member nations swore to uphold in the Universal Declaration.
"It is our hope that these letters of petition will compel as many governments as possible to address the situation in Iran, and will as a result apply diplomatic pressure on the regime to uphold its own legal, moral and human rights obligations under the Universal Declaration. We also hope that by increasing awareness of this intolerable situation in Iran to concerned citizens and human rights advocacy groups around the globe, that even more governments will pressure Iran. There is great strength in numbers."
If you are a member of a human rights organization or NGO and would like launch your own 346 No Executions campaign in your country, we will gladly assist you. Please contact Mr. Arsham Parsi direct at email@example.com.
February 2010 – PaperMag
Gay Travels Through Seru
Aleppo was the first really authentic Middle Eastern city I had been to. I was traveling from Istanbul to Tehran, slowly, by rail, bus and air, and it was my first stop inside the Syrian border. Aleppo claims to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and though it can genuinely claim a connection to the "Grand Tour" literati set of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (Agatha Christie began writing Murder on the Orient Express while staying in the Baron Hotel in Aleppo), it has since lost most of its glamour and all of its celebs. It sits on the edge of the Syrian Desert, the poor neglected sibling to the more sanctimonious Damascus, and from a distance it shines silver, like powdered bone, and stuns you into silence. And in short I was afraid.
I had come to Syria in order to discover more about gay life there, but now, in this medieval environment, I felt a little out of my depth. However, on the cusp of a panic attack I got lucky. I met Mohammad.
Mohammad was 25, tall and splendidly handsome with sallow skin and dark eyes. He was also as gay as Ramadan. I noticed him leaning against a wall in a narrow alleyway near my hotel, and as I passed he spoke.
"Hey! Where you from?"
I felt slightly flustered. "Irish. I’m Ireland." He really was that beautiful.
"OK," he said, pausing before leaning in a little closer and adding, "And do you know the Mr. Oscar Wilde?"
It wasn’t really the question I had been expecting to be asked in Syria. "Yes, yes I do," I replied.
He then leaned in even closer and spoke in more hushed tones. "OK. I… I am like the Mr. Oscar Wilde."
What the fuck? I was beginning to find it hard to breathe. "Oh. Really?"
"Yes," he said, and then he leaned in so close that his lips practically touched my ear and he whispered. "Yes. I am a vegetarian."
I gathered from the knowing looks he was giving me that this was code. Not terribly good code but code nonetheless.
"I see. I am a vegetarian also." I said.
Mohammad was pleased with this.
"I think we understand each other," he said.
Read Article Here
13 February 2010 – ILGA Asia
A Glance at Iranian Gay Life and their Prosecution, Arrest and Torture in Iran
Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees shares these cases of persecution and hate crimes perpetrated by authorities of the Iran, Islamic Republic against gay/queer men. The following cases provide a glimpse into the horrifying, outrageous, and distressing conditions Iranian queers are condemned to live under. For security reasosn, the real name of the survivors, in most cases, were not used. Please contact IRQO if you require more information about any case.
In December 2008, Ali, who is 30, escaped from Iran to Turkey. He was caught when he was having sex with a man by his father, who was a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. As a result, he lost his job, and he and his family were threatened with death. He was arrested several times in Iran, the last time was in the summer of 2007 while he was on vacation in the north of Iran, and the Islamic Guard detained him simply because he was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and had spiky hair. He doesn’t feel safe even in Turkey because the father of the man he had sex with is in the Revolutionary Guard and has the ability to find him there and have him killed so he can cover up the scandal of his queer son. In an interview with us, he said: "I didn’t do anything. I’m just a gay man who was born in a country in which my existence was forbidden, just for being gay, just for having a special feeling which is not that of a majority of society. I love guys. It is my right to be free, but I have to live in exile for it. I need help.”
