LGBT rights in Iran
|LGBT rights in Iran|
|Same-sex sexual activity legal?||Illegal: Islamic Sharia Law applied|
|Imprisonment; this would be raised to the death penalty if accompanied by rape|
|Gender identity/expression||Sex reassignment surgery (male to female) provided free of charge by the government|
LGBT rights in Iran since the 1930s have come in conflict with the penal code. Homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or in some cases of sodomy, even execution. Gay men have faced stricter enforcement actions under the law than lesbians. Iran insists that it does not execute people for homosexuality, and that homosexuals who have been executed have either committed rape, murder, or drug trafficking.
Any type of sexual activity outside a heterosexual marriage is forbidden. Transsexuality in Iran is legal if accompanied by a sex change operation; however, transsexuals still report societal intolerance as in other societies around the world.
- 1 History of LGBT rights in Iran
- 2 Legal status
- 3 Application of laws
- 4 Family and relationships
- 5 Censorship
- 6 Exiled political parties and groups
- 7 LGBT rights movement
- 8 AIDS/HIV
- 9 Asylum cases
- 10 Views of the Iranian Government on Homosexuality
- 11 Summary table
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 References
- 15 External links
History of LGBT rights in Iran
The history of homosexuality in Iran has been both influential and contradictory. The Zoroastrianism religion in the country, which reached its peak under the Sassanids, taught that all homosexuals (active or passive) are inherently demonic and as such they must be put to death when detected. This condemnation seems to have made its way slowly against the much older Iranian tradition of polytheism and initiatory pederasty, coming into sharp conflict during the Achaemenid period.
Persia was conquered by the Arabs in A.D. 637, when Islam took over as the predominant faith. The Arabs were only superficially intolerant of homosexuality, and certainly the Koran specified no earthly punishment for homosexual behavior. Nevertheless, the devout Muslim was expected to know that God would be displeased. The outcome was a toleration and even celebration of pederasty in classical Islam, and much of the Arab poetry of this time is devoted to boys and their beauty. There is a significant amount of literature in Persian that explicitly illustrates the ancient existence of homosexuality among Iranians. As a result, over a period of time the people of Persia once again moderated or reversed their earlier position.
In Persian poetry, references to sexual love can be found in addition to those of spiritual/religious love. A few ghazals (love poems) and texts in Saadi's Bustan and Gulistan have been interpreted by Western readers as homoerotic poems. In some poems, Sa'di's beloved is a young man, not a beautiful woman. In this he followed the conventions of traditional Persian poetry. Sa'di's own attitude toward homosexuals was more negative than positive. In the Gulistan he stated, "If a Tatar slays that hermaphrodite / The Tatar must not be slain in return." Another story tells of the qazi of Hamdan whose affection towards a farrier-boy is condemned by his friends and the king, who eventually says: "Everyone of you who are bearers of your own faults / Ought not to blame others for their defects."
20th century Iran
Under the rule of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last monarch of the Pahlavi Dynasty, homosexuality was tolerated, even to the point of allowing news coverage of a same-sex wedding. In the mid-late 1970s, some Iranians even began to talk about starting up a gay rights organization, similar to the Gay Liberation movement. Until the revolution, there were some night clubs in which gay behavior was tolerated. During the Shah's time, however, homosexuality was still taboo everywhere, and often one could not turn to family or friends for support and guidance. There were no public agencies to assist youth or people who were confused or questioning their sexuality.
Janet Afary has argued that the 1979 revolution was partly motivated by moral outrage against the Shah's regime, and in particular against a mock same-sex wedding between two young men with ties to the court. She says that this explains the virulence of the anti-homosexual oppression in Iran.
Post Islamic revolution
The new religious government that came to be established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution classed transsexuals and transvestites with gays and lesbians, who were condemned by Islam and faced the punishment and imprisonment under Iran's penal code. In 1986, transsexuals were re-classified as being "heterosexual".
