Showing posts with label Gay in Iran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay in Iran. Show all posts

June 12, 2019

Iran Defends The Execution of Gay People

I'm sharing this new story as it appeared yesterday on

The US on Wednesday accused Iran of violating fundamental human rights after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Sarif endorsed the execution of gay people.
Sarif defended his country's draconian policies at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Tehran on Monday.
A reporter from German tabloid Bild asked: "Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?"
He responded: "Our society has moral principles. And we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected and the law is obeyed," after railing against human rights violations by the US and Israel.
Maas, who was in Iran to negotiate the continuation of the nuclear deal, largely ignored the issue at the time.
Shadi Amin, an Iranian writer and activist who now lives in Germany, told DW-Farsi that she was "outraged" by the Iranian foreign minister's comments. "Humiliation, repression and sexual harassment of a particular social group should be viewed critically and prohibited by law," Amin said.
Ayatollah Khomeini returns to Iran in 1979 (picture-alliance/AP Images)


'I feel nothing'

On February 1, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in France. When a reporter asked him how he felt upon his return to Iran, Khomeini replied: "Nothing — I feel nothing." Some analysts interpreted his remarks as the Shiite leader's idea about embarking on a "divine mission" where emotions hardly mattered.
"Violating LGBT rights under the guise of 'moral principles' shows that Zarif doesn't respect human rights. LGBT rights are human rights. Iran must not violate them by giving religious or cultural reasons," she said. "New laws have made societies aware of the differences and accept them."
"Many homosexuals tell us of abuse, torture and threats faced by their families and friends. As long as the country's laws do not change, the situation of homosexuals in Iran will not improve," said Amin.  Inhuman and unacceptable
The German Foreign Ministry's Michael Roth later clarified to Bild: "LGBTI rights are human rights. And they have always been. Everywhere. No religious, cultural or ethnic tradition justifies state persecution, especially the execution of homosexuals. In Iran and seven other countries worldwide, homosexuals face the death penalty. That is inhuman and completely unacceptable."
His comments came after Maas was criticized by German politicians for not addressing the issue at the time.
The US ambassador to Germany and the country's most senior openly-gay official, Richard Grenell, on Wednesday slammed Iran for its position in comments to German and Israeli media.
"The Iranian regime has violated basic principles of the United Nations," he told the German Press Agency (DPA).
"UN members should honor (the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) if they want to be members at all. The criminalization of homosexuality plainly violates this declaration."
Homosexuality violates Islamic Law in Iran and can be punishable by death. Several thousand people have been executed for homosexuality since the 1979 Islamic revolution, according to some rights activists.

March 15, 2017

From Iran to Iraq Lesbian Caught in Travel Bans

President Trump's revised travel ban – which suspends visas from six predominantly Muslim countries and suspends refugee admittances – goes into effect at 12:01 a.m. March 16. It covers citizens of Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Yemen, Syria and Libya and has been denounced by more than 130 foreign policy experts. 
Iraq, included in the original ban Trump announced, is no longer on the list of affected countries. But the new order is still affecting some in Iraq who are seeking asylum in the U.S. 
NPR reached an Iranian lesbian asylum seeker in the Iraqi city of Erbil, just as she realized her hopes of reaching the U.S. would almost certainly be dashed by the revised executive order. She gives her name as Bahar – she's afraid to reveal her family name because it could cause problems for her family back in Iran. 
Bahar says her initial optimism has turned to depression and anxiety, as her relocation process has dragged on for nearly two years. 
"I don't really know what to do, I was hoping so much that I could get my flight to America before the crackdown resumed," she says. "My whole time here I've been under pressure – I was not just criticized, I was assaulted, both for being Iranian and being lesbian." She says human rights groups are aware of her situation, "but so far, there's no way forward for me, I'm stuck." 
Bahar says the problems she faced back at home did not come from her own family, but from relatives of her partner, who condemned lesbian relationships as immoral and sought to cause trouble for her. Bahar says things came to a head in 2014. 
"I traveled to the Pride March in Istanbul," she says, "and when I got home, the government found out where I'd been and began to make trouble for me. I was told I was likely to be arrested and prosecuted." 
She says the pressure grew so great that she and her partner ended their relationship, and Bahar fled to Erbil. She says it took her nearly a year-and-a-half to get her main U.S. asylum interview. Just last month, she was elated to get her medical exam completed, thinking it meant approval to travel to the U.S. would follow shortly. 
But in the meantime, the new administration in Washington launched its campaign to stem immigration, especially from Muslim countries — though administration officials deny the executive orders on immigration amount to the "Muslim ban" Trump promised as a candidate. 
When the U.S. court system blocked the initial travel ban, Bahar remained hopeful. But her case wasn't yet given final approval. Now she's facing the reality of being trapped in Erbil for an extended period. 
"It's been two years, I have very bad financial problems, and things are difficult for me here in Erbil," she says. "This is a very conservative, religious society and I face lots of problems here. People criticize the way I look, the way I dress, they ask why do I dress like a boy?" 
She says she lost her job and had to move to new quarters, and the new travel ban — which she learned about from a reporter — has left her feeling desperate. 
"I'm completely depressed, and I don't know what to do," she says. 
Part of the problem, she says, is feeling completely isolated. She says she has yet to connect with any other LGBT asylum seekers in Erbil. 
"As far as I know, I'm the only Iranian LGBT case in Erbil, maybe the whole of Iraq," she says. "I can't get any information out of [the U.N. refugee agency], the only bits of information I get are from Iranian refugees in Turkey. The only thing I can do is try to keep my spirits up and not give up hope." 
A State Department official declined to comment on Bahar's case in response to NPR's request. 
NPR has interviewed other LGBT Iranians in similar situations. Two gay men who made their way out of Iran to Turkey are now safely in the U.S. Iranians say they’ve seen that the system can work – but if and when it might work for Bahar and others in her situation is now a painfully uncertain question.