On May 10, 2007, eighty-seven queer men were arrested and beaten by the police at a birthday party in Esfahan. Around 10 p.m., the police force first entered the second floor of the home where the family members were gathered and arrested some of them and a child. The family members were released the day after. The police then went to the third floor where the party guests were gathered, turned off the lights, shot ‘fake gunshots,’ forced everyone to lie on the ground, began beating them and walked over them. Then the police dragged either head-bags or their blouses over the guests’ heads, forced them to go to the street and pushed them with a baton into a military car. While the car had a normal capacity of 15-20 people, the police stuffed all 87 men into one vehicle. The people who were witnessing the event on the street reported that the clothes of the arrested men were torn and their faces were bleeding. One of the guests jumped out of the third floor window and needed operation on his two broken legs as a result. Based on information received, they were transferred to the Esfahan Dastgerd jail and were exposed to severe pressure and torture. Of the 87 men arrested, 60 were released unconditionally in the weeks following their arrest while 27 were later released on bail. They are not believed to have had access to lawyers or their families. Farhad, the 19-year-old man for whom the birthday party was held, was condemned to pay 150,000,000 Tomans (about 170,000 USD) as bail. A judge reportedly said that those detained following the private party will be charged with consumption of alcohol and “homosexual conduct” (hamjensgarai) even though there was no evidence to prove that these men were gay or were engaging in same-sex relations. It is important to note that when storming the house, the police forces were equipped with cameras and were accompanied by four clergymen, making them effectively ready to satisfy the legal requirement of four “righteous men” to prove the act of sodomy. No evidence could be collected, however, to prove the crime of “lavat” because at the time of the invasion, no one was engaging in any sexual conduct. The situation could have been different, though. This incident is just one of the many examples that show the extent to which the walls of homes are transparent and the halls of justice are opaque in Iran. It also shows the extent to which respect for privacy and personal dignity is fragile in Iran.
IRQR acquired information about the above-mentioned incident through its queer members in Iran. After some of our members contacted us by phone to report the situation, they were contacted by intelligence agents (Setad-e Khabari-e Ettelaat) and were brought into their office. They were accused of working for foreign organizations and asked to explain why there was once an Italian man at one of their parties. When they denied the accusation, they were told that the intelligence agency has information about all of them and were presented with albums that contained the pictures and contact information of all their gay friends. They were asked to pay significant amounts of money in order to be released. Following their release, several of the arrested men left the country for security reasons. These incidents illustrate the extent to which members of the queer community, their telephone conversations and their relationships are monitored and controlled.
In April 2007, two gay men, 26-year-old Farsad and 24-year-old Farnam, received 80 lashes for giving a small party in their house, and were told that they would receive further lashes later for having an “improper” relationship. Farsad and Farnam moved together into an apartment in the winter of 2007 to start their life as a couple. They invited a small group of their friends to celebrate their union. Just fifteen minutes after the party began; the police broke into their house and arrested everyone. The arrestees were beaten brutally and were then transported to a police detention center. They spent the entire New Year holidays in a prison cell. “We were beaten to the point that my spine hurt permanently; I still feel the pain caused by the fists pounding my face,” Farsad says. They were accused of advocating decadence, homosexuality and prostitution. Because they were arrested together, the authorities insisted on more details about their relationship. During the police interrogation, they were asked, "Did you have sexual intercourse with each other?” They did not admit to this, and eventually they were sentenced for having an improper relationship, for which they received a sentence of 80 lashes. All other guests were released conditionally and they were ordered to remain in the city and not contact each other. Two weeks before the execution of their sentence, the party attendees were arrested again and were sentenced to 60 lashes each, all received the same day. Farsad and Farnam were told that the 80 lashes were just for holding the party, and that their sentence for the improper relationship would be executed later.
Read Entire Article
March 22, 2010 – PinkNews
Iranian actor returns to screens after gender reassignment
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
An Iranian actor has returned to screens as a man after transitioning. Saman Arastu, who was previously known as Farzaneh, had a strong career as a woman, playing television and film roles. Now, the 42-year-old has taken advantage of Iran’s liberal laws on gender reassignment after years of counselling and has returned to acting.
According to the Guardian, Arastu told an Iranian magazine he had always known he was supposed to be male. He said: "Now I feel totally well. Previously there was only fear and depression in my eyes. I was always hiding myself and justifying myself."
Homosexuality is illegal in Iran and many gays are persecuted. However, the country takes a very different approach to trans people. Under Islamic law, they are deemed religiously permissible and the country carries out the second highest number of gender reassignment surgeries in the world, after Thailand. The state will fund gender reassignment surgery and there is more sympathy for those transitioning to become men.
14th May, 2010 – SameSame
Lesbian filmmaker "faces death" in Iran
by Matt Akersten
Out lesbian filmmaker, actress and LGBT activist Kiana Firouz has been refused asylum in the UK and fears she’ll face the death penalty when sent back to her homeland. Respected alternative culture magazine Coilhouse tells Firouz’ story: “When clips of her video documentary work featuring the struggle and persecution of gays and lesbians in her country were acquired by Iranian intelligence, agents began to follow Firouz around Tehran, harassing and intimidating her. She fled for England where she could safely continue her work and studies.”