On September 24, 2007, while speaking at Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, in answer to the question "Iranian women are now denied basic human rights and your government has imposed draconian punishments including execution on Iranian citizens who are homosexuals. Why are you doing those things?", "We don't have homosexuals, like in your country. I don't know who told you that." An aide later said that he was misquoted and was actually saying that "compared to American society, we don't have many homosexuals". The aide further clarified that "because of historical, religious and cultural differences homosexuality is less common in Iran and the Islamic world than in the West".
Transsexuality in Iran
Sex-change operations are allowed and performed frequently in Iran. Transsexual women in Iran may live as women until they have surgery, have surgical reassignment, have their birth certificates and all official documents issued to them in their new gender, and get married to men.
One early campaigner for transsexual rights is Maryam Hatoon Molkara, who was formerly male and known as Fereydoon. Before the revolution, she had longed to become physically female but could not afford surgery. Furthermore, she wanted religious authorization. Since 1975, she had been writing letters to Ayatollah Khomeini, who was to become the leader of Iran and was in exile. After the revolution, she was fired, forcibly injected with male hormone, and institutionalized. She was later released with help from her connection, and she kept lobbying many other leaders. Later she went to see Khomeini, who had returned to Iran. At first she was stopped and beaten by his guards, but eventually Khomeini gave her a letter to authorize her sex reassignment operation. The letter is later known as the fatwa that authorizes such operations in Iran.
Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the legal code has been based on Islamic Shari'a law. All sexual relations that occur outside a traditional, heterosexual marriage (i.e. sodomy or adultery) are illegal and no legal distinction is made between consensual or non-consensual sodomy. Homosexual relations that occur between consenting adults in private are a crime and carry a maximum punishment of death (though not generally implemented) Forced homosexual relations (rape) often results in execution. The death penalty is legal for those above 18, and if a murder was committed, legal at the age of 15. (see Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni whose ages were raised to 19 in court transcripts). Approved by the Iranian Parliament on July 30, 1991 and finally ratified by the Guardian Council on November 28, 1991, articles 108 through 140 distinctly talk about homosexuality and its punishments in detail:
Sodomy (lavat) can in certain circumstances be a crime for which both partners can be punished by death. If the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the judge to decide. If one person is non-consenting (ex. a rape), the punishment would only apply to the rapist. A non-adult who engages in consensual sodomy is subject to a punishment of 74 lashes. (Articles 108 to 113) Sodomy is proved either if a person confesses four times to having committed sodomy or by the testimony of four righteous men. Testimony of women alone or together with a man does not prove sodomy, not out of any prejudice toward women, but to narrow down the list of possible death sentences handed down. (Articles 114 to 119). "If sodomy, or the lesser crimes referred to above, are proved by confession, and the person concerned repents, the Shari'a judge may request that he be pardoned. If a person who has committed the lesser crimes referred to above repents before the giving of testimony by the witnesses, the punishment is quashed. (Articles 125 and 126). The judge may punish the person for lesser crimes at his discretion.
The punishment for lesbianism (mosahegheh) involving persons who are mature, of sound mind, and consenting, is 50 lashes. If the act is repeated three times and punishment is enforced each time, the death sentence will apply on the fourth occasion. (Articles 127, 129, 130) The ways of proving lesbianism in court are the same as for male homosexuality. (Article 128) Non-Muslim and Muslim alike are subject to punishment (Article 130) The rules for the quashing of sentences, or for pardoning, are the same as for the lesser male homosexual offenses (Articles 132 and 133) Women who "stand naked under one cover without necessity" and are not relatives may receive a punishment of 50 lashes. (Article 134)
Application of laws
At the discretion of the Iranian court, fines, prison sentences, and corporal punishment are usually carried out rather than the death penalty (unless the crime was a rape).
The charges of homosexuality and Lavat (sodomy) have in a few occasions been used in political crimes. Other charges are had been paired with the Lavat crime, such as rape or acts against the state, and convictions are obtained in grossly flawed trials. On March 14, 1994, famous dissident writer Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani was charged with offenses ranging from drug dealing to espionage to homosexuality. He died in prison under mysterious circumstances.