 NPR. To see more, visit

August 5, 2016

Iran Hangs Teenager Over Anal Sex

[The following report was published on Amnesty International on Aug. 2, 2016]

Amnesty International has revealed that a teenager was executed in Iran after being convicted of the rape of another boy, the first confirmed execution of a juvenile offender in the country this year.

The organization, which has been carrying out extensive research into the situation of juvenile offenders on death row in Iran, found that Hassan Afshar, 19, was hanged in Arak’s Prison in Markazi Province on 18 July, after being convicted of “lavat-e be onf” (forced male to male anal intercourse) in early 2015. The execution went ahead even though the Office of the Head of the Judiciary had promised his family that they would review the case on 15 September 2016.

Iran has proved that its sickening enthusiasm for putting juveniles to death, in contravention of international law, knows no bounds 

“Iran has proved that its sickening enthusiasm for putting juveniles to death, in contravention of international law, knows no bounds. Hassan Afshar was a 17-year-old high school student when he was arrested. He had no access to a lawyer and the judiciary rushed through the investigation and prosecution, convicting and sentencing him to death within two months of his arrest as though they could not execute him quickly enough,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International

“In a cruel stroke of irony, officials did not inform Hassan Afshar of his death sentence for around seven months while he was held in a juvenile detention facility because they did not want to cause him distress – and yet astonishingly were still prepared to execute him. With this execution, Iranian authorities have demonstrated once again their callous disregard for human rights.”

Just days after Hassan Afshar was executed, the authorities scheduled Alireza Tajiki, another youth who was under 18 at the time of his alleged offence, for execution. The implementation of his death sentence, which had been scheduled to take place on 3 August was, however, postponed yesterday following public pressure.

“While we welcome the stay of execution for Alireza Tajiki, his life has been saved for the moment because of public pressure and not because the Iranian authorities are seriously considering stopping the horrendous practice of executing juveniles. This is illustrated by the fact that just two weeks ago Hassan Afshar was hanged in anonymity – publicity should not make the difference between life and death,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

For the 160 individuals who remain on death row in prisons across Iran for crimes allegedly committed when they were under 18, the news of yet another juvenile execution will come as a terrifying blow.

“Any one of these youths could be next in line for execution. The torment that Iran’s flawed juvenile justice system has inflicted on them will not end until the Iranian authorities commute their death sentences and amend Iran’s Penal Code to abolish the use of death penalty for all crimes committed under 18 years of age, as immediate first steps towards full abolition of this punishment,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Hassan Afshar was arrested in December 2014 after the authorities received a complaint accusing him and two other youths of forcing a teenage boy to have sexual intercourse with them. Hassan Afshar maintained that the sexual acts were consensual and that the complainant’s son had willingly engaged in same-sex sexual activities before.

While authorities must always investigate allegations of rape and, where sufficient admissible evidence is found, prosecute those responsible in fair trials, rape does not fall into the category of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed under international law. Furthermore, the existence of laws in Iran that criminalize consensual male to male sexual intercourse with the death penalty means that if the intercourse in this case had been deemed consensual, the teenager who accused Hassan Afshar of rape would himself have been sentenced to death. The criminalization of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults violates international human rights law.

The Supreme Court initially overturned the sentence due to incomplete investigations but ultimately upheld it in March 2016.