But the 27-year-old has been denied asylum in the UK, and may now be forced to return to Iran. The ultimate punishment for lesbian sex in Iran is death by hanging, following three sentences of ‘100 lashes’. The trailer for Firouz’ film documentary Cul De Sac appears here, and click here for an online petition aiming to save her from deportation.
June 16, 2010 – Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees
Kiana Firouz Granted Leave to Remain in the UK
by Arsham Parsi, Executive Director IRQR
Kiana Frouz, an Iranian lesbian and filmmaker who left Iran to the UK in 2008 on basis of her sexual orientation has been granted asylum in the UK today. She is the lead actress in the film Cul-de-Sac, a drama-documentary based on Kiana’s experiences as an Iranian lesbian, released in London in May 20, 2010.
Kiana’s claim was rejected by British Home Office even though they believed her being persecuted for her homosexuality. Now, after all international support, Kiana can stay in the UK and enjoys her freedom.
The Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees appreciates all official elected, groups, organizations, activists and individuals who supported Kiana Firouz for her battle. We, Iranian queers, are proud that we are not alone anymore and there are millions of people who are well-aware about our situation and they support us whenever we need them. The IRQR is working with more than 250 Iranian queer asylum seekers worldwide and still about 140 of them are waiting desperately for their asylum or resettlement process.
If you want to get involved more and help Iranian queer refugees please visit IRQR website for more information.
July 05, 2010 – YNet News
Germany: Israelis, Iranians march together
Cologne’s gay pride parade brings ‘enemies’ together from Israel, Iran, Turkey
by Yoav Zitun
After the flotilla affair renderred the Israeli GLBT community unwanted in Madrid, a million and a half participants painted the streets of Cologne in the colors of the rainbow flag during a gay pride parade considered one of the largest in Europe. Maybe precisely because of the recent political storm, there was an unexpected spectacle – members of the Iranian community in exile marched side by side with Israelis, openly embracing before the crowds and cameras of the international media which rushed to document the unusual event.
The Israeli delegation arrived by special invitation from the city of Cologne. As they marched carrying Israeli flags alongside the rainbow flags, Iranians joined them carrying Iranian flags from the Shah period, before the Islamic Revolution. One Iranian said he was forced to flee Iran just a month ago after he was identified by the authorities as a gay activist and persecuted.
The Israeli delegation marched at the front of the parade along with Cologne’s mayor Jurgen Rutters. "Even Turks joined us together with representatives from Russia, Ukraine and other states where it is hard to be gay," Adir Steiner said to Ynet. Steiner, who coordinates gay pride events in Tel Aviv, said that "one of them asked me why Israel can’t be a refuge for Iranian gays who are persecuted by the regime. I told him the situation is not black-and-white, and that Iran is a hostile state and it’s forbidden for its citizens to enter Israel."
Yaniv Weizman from Tel Aviv municipality said, "The participation of Tel Aviv representatives is an excellent opportunity to show tens of thousands of participants the beautiful face of Israel, tolerant and open, and Tel Aviv as one of the most fascinating cities in the world today for gay tourists."
7 July 2010 – BBC
Gay asylum seekers from Iran and Cameroon win appeal
Lord Hope said that homosexual acts may be punishable by death in Iran Two gay men who said they faced persecution in their home countries have the right to asylum in the UK, the Supreme Court has ruled. The panel of judges said it had agreed "unanimously" to allow the appeals from the men, from Cameroon and Iran. They had earlier been refused asylum on the grounds they could hide their sexuality by behaving discreetly. Home Secretary Theresa May said the judgement vindicated the coalition government’s stance. Under the previous government the Home Office had contested the case, saying it had taken sexuality into account when making its decisions.
The five Supreme Court justices were asked to decide whether a gay applicant could be refused asylum on the grounds that he could avoid ill treatment by concealing his sexuality. Previous attempts by the men to stay in the UK had been rejected by judges at the Court of Appeal who ruled that if the men could conceal their sexuality, their situation could have been regarded as "reasonably tolerable". But the applicants said this tolerability test was contrary to the Refugee Convention, to which the UK is a party. Today’s decision marks a complete change in the approach that will be taken by tribunals and courts to applications for asylum by gay people.
The Supreme Court has unanimously and unequivocally demolished the previous approach, whereby it was acceptable to return gay asylum seekers if it was considered that by being discreet about their sexuality, they could lead a life that was "reasonably tolerable". The Supreme Court has made clear that to compel a homosexual person to pretend that their sexuality does not exist, or to require them to suppress the manifestation of it, is to deny them their fundamental identity. Gay people should be entitled to the same rights of freedom of association and expression as straight people. All future applications in the UK, which relate to countries that sponsor or condone the persecution of homosexuals, will have to apply the Supreme Court’s guidance.