According to The Boroumand Foundation, there are records of at least 107 executions with charges related to homosexuality between 1979 and 1990. According to Amnesty International, at least 5 people convicted of "homosexual tendencies", three men and two women, were executed in January 1990, as a result of the Iranian government's policy of calling for the execution of those who practice homosexuality. In April 1992, Dr. Ali Mozafarian, a Sunni Muslim leader in the Fars province (Southern Iran), was executed in Shiraz after being convicted on charges of espionage, adultery, and sodomy. His videotaped confession was broadcast on television in Shiraz and in the streets of Kazerun and Lar.
On November 12, 1995, by the verdict of the eighth judicial branch of Hamadan and the confirmation of the Supreme Court of Iran, Mehdi Barazandeh, otherwise known as Safa Ali Shah Hamadani, was condemned to death. The judicial authorities announced that Barazandeh's crimes were repeated acts of adultery and "the obscene act of sodomy." The court's decree was carried out by stoning Barazandeh. Barazandeh belonged to the Khaksarieh Dervish sect (Islamic Republic Newspaper – November 14, 1995 + reported in Homan's magazine June 10, 1996).
In a November 2007 meeting with his British counterpart, Iranian member of parliament Mohsen Yahyavi admitted that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality. According to Yahyavi, gays deserve to be tortured, executed, or both.
On March 15, 2005, the daily newspaper Etemaad reported that the Tehran Criminal Court sentenced two men to death following the discovery of a video showing them engaged in homosexual acts. Another two men were allegedly hanged publicly in the northern town of Gorgan for sodomy in November 2005. In July 2006 two youths were hanged for "sex crimes" in north-eastern Iran, probably consensual homosexual acts. On November 16, 2006, the State-run news agency reported the public execution of man convicted of sodomy in the western city of Kermanshah.
On January 23, 2008, Hamzeh Chavi, 18, and Loghman Hamzehpour, 19, were arrested in Sardasht, in Iranian Azerbaijan for homosexuality. An on-line petition for their release began to circulate around the internet. They apparently confessed to the authorities that they were in a relationship and in love, prompting a court to charge them with Moharebeh ("waging war against God") and Lavat (sodomy).
There were two reported crackdowns in Esfahān (also spelled "Isfahan"), Iran's third-largest city. On May 10, 2007, Esfahān police arrested 87 people at a birthday party, including 80 suspected gay men, beating and detaining them through the weekend. All but 17 of the men were released; those who remained in custody were believed to have been wearing women's clothing. Photos of the beaten men were released by the Toronto-based Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees. According to Human Rights Watch, in February 2008 police in Esfhan raided a party in a private home and arrested 30 men, who were held indefinitely without a lawyer on suspicion of homosexuality.
Some lesbian Iranian women have cross-dressed to avoid sexual harassment and rape, opposition groups alleging that they do so to obtain "economic opportunities only available to men", despite 60% of professionals in Iran being women, and Iran even having a female vice-president. It is illegal for a woman to dress as a man, or for a barber to cut the hair of a woman short (out of fear that doing so would facilitate cross-dressing). Likewise, men who cross-dress or are deemed too effeminate will also face harassment or criminal charges. Transsexuals are granted immunity from these regulations.
Since the mid-1980s, the Iranian government has legalized the practice of sex change operations (under medical approval) and the modification of pertinent legal documents to reflect the changed gender. The basis for this policy stems from a fatwa by the leader of Iran's Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, declaring sex changes permissible for "diagnosed" transsexuals. This religious decree was first issued for Maryam Khatoon Molkara, who has since become the leader of an Iranian transsexual organization. Hojatoleslam Kariminia, a mid-level Islamic cleric in Iran, is another advocate for transsexual rights, having called publicly for greater respect for the human rights of Iranian transsexuals.
Despite the government's policy, transsexualism is still a taboo topic within Iranian society, and no laws exist to protect post-operative transsexuals from discrimination. Some gay and bisexual individuals in Iran are pressured to undergo sex change operation and live as women in order to avoid legal and social persecution. Tanaz Eshaghian's 2008 documentary, Be Like Others addresses this issue.