Male individuals who engage in same-sex anal intercourse face different punishments under Iranian criminal law depending on whether they are the “active” or “passive” partners and whether their conduct is characterized as consensual or non-consensual. If the conduct is deemed consensual, the “passive” partner of same-sex anal conduct shall be sentenced to the death penalty. The “active” partner, however, is sentenced to death only if he is married, or if he is not a Muslim and the “passive” partner is a Muslim.

If the intercourse is deemed non-consensual, the “active” partner receives the death penalty but the “passive” partner is exempted from punishment and treated as a victim. This legal framework risks creating a situation where willing “recipients” of anal intercourse may feel compelled, when targeted by the authorities, to characterize their consensual sexual activity as rape in order to avoid the death penalty.

International law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Iran is a state party, absolutely prohibits the use of death penalty for crimes committed when the defendant was below 18 years of age.

International law restricts the application of the death penalty to the “most serious crimes”, which refers to intentional killing.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally, for all cases and under any circumstances.

June 9, 2016

Gay Muslim Cleric Forced to Flee Iran in Fear for Life

BBC journalist Ali Hamedani visited Istanbul, Turkey where Taha—an Iranian mullah, or cleric—has fled after performing same-sex wedding ceremonies in one of the most dangerous nations on the earth for LGBT people. 
Homosexuality is illegal in 73 countries, nine of which prescribe the death penalty, including Iran. Mullahs are highly powerful and respected in the Islamic nation, advising people on religious matters, which also means enforcing homophobia. So for Taha, life became very difficult when his fellow mullahs became suspicious of him and the gay men with whom he was associating.   
Taha is one of the over 1,000 Iranian LGBT refugees the UN estimates is in Turkey waiting to be resettled abroad—his final stop, much like many Americans should Trump win this year's election, will be Canada. Istanbul is one of the few places in the Muslim world that's tolerant of homosexuality, and Taha takes Hamedani out on the gay town—but not before applying a nighttime face (same).
Get 'em, daddy.
Though life in Istanbul isn't easy by any means, Taha's presence is comforting to fellow queer refugees, who seek out his services to wed them. For two such refugees, Ramtin Zigorat and his partner, a gay mullah is a big fucking deal. 
Ugh, get into all these feelings in the BBC's investigative report below: 

January 27, 2016

Amnesty International Tells Iran to Stop Executing Young People


Iran remains one of the few countries in the world which allows the execution of young people under the age 18, Amnesty International reported today in the report named “Growing up on death row: The death penalty and juvenile offenders in Iran.”

“This report sheds light on Iran’s shameful disregard for the rights of children. Iran is one of the few countries that continues to execute juvenile offenders in blatant violation of the absolute legal prohibition on the use of the death penalty against people under the age of 18 years at the time of the crime,” said Said Boumedouha, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“Despite some juvenile justice reforms, Iran continues to lag behind the rest of the world, maintaining laws that permit girls as young as nine and boys as young as 15 to be sentenced to death,” the Amnesty official stressed. According to the report, between 2005 and 2015 there were recorded 73 executions of juvenile offenders in the oil-rich country. Moreover, according to the UN at least 160 juvenile offenders are currently on death row. Amnesty said that the true numbers are even higher, as many executions are not reported.

Amnesty reported that some of the arrested young people are not guilty as the Iranian authorities are using violence to force fake confessions. “The report paints a deeply distressing picture of juvenile offenders languishing on death row, robbed of valuable years of their lives – often after being sentenced to death following unfair trials, including those based on forced confessions extracted through torture and other ill-treatment,” said Said Boumedouha.

In a number of cases the authorities have scheduled the executions of juvenile offenders and then postponed them at the last minute, adding to the severe anguish of being on death row. Such treatment is at the very least cruel, inhuman and degrading, Amnesty stressed.

“Iran’s authorities must…commute the death sentences of all juvenile offenders, and end the use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in Iran once and for all,” the Amnesty official stressed.

October 23, 2015

Gay Rights in Iran


  Over the last two decades, issues relating to sexual orientation and gender identity have gained significant visibility and attention across the globe. The case of Iran is particularly fraught, and has received plenty of coverage due to the work of international non-profits.

One such organization, OutRight Action International (formerly the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission), convened three interrelated experts on October 13 to discuss some of the theological, legal and social issues facing LGBT-identified people living in Iran. The panel was hosted by the Political Science Department at City University of New York, Brooklyn College and moderated by Hossein Alizadeh, regional program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa at OutRight Action International. It came on the heels of two rounds of meetings held in Düsseldorf, Germany in 2012 and 2014, in which OutRight Action International brought together lawyers, human rights activists and academics for a roundtable on the situation of LGBT and queer people in Iran. The results were published in a report titled “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Iran: Analysis from Religious, Social, Legal and Cultural Perspectives.”