The Supreme Court agreed and ruled that the men’s cases could be reconsidered. Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: "To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. "Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight." The court said it would be passing detailed guidance to the lower courts about how to treat such cases in the future.
The applicant from Cameroon, who is only identified as HT, had been told he should relocate elsewhere in his country and be "more discreet" in future. He had been attacked by an angry mob at home after being seen kissing his partner. He has been fighting removal from the UK for the past four years. "Some people stopped me and said ‘we know you are a gay man’," HT earlier told the BBC. "I cannot go back and hide who I am or lie about my sexuality."
The other application was from a 31-year-old Iranian gay man, who was attacked and expelled from school when his homosexuality was discovered. Like HT, he had been told he could be "reasonably expected to tolerate" conditions back home that would require him to be discreet and avoid persecution. Punishment for homosexual acts ranges from public flogging to execution in Iran, and in Cameroon jail sentences for homosexuality range from six months to five years. Gay asylum seeker HT: ‘If I go back I will live my life in fear’
Mrs May said she welcomed the ruling, adding that it was unacceptable to send people home and expect them to hide their sexuality. She said: "We have already promised to stop the removal of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution. From today, asylum decisions will be considered under the new rules and the judgement gives an immediate legal basis for us to reframe our guidance for assessing claims based on sexuality, taking into account relevant country guidance and the merits of each individual case. We will of course take any decisions on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of gay lobby group Stonewall said it was delighted and offered to help the government deal with such cases. Its recent No Going Back report had suggested that between 2005 and 2009, the Home Office had initially refused 98% of all gay or lesbian asylum claims. Mr Summerskill said: "Demanding that lesbian or gay people return home to conceal their sexuality bears no resemblance to the reality of gay life in many countries." Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council agreed and said: "It is about time refugees fleeing their countries because of persecution over their sexuality are acknowledged as being legitimately in need of safety here, in line with those fleeing other human rights abuses."
The charity Refugee Action called for UK Border Agency staff to receive further training about issues that could affect gay people in their home countries. Its chief executive Jill Roberts said: "It is crucial that the right decision is made first time so that people are not returned to danger."
August 22, 2010 – YNet News
Being gay in Iran
Meeting in secret, living in fear: Members of Iran’s LGBT community tell of arrests, beatings, rape – and escape to the West. But ‘people are showing less fear of the Islamic regime,’ they say
by Dudi Cohen
Last month, quietly, under the nose of the ayatollah regime, a group of Iranian homosexuals decided to celebrate the national LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) day. Naturally, however, they were unable to march through the streets of Tehran waving the rainbow Pride flags as they passed the house of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "It was a small event, less than 12 people," says Faruh, an Iranian homosexual and member of an organization that assists homosexuals who have fled the Islamic Republic. "They had a ceremony at home and then went out for a drive."
One reason the event encountered no difficulties and without arrests, he says, was that the participants didn’t spend much time organizing it and didn’t say a word about it. "They said they waved Pride flags but it was probably not for long," he adds. "It was probably inside the car where nobody saw." In Ahmadinejad’s Iran, young people with different sexual mores are not welcome. Just last month, police burst into a party in Shiraz and arrested 17 homosexuals after they were caught with drugs and alcohol, according to the police. Rights organizations say 11 homosexuals face the death sentence just for their sexual preferences.
Meeting places in each big city
Though the authorities refuse to recognize them, homosexuals still find ways of meeting. "In every big city there are recognized places where the community meets," an activist in the Tehran community, who asks not to be identified, tells Ynet. "There are cafes which dedicate an evening to homosexuals, and once in a while the meeting place changes."
The activist, who writes a blog on homosexuality and distributes information to people who have no internet access, is not afraid. "I grew up in fear, and I’m used to it," he says. "After a while, the fear becomes a part of life and you stop being afraid." Iranian homosexuals also meet over the internet, of course, on sites like manjam.com which has thousands of members. "It happens on the net, and it’s quite dangerous," says Arsham Parsi, head of Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees.
In 2005, Parsi fled Iran to Canada where he set up the organization assisting refugees like him to obtain asylum. "Today we’re working on 250 cases, and course there are many others who haven’t turned to us." Just last week three lesbians from Iran received confirmation from the UN Refugee Agency to request asylum in the US. "As far as we know, the government observes the dating sites and collects information on people in case they get arrested," Parsi explained. Faruh added, "Intelligence agents fix meetings with homosexuals over the net and set a trap." Faruh worked together with the organization Human Rights Watch and sent a message to every Iranian who visited the site, to warn them.