Family and relationships
No legislation exists to address discrimination or bias motivated violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Officially, the Iranian government believes that everyone is heterosexual and that homosexuality is a violation of the supreme will of God.
Same-sex marriages and or civil unions are not legally recognized in Iran. Traditional Iranian families often exercise strong influence in who, and when, their children marry and even what profession they chose (although the latter is often common in any society). Few LGBT Iranians come out to family for fear of being rejected, abused or turned over to the authorities.
Traditional Iranian families tend to prohibit their children from dating, as it is not a part of Iranian culture, although this has become somewhat more tolerated, among liberals. In 2004 an independent film was released, directed by Maryam Keshavarz, that examined the changing mores of Iranian youth when it comes to sex and dating.
Gay Iranian couples are often afraid to be seen together  in public, and report that LGBT people were widely stereotyped as being sex-obsessed child molesters, rapists, and diseased ridden degenerates. A popular Iranian derogatory slur against is that of a, "evakhahar", typically a very effeminate gay man who seeks casual sex in public.
In 2002 a book entitled Witness Play by Cyrus Shamisa was banned from shelves (despite being initially approved) because it said that certain notable Persian writers were homosexuals or bisexuals.
In 2004, the Iranian government loaned its collection of artwork, locked away since revolution for being, "profane" to the Tate Britain gallery for six months. The artwork included explicit homoerotic artwork by Francis Bacon and the Iranian government stated that upon its return, it would be put on display in Iran.
In 2005, the liberal Iranian paper Shargh was shut down by the government after it interviewed an Iranian author, living in Canada. While the interview never mentioned the sexual orientation of Saghi Ghahreman, it did quote her as stating that, "sexual boundaries must be flexible... The immoral is imposed by culture on the body." The conservative paper Kayhan attacked the interview and the paper, "Shargh has interviewed this homosexual while aware of her sick sexual identity, dissident views and porno-personality." To avoid being permanently shut down, the paper issued a public apology stating it was unaware of the author's "personal traits" and promised to "avoid such people and movements."
Exiled political parties and groups
The Iranian government will not allow a political party or organization to endorse LGBT rights.
Vague support for LGBT rights in Iran has fallen to a handful of exiled political organizations. The Green Party of Iran has an English translation of its website that states, "Every Iranian citizen is equal by law, regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, or political beliefs" and calls for a "separation of state and religion".
The Worker Communist Party of Iran homepage has an English translation of its manifesto that supports the right of "All adults, women or men" to be "completely free in deciding over their sexual relationships with other adults. Voluntary relationship of adults with each other is their private affair and no person or authority has the right to scrutinize it, interfere with it or make it public".
The leftist Rah-e Karegar Party, the liberal Marz-e Por Gohar and the center-right Constitutionalist Party of Iran have all expressed support for the separation of religion and the state, which might promote LGBT rights.
LGBT rights movement
In 1972, scholar Saviz Shafaii gave a public lecture on homosexuality at the Shiraz University and in 1976 would research sexual orientation and gender issues at the Syracuse University. In the 1990s, he joined the first human rights group for LGBT Iranians, HOMAN and continued his work until he died of cancer in 2000.
In 2001 an online Iranian LGBT rights organization was founded by a well-known Iranian gay activist, Arsham Parsi called "Rainbow", followed by a clandestine organization called the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization. As of 2008, this group has been renamed the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees. While the founder of this group had to flee Iran and continue his work as an exile, there is an underground LGBT rights movement in Iran.
In 2006, the career of Iranian-born, openly gay comedian Ali Mafi began. Since then, Ali has become one of the nations youngest and fastest rising gay comedians. In all his shows, Ali mentions his status as an Iranian citizen and his commitment to being proud of who he is regardless. Ali currently resides in San Francisco, California, which hosts a prominent gay community.
In 2007, the Canadian CBC TV produced a documentary that interviewed several LGBT Iranians who talked about their struggles.
During protests against the outcome of the Iranian election in July 2009, it was reported that several openly gay Iranians joined crowds of straight protesters in the UK and were welcomed with mostly positive attitudes towards LGBT rights.