The panelists presented a bleak picture of the social lives of sexual and gender minorities in Iran and the limited legal remedies available to them in cases of injury or rights violation. During the question-and-answer session, however, the panel noted many positive changes that seem to be taking place in the “mentalities” of religious scholars, medical professionals and the public at large, underscoring the shifting terrain of queer and trans acceptability and visibility both inside and outside of Iran.

One pertinent theme is the role of Islamic law in administering justice to sexual and gender minorities. According to panelist Arash Naraghi, associate professor of philosophy and religion at Moravian College, traditional Islamic law has taken a harsh view toward sexual minorities—an approach that has often included cruel and inhumane application of the death penalty. At the same time, the injustice faced by gender and sexual minorities has been questioned and challenged by Muslims themselves. Reforming Islamic laws that relate to the treatment of homosexuality in Muslim-majority countries like Iran requires both a religious reformation and a theological intervention. The latter means making the crucial, though often elided or forgotten, distinction between fiqh and shari‘a in Islamic jurisprudence. Shari‘a contains all the guidance communicated by God to the Prophet Muhammad in the text of the Qur’an, as explicated by Muhammad in word and deed. Fiqh, on the other hand, consists of rulings reached by scholars through the reading of those divine sources. As a human-made discipline, fiqh is subject to change, criticism and error in interpretation. Therefore, if it can be demonstrated that there is “no morally sufficient reason” to discriminate against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, then such discrimination is unjust from a theological and legal standpoint. As Naraghi pointed out, a few Islamic scholars have adopted the second approach in the past decade. This development could have immense consequences for gender and sexual minorities in countries such as Iran.

The particularity of the Islamic religious and legal bases for discrimination and justice intersects with the goal of developing a universal standard of human rights, enshrined in many of the institutions and documents of the United Nations. The increasing visibility of LGBT identities, movements and discourses has led to a proliferation of international human rights organizations that have become attuned to documenting and addressing violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity across the world. The second panelist was Rose Richter, special assistant to the UN’s Special Rapporteur for the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. She placed the UN’s work on incorporating LGBT rights into its agenda for the past two decades in the context of social movements that have moved beyond challenging patriarchal norms as sources of discrimination and bias. Instead, these movements have progressed into “an ideational and social sphere where gender and sexuality are negotiated, defined and expressed,” prompting the UN to be more inclusive in its approach to human rights by recognizing gender and sexual orientation as important sites of discrimination and violence. The UN has faced some challenges in consistently documenting these violations, mainly due to underreporting and the gap between the kinds of protections that these human rights mechanisms can offer.

According to Richter, two recent studies undertaken by the Special Rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, document a range of violations by state or official actors such as restrictions on access to information, violations of the right to assembly, police harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, sexual harassment and assault, forced marriage, pressure to undergo sex reassignment procedures, and subpar medical treatment associated with such procedures. Other major struggles faced by LGBT groups in Iran are social in origin, such as being bullied in school or disowned, beaten or raped by family members or feeling compelled to run away from home, a phenomenon known in most parts of the world, including the United States. These abuses are often not reported to authorities due to the threat of additional violence from officials themselves. Security officers often raid the parties and other gatherings of LGBT Iranians, sometimes leading to arrests and detainment.

One way that LGBT people are targeted is through Internet entrapment in which security agents pose as gay or trans people interested in “meeting up.” The third panelist, Mani Mostofi, an Iranian-American human rights advocate and director of Impact Iran, identified the transformative power of Internet access. The Internet and social media provide forums for positive information about LGBT identities, images and rights. Moreover, the interactive nature of the Internet creates spaces through which communities are formed and communication and discussion occur. The interstitial nature of the online and offline worlds was highlighted as affording opportunities for individuals to socialize, provide support, build movements and engage in information-sharing techniques of survival. At the same time, the Internet in Iran has limitations, as the Iranian government blocks websites that it deems politically, religiously or morally dangerous. Many people in Iran do, however, have access to anti-filtration software that allows them to circumvent the censors. In this vein, Mostofi suggested that the international human rights community should be concerned with a bundle of rights that can empower the LGBT community in particular, but that can also create broader change in Iranian society.

English-language media have given much favorable attention to the availability of gender confirmation procedures for trans people in Iran—one of the few Muslim-majority countries where such medical treatments are legal and available. Since the law recognizes transsexuality, those desiring access to hormones or various surgeries and medical procedures can get it. As Iranian law and bureaucratic rules recognize only a strict male-female binary, trans people are able to change their gender designation from one to the other on various identity documents, including birth certificates. Individuals are often able to receive a permit that attests to their trans status, on the assumption that they are following up with state-designated hormone therapy and subsequent surgeries.