Raped – then fled to Turkey
Faruh’s personal story is an example of the hardships facing homosexuals in Iran, especially activists in the community. Faruh, 27 years old, fled to Turkey after being raped by the Basij militia of the Revolutionary Guard. He is currently waiting for an interview with the UN Refugee Agency in the hope of obtaining asylum in a western state. During the controversial presidential elections last year, Faruh worked as an advisor to the reformist candidate, Mehdi Karoubi, in Karaj. After the elections were "stolen", as he puts it, and after Neda Agha Soltan was shot in the street, he experienced something he will never forget.
"Me and a friend decided to mark the 40th day of Nada’ death by posting notices in the residential area," he relates. "I was sure that all the (security) forces were in Tehran and nothing would happen to us." The attackers, he says, were Basij members in civilian clothing. "On the 40th day anniversary, they caught me, put me in a vehicle along with two other friends, blindfolded us, and took us to a place which even today I don’t know what it was."
When the attackers saw his dyed hair and his styled eyebrows, he says, they concluded he was homosexual and raped him and beat him, one holding him down while another worked him over. "They did things I don’t want to remember," he says. "Even today I still have three broken teeth." This is not the first time that the Iranian opposition has leveled charges of rape against the security forces, including sodomy by inanimate objects in order to humiliate the prisoner.
"For a month they interrogated me, sending me home each time then summoning me again," Faruh says. When an ex-boyfriend of his partner exposed him as the editor of the "Pink" magazine, he was forced to flee to Turkey in fear of his life.
‘Religion says we’re all the same’
When he recalls what he went through, he describes it as if it was a nightmare. "At that moment when they blindfold you, even though you expect terrible things to happen, you still don’t believe it," he says. "I simply cried. When they beat you it’s like a dream, you think you’ll wake up at any moment." He almost can’t recall the rape, because he fainted almost immediately and woke up to find himself naked and lone in the room.
In an attempt to explain Ahmadinejad’s 2007 claim that there are no homosexuals in Iran, Faruh says, "According to religion, there can’t be homosexuals – that’s what they believe. Religion says we’re all the same, we’re all normal, get married, have children, and only a few choose to amuse themselves with other things."
According to Iranian law, he continues, the only illegal aspect is the act itself of sexual intercourse between men, but in order to be charged, someone needs to witness the act. Until six months ago, Faruh still lived in Iran and studied English literature in the University of Karaj where he lived with his grandmother. At the same time, he wrote and was appointed editor of the gay community magazine, "Neda." He comes from a liberal family, educated above the average. "My grandmother edited my articles on homosexuality," he says proudly.
"Being fashionable in Iran is a sin," he says. "It doesn’t matter whether you’re a homosexual or not, you’ve got no right to dress as you want. When they arrest you, they don’t ask if you’re a homosexual. You’re charged with failing to follow the Islamic dress code."
"Things are not getting better in Iran," he says. "But more and more people are showing less fear of the Islamic regime, and it’s not only in the LGBT community, it’s all the activists."
November 8, 2010 – The Body
Potential for Sexual Transmission of HIV Infection From Male Injecting-Drug Users Who Have Sex With Men in Tehran, Iran
From U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Iran has responded to the threat of an HIV epidemic among injecting drug users. There is growing concern, however, over the potential for bridging HIV infection from IDUs to other populations, including men who have sex with men, noted the authors of the current study. From 2003 to 2004, cross-sectional biobehavioral surveys were conducted among 370 IDUs recruited from drug treatment centers, a drop-in center and streets in drug-populated areas of Tehran.
Survey data indicated that about 12 percent of male, sexually experienced IDUs have had same-gender sex. HIV prevalence is high (19 percent), while condom use during last sexual encounter was low (20 percent). A multivariate analysis showed that compared to other sexually experienced IDUs, IDUs who had sex with men (MSM IDUs) are younger (adjusted odds ratio, 0.89; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.81-0.98), more likely to have used a shared needle/syringe for injecting drugs (AOR, 4.29; 95 percent CI, 1.82-10.12), and have had five or more sexual partners in their lifetime (AOR, 2.71; 95 percent CI, 1.14-6.44).
"These results show that MSM IDUs exhibit more drug-related and sexual risk behaviors that may serve as a bridge for sexual transmission of HIV to other populations, including the broader MSM community, in Tehran," concluded the authors. "This report intends to encourage health authorities in Iran to take serious action to prevent sexual transmission of HIV from MSM IDUs to their sexual networks."