Despite the deeply conservative character of the Iranian government, its efforts to stop the spread of AIDS/HIV have been quite progressive. The first official reports of AIDS/HIV in Iran were reported in 1987, and a government commission was formed, albeit it was not until the 1990s that a comprehensive policy began to arise .
In 1997, Dr. Arash Alaei and his brother, Kamiar, were given permission to open up a small office for HIV/AIDS research among prisoners and with a few years, despite public protests, they helped open the first general AIDS/HIV clinics. A booklet was approved, with explanation of condoms, and distributed to high school students. By the late 1990s, a comprehensive educational campaign existed.
Several clinics opened up to offer free testing and counseling. Government funds were allocated to distribute condoms to prostitutes, clean needles and drug rehabilitation to addicts and programs aired on television advocating the use of condoms. While there are shortages, medication is given to all Iranian citizens free of charge.
The Alaei brothers were joined in their educational campaign by Dr. Minoo Mohraz, who was also an early proponent of greater AIDS-HIV education, who chairs a research center in Tehran. Along with government funding, UNICEF has funded several Iranian volunteer based groups that seek to promote greater education about the pandemic and to combat the prejudice that often follows Iranians who have it . Yet, the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may signal a more restrictive approach to the pandemic.
In June 2008 the Alaei brothers were detained, without charge, by the Iranian government, after attending an international conference on AIDS/HIV. The government has since accused the two doctors of attending the conference as part of a larger plotting to overthrow the government.
As of 2007, the Iranian government says that 18,320 Iranians have been infected with HIV, bringing the official number of deaths to 2,800, although critics claim that the actual number may be much higher. Officially, drug addiction is the most common way that Iranians become infected.
While educational programs exist for prostitutes and drug addicts, no educational campaign for LGBT has been allowed to exist. In talking about the situation Kaveh Khoshnood stated, "Some people would be able to talk about their own drug addiction or their family member's, but they find it incredibly difficult to talk about homosexuality in any way," Khoshnood said. "If you're not acknowledging its existence, you're certainly not going to be developing any programs" for gays.
Some middle class Iranians have received an education in a Western nation; there is a small population of gay Iranian immigrants who live in Western nations. However, most attempts by gay Iranians to seek asylum in a foreign country based on the Iranian government's anti-gay policies have failed, considering its policies are mild compared to US allies such as Saudi Arabia.
In 2001, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights rejected a plea from an Iranian man who escaped from an Iranian prison after being convicted and sentenced to death for the crime of homosexuality. Part of the problem with this case was that the man had entered the country illegally and was later convicted of killing his boyfriend, after he discovered that he had been unfaithful.
In 2005, the Japanese government rejected an asylum plea from another Iranian gay man. That same year, the Swedish government also rejected a similar claim by an Iranian gay man's appeal. The Netherlands is also going through a review of its asylum policies in regard to Iranians claiming to be victims of the Iranian government's anti-gay policies.
In 2006, the Netherlands stopped deporting gay men back to Iran temporarily. In March 2006, Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk said that it was now clear "that there is no question of executions or death sentences based solely on the fact that a defendant is gay", adding that homosexuality was never the primary charge against people. However, in October 2006, after pressure from both within and outside the Netherlands, Verdonk changed her position and announced that Iranian LGBTs would not be deported.
The UK came under fire for its continued deporting, especially due to news reports documenting gay Iranians who committed suicide when faced with deportation. Some cases have provoked lengthy campaigning on behalf of potential deportees, sometimes resulting in gay Iranians being granted asylum, as in the cases of Kiana Firouz and Mehdi Kazemi.
Views of the Iranian Government on Homosexuality
The Iranian state media have shown their hatred toward homosexuality on many occasions, and no press or other media outlet in Iran is allowed to support LGBT-rights. For example, the Iranian state media has stated that believes homosexuals are deviant individuals who have, for some reason (psychological, social or physiological) deviated from the balanced and natural human condition and need help and support to stop sinking any further into the 'swamp of immorality'.
In 2007, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, speaking to Columbia University, said (through a translator) that "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals", though a spokesperson later stated that his comments were misunderstood.
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