While wide-ranging, the October 13 panel could have provided a fuller picture of the social realities of gender and sexual minorities in Iran. The lack of a voice of an LGBT Iranian at the event was glaring—especially given that international NGOs often stress the high number of LGBT Iranian refugees who attempt to reach European or North American countries through Turkey. NGOs are by definition built around expert knowledge of legal, human rights, social, political and economic realities. This framework often does not allow the target populations of NGOs to tell their own stories, which may or may not correspond to the overarching universal discourse of human rights.

This panel’s focus on the legal and rights-based challenges of gender and sexual minorities in Iran, while informative and important, was self-limiting in its expository power to depict the lived lives of the very people it takes as its object of intervention. Gender and sexuality are always constituted and articulated at the intersection of religious, cultural, medical and legal regimes of truth and control. A privileging of rights-based discourse in this case leaves little room not only for nuances and complexities of lived experience, but also for the agency of sexual and gender minorities in shaping, contesting and “living through” the religio-medico-legal regimes of disciplinary power. Presenting a narrative that refracts the lives of gender and sexual minorities through a legal or human rights lens can only conceive of those individuals as suffering victims.

While victimization does occur at various levels of family, society and the state, ethnographic studies such as the one done by Afsaneh Najmabadi in Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran (2013) illustrate how gender and sexual minorities in Iran have opted to approach the Iranian bureaucratic order through the discourse of “needs” and not “rights.” That is to say, LGBT individuals use the fractious Iranian bureaucracy to their advantage in order to shape the various rules and regulations that will give them access not only to medical resources, but also to spaces of relative maneuver through which they can create livable lives. As Najmabadi demonstrates, instead of attempting to change laws through Parliament, for example, gender and sexual minorities in Iran work with the Welfare Organization and other state bureaucracies to create the changes they need.

Ultimately, theological and legal questions with regard to homosexuality and transsexuality are important and need to be addressed. A rights-based discourse, however, cannot fully capture the subjectivity and agency of sexual and gender minorities and will only center the authority, expertise and knowledge of the West-based subject that often imagines itself as universal. It is thus imperative that we raise the question of which narratives are privileged and which are silenced.

April 3, 2015

These are the Excuses Iran Uses to Violate LGBT Human Rights


Iran’s response to recommendations at the 20th UPR session, pointing at violations of LGBT rights, is hypocritical and irresponsible.
The excuse offered by Iran is that “Western countries, too, violated homosexuals’ right up to recent years.”
Very well, we say; since Iran relies on the West’s recent homophobic and transphobic approach on LGBT rights, are we wrong if we anticipate Iran would be following the West’s path in the coming years, and honor LGBT human rights?
Iran’s answer to recommendations pointing at LGBT conditions in Iran is in two halves. The first half, apparently, is responding to recommendations conveying Stop Persecution of LGBT:
“According to the Islamic norms and the laws of Iran as well as cultural principles advocated by the people on the importance of the family, sexual relations between individuals is only allowed in the framework of wedlock. Moreover, the law forbids any form of persecution and maltreatment of an Iranian citizen regardless of their physical and psychological status, and offenders are dealt with in accordance with the law. In addition, according to Islamic laws, meddling in private affairs of individuals without any discrimination is forbidden.”
It seems to be carefully worded to dodge any commitment to stop persecution of homosexuals and Transgender people.
Still, because it is vague, we wonder whether the wording of these phrases could mean that if a neighbor, a coworker, a parent, spouse, an offspring, reported or exposed to authorities (“physical status” could refer to homosexuals, and psychological status transsexuals, or vice versa) a homosexual or transgender, the informant would be treated according to the Law?
The second half of the response deals with concerns over sex reassignment surgery : “There are considerable requests even from foreign nationals to these operations in Iranian hospitals due to advance medicine and low coast of operation, in order to have the possibility of a better life.”
We would like to remind Iran that UPR recommendations are concerns over human rights of transsexual individuals and shouldn’t be mistaken with considerations on medical tourist attraction and economic boosters.
This answer doesn’t assert or even imply any commitment in monitoring the quality of the surgeries, providing much needed medical and psychological support and care before and after the surgery, or enforcing any monitoring to confirm the voluntary and informed decision making on the part of the transsexual individual.
Furthermore the wording of the response, the use of people in place of individual creates doubt on Iran’s understanding of the importance of the transsexual individual to voluntarily, and based on reliable and sound information provided, to undertake the operations. We’re concern that by using the term people, Iran might consider parents, siblings, medical authorities or state/religious authorities to request these operations rather than the transsexual individual, or doesn’t fully understand that it is an individual issue and only the individual should be making the decision to undergo sex change reassignment.
Under the circumstances, it would hardly considered a surprise if Iran doesn’t commit to its own proposition “despite of sexual orientation”. The same conditions apply to the proposition “reparative same sex reassignment” in # 138.135. Same goes for # 138.282.
What IRQO deems hypocrisy and irresponsibility of a member state in the presence of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council is based on the manner in which Iran first accepts to pursue a package heavily loaded with LGBT related recommendations, then dismisses all the ones related to LGBT and provides comments instead of a response.
However, in a realistic approach, IRQO would also like to interpret Iran’s eagerness to choose to responds to heavily loaded with LGBT related recommendations as a sign of the path the state would be willing to take in the near future.
The full 10 page review of Iran’s response to the UPR, with a glance at the turning points in Iran’s LGBT movement dating back to 1972, is not presently available at IRQO’s website. Contact IRAQ directly for further information.