2010 November 13 – The Star
Defiant and proud, gay Iranian refuses to blend in
by David Graham Living reporter
Ankara, Turkey — Passing as straight has always been the path of least resistance for gay men in Iran. By adopting macho mannerisms, dressing in drab clothing, and wearing their hair short and unstyled, most can move about the country without being hassled by police. But Omid Sapahrara, 31, couldn’t do it. As risky as it was, he wore makeup and styled his hair into slick, squared-off bangs. While so many gay men struggle to deflect attention, Sapahrara defiantly commanded people to stare.
“When our president said there were no gays in Iran I laughed. It was such a ridiculous statement,” says Sapahrara, referring to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2007 speech to Columbia University students in New York.
Far from invisible, he walked the streets of Tehran in rainbow-coloured running shoes, too tall and too skinny to ignore. His clothes, toothpick jeans and knit tops, are tight and he wears jewellery. “In Iran I wore less makeup during the day and carried a tissue with me so I could wipe my face if I were stopped by the police,” he says in an interview in Ankara, where he has applied for refugee status. “When I was arrested I always denied I was gay.” He had been detained and arrested five or six times by the police, he says, “mostly because of the way I look.” When he was arrested, the police would make him wash his hair.
According to Sapahrara, the police also targeted straight men for dress-code infractions. For example, they are routinely asked to raise their hands above their heads to ensure their shirts do not reveal bare midriffs. Sapahrara, who lived with his parents and didn’t work, was routinely roughed up by street thugs as well as police officers. “Whenever I decided to go out at night I wondered if I would ever come home alive. I was told by the police that if I was arrested one more time I’d be in real trouble.” Sapahrara was unwilling to bow to a culture and a system he considers wrong. “If I don’t have the right to choose my own clothes, then why be alive?”
Beneath the surface, under the tight clothing and shiny necklaces, there is a simmering rage. He wears glittery tops and eyeliner in memory of his male-to-female transgendered friend Mahsa Cheraghi, killed by her brother at home, and Ali Behbahani, another friend who was murdered late at night by a man known for picking up transgendered women for sex around Tehran’s infamous Daneshjoo Park, a popular meeting spot for transgendered youth. Sapahrara briefly considered a sex change a few years ago, but dismissed the thought almost immediately. “I’m very gay,” he says. “I’m not a woman.”
In September, he made his second trip to the United Nations refugee agency in Ankara. He fled to Turkey once before, but returned home after he was robbed. Now he was back again, registered as a refugee and living in a university dorm in Isparta, where he dreams of day he can begin a new life in the United States.
2010 November 13 – The Star
Gay refugees in limbo in Turkey
by David Graham, Living reporter
Van, Turkey—From the passenger seat of a white minivan, Farzan Shahmoradi stared out the window, still unsure whether he had crossed the border. They countryside, all hills and rock and bushes, looked the same. Then, as the van rounded a bend, Shahmoradi’s smuggler pointed to an enormous flag — a white crescent moon and star on a red background — flapping on a hilltop.
He was in Turkey, but he was far from safe. He still had to get to the United Nations refugee agency without attracting the attention of Turkish police, who could deport him if they knew he had no passport. For three days, Shahmoradi had entrusted his life to smugglers, paid the equivalent of $1,400 U.S. to secret the gay man across the border to Turkey. In the eastern city of Van, about 100 kilometres from the border, Shahmoradi went straight to the apartment of another gay Iranian refugee who agreed to put him up. He hid out for two days, waiting until he knew a Farsi interpreter would be on duty at the agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR.
After a lifetime of hiding his sexuality, Shahmoradi, 30, had to convince a stranger he was gay and explain what would happen if he was sent back to Iran. An insular Muslim country, Iran’s sharia laws are based on a strict interpretation of the Qur’an. Sex between anyone other than a husband and wife is a sin, and homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Shahmoradi had heard about two teenagers, believed to be a gay, hanged in the holy city of Mashhad in 2005. He had seen pictures of masked executioners fitting nooses around their. The next frame showed their bodies dangling from ropes in the middle of a street.
Although most Iranians, including refugees, can travel to Turkey on a valid passport, Shahmoradi’s had expired. He told the UN officer he was ordered to report to court when he tried to renew it. Shahmoradi had been ignoring repeated requests to come in for questioning after he and a friend were arrested for playing loud music in a car. Now he started to think about leaving. He already had a record. He was just 19 when police raided a gay party and took him to a Tehran prison, where he spent six terrifying nights. Shahmoradi feared this second brush with the law could result in much stiffer punishment, such as flogging or imprisonment, especially if the judge knew he was gay.
People like Shahmoradi don’t need to have a death warrant in their hands to seek asylum in Turkey, says Brenda Goddard, an officer at the UNHCR in Ankara. “We simply want to know why they left and what will happen if they return.” The UNHCR is a key player in the protection of refugees who come to Turkey from non-European countries, most of whom enter legally with passports by train, plane or bus. In the case of gay refugees from Iran, they help get temporary asylum in Turkey and refer their cases to countries that sponsor refugees. The three that accept more cases out of Turkey all together than others are the United States, Canada and Australia.
The acceptance rate for refugees from Turkey is quite high at about 60 per cent, says UNHCR external affairs officer Metin Corabatir. At the agency office in Van, Shahmoradi registered as a refugee and was told to remain in Van and report to local police a couple of times a week. He had nothing but a black nylon backpack filled with two shirts and a pair of jeans, and the equivalent of $350 U.S. in his pocket. Shahmoradi was free to go, but faced a long wait.
He still had to have his determination interview, where the UNHCR would decide if he was a refugee. And then he would have to wait to see whether Canada would sponsor him. He told his UNHCR officer looking after his case he wanted to move to Canada. Like many gays, lesbians and transgendered people leaving Iran, he knew it as a liberal country with a universal health-care system, where gay marriage is legal. He also requested it because of an aunt who lives there, and his connection to Parsi. The UNHCR acknowledges wait times are too long and officials there are optimistic that an infusion of money from the U.S. will help them hire more legal officers to handle the caseload.
December 15, 2010 – Human Rights Watch
Iran: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities – Laws, Policies Put Already Vulnerable People at Even Greater Risk
(Amsterdam) – Discriminatory laws and policies against homosexuals and other sexual minorities in Iran put them at risk of harassment, violence, and even death, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Iran’s sexual minorities, especially those who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), are victimized both by state and private actors in part because those actors know they can get away with it.
The 102-page report, "We are a Buried Generation: Discrimination and Violence Against Sexual Minorities in Iran," based on testimony from more than 100 Iranians, documents discrimination and violence against LGBT people and others whose sexual practices and gender expression do not conform to government-endorsed socio-religious norms. Human Rights Watch analyzed these abuses within the context of the government’s violations against its general population, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, invasions of privacy, mistreatment and torture of detainees, and the lack of due-process protections and fair-trial guarantees.
"Members of sexual minorities in Iran are hounded on all sides," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The laws are stacked against them; the state openly discriminates against them; and they are vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and violence because their perpetrators feel they can target them with impunity."
Iran’s security forces, including police and forces of the hard-line paramilitary basij, rely upon discriminatory laws to harass, arrest, and detain individuals whom they suspect of being gay, Human Rights Watch found. The incidents often occur in parks and cafes, but Human Rights Watch also documented cases in which security forces raided homes and monitored internet sites for the purpose of detaining people they suspected of engaging in non-conforming sexual conduct or gender expression.
The report also documents instances in which police and basij allegedly ill-treated and in some cases tortured real or suspected LGBT people, both in public spaces and detention facilities. Several individuals interviewed made allegations that members of the security forces had sexually assaulted or raped them.
Navid, a 42-year-old gay man who owned a café outside Tehran, told Human Rights Watch about an attack he suffered in 2007 at the hands of two plainclothes agents whom he later discovered were members of the local basij. He said they picked him up as he was leaving work, handcuffed him, and drove him to his home. He said they pushed him out of the car, beat him, and forced him inside, where they sexually assaulted him.
"[One of them] forced his penis inside my mouth," he said. "I threw up and dirtied myself. They dragged me into the bathroom and washed me down with cold water. The whole time they continued to beat me all over." He described how the agents then took him to another residence, where they locked him in a foul-smelling and dirty kitchen full of cockroaches. "[One of the agents] took my clothes off," he said. "He then raped me with a flashlight and a baton. He just pushed me down to the ground and raped me. The other two joined in."
The report also documents serious abuses, including due-process violations that occurred during the prosecution of sexual minorities charged with crimes. Those charged with engaging in consensual same-sex offenses stand little chance of receiving a fair trial. Judges ignore penal code evidentiary guidelines in sodomy cases and often rely instead on confessions extracted through physical torture and extreme psychological pressure. Both Iranian and international law consider such evidence inadmissible.