January 12, 2015

Gay in IRAN


Saeed was 20 years old when he sat his father down and told him he was gay. Trembling, he recounted how, as a child, he hid cutouts of male underwear models from foreign magazines under his pillow, and would gaze at them for hours when he was alone. His mother, sitting speechless in a chair next to her husband, went pale.
A retired colonel in the Iranian Air Force, Saeed’s father looked at him with a straight face, not moving a muscle. “Affirmative,” he said. He had spent three decades in the military, and had been shaped equally by its rigorous discipline and his religious upbringing. “I always knew you were different from my other children. I always used to say that to your mom. Right?” he said, turning to his wife, then added: “Saeed, this is your nature. This isn’t your choice. You should have told us earlier.”
Saeed burst into tears, relieved. His mother took his hands and nodded, “What can we do to help?”
In a different country, this coming out story might not be considered out of the ordinary. But Saeed, a pensive, handsome 25-year-old with a faux-hawk and meticulously groomed stubble, lives in Iran, where Islamic law criminalizes same-sex relations. Coming out is simply something very few do, even in capital city, Tehran, where Saeed grew up. (For security reasons, Saeed asked to be referred to by his first name only.)
Until recently, consensual sexual intercourse between men was a capital offense in Iran. After a change in the country’s penal code, the “active” person in the act can now be punished with up to 100 lashes, but if he’s married, the death penalty may apply. The “passive” person can still be sentenced to death, regardless of marital status. Sexual interaction between two women is punishable by flogging.
The vast majority of media reports about homosexuality in Iran are based on accounts of torment and oppression from gays and lesbians who have fled the country. And while their experiences are representative for some of Iran’s homosexuals, they are hugely different from those of the people who choose to stay in the country, or don’t have the opportunity to leave.
Gays from lower classes and rural areas, where stigmatization is often most severe, rarely have the ability to move out of the house before marriage, let alone leave the country. Even in more affluent communities in cities. there is generally little acceptance of homosexuality, but some middle- and upper-class Iranians have the means to create parallel lives, out of sight of their relatives or friends. These people—men like Saeed—are the lucky ones.
“Ninety-five percent of gays in Iran will never come out,” Saeed says over pasta at one of northern Tehran’s coffee shops, where the atmosphere is relatively permissive. For all his friends who have dared, coming out has been a traumatic experience; parents lock their children inside the house, confiscate their phones and laptops, and force them to seek therapy.   
“The number one threat to gays and lesbians in Iran is the family,” agrees Hossein Alizadeh of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission(IGLHRC), and himself an Iranian. Many gays endure beatings and even sexual assaults from family members, he adds. Even if one manages to create a parallel life, it is tenuous and can be destroyed instantly.
IN A DIMLY lit mansion on the slopes of northern Tehran, the thump of an electronic bass so loud it makes the windows clatter, bounces off the walls of the vast living room and out onto the porch. Dozens of men dance and mingle, drinking bootleg vodka out of plastic cups, and several of them are visibly high. Thick trees surround the garden and the swimming pool, allowing the residents some privacy, but the loud music traveling downhill gives them away.
This is one of the most blatantly unsubtle parties I have been to in Iran. The host is an Iranian man in his mid-20s, whose parents let him use the villa when he wants, and he’s throwing a birthday party for his European boyfriend. He has paid off the local moral police in the hopes his guests will be allowed to enter and exit the party undisturbed. A party like this is the easiest way for young Iranians to hook up for a one-night stand. It is also a risky one.
“All of us have profiles in the intelligence service, I’m sure we do,” says Saeed. “Names, details, everything.”
The Iranian authorities usually turn a blind eye to the gay community’s escapades, but much like the intelligence services in the former Soviet Union, Iranian intelligence is believed to compile large files on many citizens, which they can use to build a legal case against people who might be caught engaging in political activities. Often, this kind of compromising information is used to push gay people to inform on their fellow citizens.
“Certain people can shield themselves—hide behind their money and their connections,” says Alizadeh. “The problem is that somewhere down the road, someone finds out you are gay and then starts blackmailing you. It doesn’t have to be a straight [person], it can be a gay who sleeps with you and finds out you have money. You are at the mercy of the society without legal protection.”
The feeling of being under constant surveillance, both by other Iranians and the state, takes its toll. “We’re all so fucking scared,” Saeed says. “Look at me. I’m 25, but I look 30.”