30 November 2010 – GME
Iranian queers voices heard – radio Zamaneh!
by Dan Littauer, Editor of GME
Imagine you live in a country that hunts you down and aggressively seeks your death – officially you don’t even exist and any mention is treated with contempt, hate and is a dangerous affair that can cost you and your family life and social standing. In Iran this is precisely the reality for hundreds of thousands of people belonging to its diverse LGBT communities. Publicly they are rarely acknowledged and if at all it is with great contempt and hate – they have no representation whatsoever and nothing is spoken or published about them except religious condemnations and the occasional cases of public executions. In Iran for queers to speak means one of two guaranteed outcomes: at best the affair ends in exile and being disowned by your family and community, at worst – death. Either way, any voices other than those sanctioned by the regime and tainted by prejudice and hate are brutally silenced. With no voice to call one’s own the void is filled with isolation, fear and agony.
Having a voice is not only means to call attention to such issues but a space for discussion, self-recognition and affirmation that frees itself from the shackles of hate and prejudice. But how can Iranian LGBT communities be heard in a country that denies their very existence and actively sends them to their death? Surprisingly, in early 2009, one answer came from Farid Haeri Nezhad, the director of Radio Zamaneh. This station was approached by Saghi Garahaman, the CEO of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) of Toronto, and together IRQO and the Radio embarked on a remarkable project. Radio Zamaneh would provide Iranian queers a space and platform from which their voices can be heard. Furthermore, it would enable gay, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gendered people to use this platform to educate the general public about the realities of their lives, as well as issues of human and civil rights. It was called the Queer Section (DegarBash Page). Everyone was acutely aware of the risks that such involvement entails, yet the project went ahead and was launched in late July, 2009.
Writers from LGBT Iranian communities were called to contribute and bloggers were invited to write about their own experiences. Of course their identities would be disguised at all times as to give them some measure of protection. The first hand experiences written in the form of autobiographies attracted the most amounts of comments while the essays were less controversial. Comments, coming from both supporters and critics of the LGBT rights were carefully considered as to evaluate the impact of the ideas and opinions that were being expressed. It became evident that not only the queer voices were met with no overwhelming objections but in fact comments indicated a strong need for a wider scope of educational material. Such concerns, routinely expressed in comments, showed a real appeal of ideas such as sexuality, freedom and democracy to people who have little or no understanding and experience of what such concepts mean in real life. Put differently: what does it mean to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered in Iran? What kind of rights could be demanded and what is their place in the framework of human rights and democracy?
These findings lead the project editors to call for more essays and content, in particular from well-articulated LGBT writers who have a sound experience in political and civil issues. The idea was to help people realise that belonging to a sexual minority group that consists of gays, bi-sexual and trans-gendered people can be not merely free from the stigma of sin and pathology but openly and actively exploring and questioning one’s place in Iranian culture, society and the world. All this happened within sixteen months of the project’s inception! From a nascent collection of writers and bloggers to a strong and vibrant LGBT community of Iranians that demand to be treated and respected as equals in their own country.
The projected is highly revered by local and diaspora based Iranian LGBT communities. Progressive civil activists, journalists, free thinkers, writers and intellectuals have consistently shown their support and admiration. The project also received attention and is well-regarded in the west, both by the media and civil rights movements, such as the Iranian Queer organization. During the sixteen months 24 articles were published by established LGBT bloggers exploring themes and titles such as The Meaning of Homosexuality in the sexual discourse of Iranians by Nima Shahed; Cliché promoting cinema by Erazer Head; Fear, and revenge of the gaze of the father by Pinocchio; Homophobia and Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran by Sepehr Masakeni; Theater and homosexuality by Pinocchio; A quick look at the Euripide’s Bacchae by Picocchio; Foundations of Fighting Dictatorships by Dionysius ; To stand in waiting for the coming of the self by Dionysius ; Seven false images about homosexuality; Contemporary Queer Blog Spots by Reza Pesar; We are homosexuals by Hamed; Searching for a patch of earth to live on by Mirza Kasra; Shapeless islands in a dark prairie by Namia; The Others’ gaze at Me as The Other by Ramtin Shahrzad. The section also included such pieces as Homosexuality and modernity and Homosexuality in the era of enlightenment by Abdi Kalantari; About Sexual Minorities by Arash Naraghi, a well-known thinker and pioneer in exploring the field of homosexuality in Iran; a well presented paper, Compulsory heterosexism: Future challenges of the feminist movement in Iran by Raha Bahreini; plus a moving interview with the first lesbian rapper residing inside Iran, by Zamaneh’s reporter Lida Hoseini Nezad. The Queer Section of Radio Zamaneh also was the first to translate and publish an article by Doug Ireland, editor of Gay City News on 12 Homosexual Men Waiting in Death Row in Iran.