Not even the Internet is safe. While dating apps like Grindr, Scruff and Hornet aren’t censored like Facebook and Twitter, most people still assume the country’s intelligence services closely monitor them. So, often the best alternative is random, anonymous encounters.
Across town in a grimy, smog-choked business district in central Tehran, Park-e Daneshjoo, or Student Park, is an oasis of calm. The tree-lined park is home to the National Theatre and a decrepit teahouse, and is a roaming ground for mustachioed hipsters, long-haired musicians, chess-playing old men, and young couples holding hands and eating saffron-infused ice cream. The park is also one of the most popular pickup spots for Tehran’s gay men.
Around dusk, Maseratis, BMWs and the occasional Porsche circle the park; you don’t have to wait long to spot one of them slow to a halt and pick up a single man cruising the fringes. Most Iranian gay adults are in heterosexual marriages, and prostitution is the preferred way to have same-sex affairs. It also provides a tempting income, for gays and straights alike, in an economy beset by inflation and unemployment.
And though these types of in-person encounters are a way to elude virtual spies, they are still fraught with risk. The number of people with HIV has increased nine-fold over the past decade, the country’s health minister said last year—with an increasing number being infected through “high-risk sexual activities.” Plus, 70 percent of them are not even aware they are infected.
Another, more immediate threat is violence. Recently, a story went around about a young gay man who was murdered by two strangers during BDSM play. “It was definitely an attack. He was just strangled to death,” says Saeed, who has become more cautious about meeting up with strangers because of similar incidents.
So naturally, when Naeem* met Behram* four years ago on gay dating site Manjan, which is also monitored, he was initially hesitant. The two started exchanging photos, and eventually Naeem trusted Behram enough to give him his number. Naeem bought a burner phone to hide his chat relationship from his parents and co-workers, and after two months they met for a real date. Seven months later, they rented an apartment in western Tehran; they both still live at home and when Naeem comes here, he tells his parents he is going out of town with friends.
The challenge of finding a steady partner weighs heavily on Iranian gays; many speak of depression, loneliness and paranoia as almost permanent mental states. But Naeem and Behram exude a different, lighter air, and consider themselves lucky.
“We need our privacy,” Naeem says, sitting on a purple couch in the couple’s two-bedroom flat. “Sometimes we lie down and watch TV or a movie. Other times we have friends over and we can invite them any time, without any rules.”
Naeem has short-cropped hair, clean-shaven cheeks and deep dimples when he smiles, which he does all the time. Behram is taller by several inches, and both are fit, well-dressed and speak perfect English. Each is in his early 30s, and both men face pressure from their families to get married.
“They told me many, many times, ‘Just get married, then we will provide this apartment for you, and this car for you.’” Naeem says. His parents picked out several potential wives for him, and though they insist he is free to choose his own spouse, they are puzzled that he turns all of them down.
“I have to make many excuses. For example, “This lady is very tall, this lady is very short,’” he says with a grin. “The girls they find are very good, they are extremely good. A straight guy would definitely accept to marry one of them, because in every case the girl is perfect in appearance, in education, in health—in everything.”
Though Behram’s family is more religious than Naeem’s, he doesn’t face the same nuptial pressure.
“My father tells me all the time that if he could be born again, he would live like me, not married,” Behram says. “He loves being with his friends, not caring about the family. He is very happy that I am not married and enjoy my life—as straight.”
Outside the windows of their apartment, darkness has set in. A fluorescent flicker from the television in the apartment outlines, via illegal satellite, the face of Googoosh—the Los Angeles-based Iranian queen of pop. She’s a big gay icon, and in February she came out in explicit support of gay rights with a video for the song “Behesht,” depicting a lesbian couple in love. (In a male-dominated society like Iran, homosexual women have even less privacy than men, and often risk being shunned by neighbors if they rent an apartment without a husband.)
A star of the 1970’s, Googoosh is also hugely popular among Naeem and Behram’s parents’ generation, so for the past six months, Naeem has tried to get his mother to watch the video to gauge her reaction, always leaving the TV tuned into a music video channel. “I think she tries to not watch the clip so she always changes the channel or pretends that she doesn’t watch the TV,” he laughs.
PART OF THE stigma against homosexuals is intrinsic to the Persian language, which has two different words for homosexuality. The LGBT community uses hamjens-garai (literally, “the state of being interested in the same sex”) while the government and state media use the term hamjens-bazi, which has a derogatory connotation as someone who “plays” with people of the same sex. The closest, but not universally agreed upon translation is “faggotry.”
“A hamjens-baz is a person who, for example, is straight and has sex with females, but when he finds a teenager around 14 years, he just wants to play around with him,” Naeem explains.
“We are not hamjens-baz,” Behram says. “We are not sick.”
Yet the problem for men like Naeem and Behram is there’s no real outlet to debate semantics: Although homosexuality can be punished, it’s not something that is officially recognized. In 2007, then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ludicrously claimed in a speech in New York, to loud jeers, that there were no gays in Iran. It is unclear if Ahmadinejad believed this himself, but his comments mirrored the regime’s preference of simply ignoring homosexuals.
However, some signals hint that the hard line may be softening—a bit. While the new centrist government under President Hassan Rouhani maintains a similar refrain as its predecessor, foreign-based media outlets like BBC Persian, Radio Zaman and Voice of America use non-derogatory language about homosexuals, and it is slowly trickling down to reformist outlets inside the country, and to young Iranians, says Alizadeh.
And despite its often venomous rhetoric, the Iranian regime silently accepts that gays do exist, and takes a few pragmatic steps to account for that reality.
The Quran, the foundation of Iranian law, explicitly bans homosexuality. But it doesn’t mention transsexuality, which Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, permitted in a fatwa in 1983. As a result, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) has become a controversial solution for gay men trying to reconcile their faith with their sexuality. Iran carries out more sex-change operations than any other country, apart from Thailand. (Simple cross-dressing, before a surgery, is not allowed because men or women disguising as another gender allegedly disrupts the social order.)
The government even extends loans to people who undergo sex reassignment surgery, and requires insurance companies to cover SRS in their policies.
In Tanaz Eshaghian’s 2008 documentary Be Like Others, a cleric counsels young Iranians who are looking to change their gender: “If changing your gender was to be considered a sin, because you are changing God’s natural order, then all of our daily tasks would be sins. You take wheat and turn it into flour and turn that into bread… There are thousands of things we do every day that are changes in God’s natural order.”
Another piece of pragmatism by the government is their rule meant to keep gays out of the army. If a man can get a doctor to testify he is gay, he will be exempt from military service.
Still, these small concessions hardly amount to any sort of tangible freedom for Iran’s gays, many of whom continue to fight their own sexuality. For example, a friend of Naeem and Behram’s tried to get a doctor to cure him of his homosexuality. “The doctor just laughed at him,” Naeem says. “He has a girlfriend now, but he leads a bad, depressing life. He knows he is gay but he doesn’t want to be gay. He has tried medical cures with pills.”
“He uses pills like Viagra just to have sex with the girl,” Behram adds.
An acquaintance of theirs who came from a very wealthy family fared even worse. “His father realized he was gay, and thought that maybe it was the effect of his friends. So he tried to move him away and bought a luxury apartment for him in Dubai,” Behram says. “But after four weeks there, he committed suicide.”
Religion adds another layer of pressure, but for some religious Iranian gays, like Behram, Islam actually makes life easier.
“I read the Quran and I pray. I don’t fast and sometimes I drink alcohol. I am a modern Muslim,” Behram says. “I didn’t ask from God to be gay. I would love to be straight, to have a normal life. But if you believe in God and believe that everything is made by God, then it’s not in our hands.”
FOR SAEED, HIS parents’ acceptance of his sexuality ushered in a completely new life. While his father grudgingly accepts that his son is “a lost cause” and will not get married, his mother has embraced him completely. She will often make him run errands to the pharmacy because Saeed has the hots for the clerk, he says with a smirk.
However, Saeed’s sexuality has cost him his relationship with his sister, who initially was the first person he came out to, but whose new husband is less supportive.
“He is a jerk, and he is homophobic,” Saeed says of his brother-in-law. “He comments on my sexuality a lot, and has told me to get a life. And my sister took his side. He has totally turned her against me.”
To Saeed, this proves that some people are born with a bias and can’t be changed. “You can have someone who has studied at Yale or Princeton, and when he comes back to Iran, he still doesn’t understand,” he says.
Alizadeh says that though there is a small movement toward broader acceptance of homosexuals in Iran, the improvements are feeble.
“There’s a new generation of people who are more tolerant of these issues,” he says. “But at the end of the day, it only takes one person to destroy your life.”
(*Some names have been changed to protect sources.)

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