Transgender rights in Iran

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Transsexuality in Iran)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Iran locator map

Transgender rights in Iran are limited, with a narrow degree of official recognition of transgender identities by the government, but with trans individuals facing very high levels of discrimination, from the law, the state, and from the wider society.

Before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the issue of transgender identity in Iran had never been officially addressed by the government. Beginning in the mid-1980s, however, transgender individuals were officially recognized by the government and allowed to undergo sex reassignment surgery. In 2008, the BBC reported that Iran carries out more sex change operations than any other nation in the world except Thailand. The government provides up to half the cost for those needing financial assistance, and a sex change is recognized on the birth certificate.[1] Since 2017, the government has provided transgender persons financial assistance in the form of grants of up to 5 million tomans ($400~ USD).[2][failed verification]

However, substantial legal and societal barriers still exist in Iran. Transgender individuals are submitted to a long and invasive process to have their identity recognized, including virginity tests, psychological counseling that reinforces feelings of shame, and appearances before the court. In addition, non-binary genders are not recognized in Iran and the quality of trans healthcare in the country, including hormone therapy and reconstruction surgeries, is often very low. Iran still considers transgender identity to be a mental disorder and has no laws protecting trans people against stigmatization, hate crimes, or domestic violence. Transgender individuals also face extreme social pressures to hide the fact that they are transgender, often being forced to move to a new city, cut ties with any previous relationships, and conform to the strict sex segregation in Iran.[3]

Harassment against transgender individuals is common within Iran, and trans people face increased risk of physical and sexual assault, exclusion from education and jobs, poverty, and homelessness.[4][5] The Iranian government also monitors online transgender communities, often subjecting them to censorship.[6] The government has also faced repeated allegations of forcing homosexual individuals into sex reassignment surgery and the United Nations Human Rights Council has reported that "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children are subjected to electric shocks and the administration of hormones and strong psychoactive medications".[7][8]



There is evidence of third genders existing in civilisations in the region that is now Iran dating back thousands of years. A 2018 study of burial sites at Teppe Hasanlu found that around 20% of the tombs did not conform to a binary gender-divided distribution of artifacts or showed signs of the buried having performed masculine roles while wearing feminine dressing (or vice-versa). A bowl at the site was also discovered depicting a bearded man wearing female clothing shown sitting on the floor, a position that was usually reserved for women in the local iconography.[9]

Surgery for intersex conditions have been practiced in Iran since the 1930s.[10]:252[11]:25[12] In 1963, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wrote a book in which he stated that there was no religious restriction on corrective surgery for intersex individuals, though this did not apply to those without physical ambiguity in sex organs. At the time Khomeini was a radical, anti-Shah revolutionary and his fatwas did not carry any weight with the Imperial government, which did not have any specific policies regarding transgender individuals.[1]

After the Revolution[edit]

The new religious government that came to be established after the 1979 Iranian Revolution classed transgender people and crossdressers with gays and lesbians, who were condemned in shah's era and faced the punishment of lashing or even death under Iran's penal code.

One early campaigner for transgender rights was Maryam Hatoon Molkara, a transgender woman. Before the revolution, she had longed to become physically female but could not afford surgery and wanted religious authorization. In 1975, she began to write letters to Khomeini, who was to become the leader of the revolution and was in exile. After the revolution, she was fired, forcibly injected with male hormones, and institutionalized. She was later released with help from her connections and continued to lobby many other leaders. Later she went to see Khomeini, who had returned to Iran. During this visit, she was subjected to beatings from his guards because she was wearing a binder and they suspected she could be armed. Khomeini, however, did give her a letter to authorize her sex reassignment operation, which she later did in 1997.[13] Due to this fatwa, issued in 1987, transgender women in Iran have been able to live as women until they can afford surgery, have surgical reassignment, have their birth certificates and all official documents issued to them in their new gender, and marry men.[14]

Present day[edit]

Khomeini's original fatwa has since been reconfirmed by the current leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, and is also supported by many other Iranian clerics.[1] Hojatoleslam Kariminia, a mid-level cleric who is in favor of transgender rights, has stated that he wishes "to suggest that the right of transsexuals to change their gender is a human right" and that he is attempting to "introduce transsexuals to the people through my work and in fact remove the stigma or the insults that sometimes attach to these people."[2]


There is still a great deal of stigma attached to the idea of transgender and gender reassignment in ordinary Iranian society, and most transgender people, after completing their transition, are advised to maintain discretion about their past.[1] Trans people are subject to employment discrimination, rejection by their families and communities, police abuse, and depression.[12] Because they are typically rejected by their families and social networks, where Iranians usually look to for financial support and employment opportunities, they are often forced into sex work and sometimes commit suicide.[15][16]

A 2016 report by OutRight Action International found that "trans Iranians continue to face serious discrimination and abuse in both law and practice, and they are rarely treated as equal members of society" and that "the Iranian trans community faces pressure from both state and non-state actors, ranging from hostile public attitudes to acts of extreme violence, risk of arrest, detention, and prosecution." The report noted that Iranian police would often arrest anyone they suspected of being trans and would hold them in custody until they could complete an official investigation to determine that the arrested individual was legally recognised as trans. Police would also frequently target trans people for flogging under anti-cross-dressing rules.[17]

Trans people are banned from serving in the Iranian military and issued specific exemption cards by the military.[18] This practice of identifying transgender individuals put them at risk of physical abuse and discrimination.[19]


The process of undergoing sex reassignment surgery is extensive and rather arduous. People who so much as question their sexuality are encouraged to see a psychologist, and they are usually recommended to undergo sex reassignment surgery in order to fit in with the strict gender binary that is present in Iran. The individual goes through four to six months of therapy, hormone tests, and chromosomal tests to undergo a process known as "filtering". Filtering is the separation of homosexuals, who are deemed "deviant", from transsexuals, who are deemed "curable" by undergoing surgery.[12] Once a transgender individual has undergone sex reassignment, that person legally becomes the new sex. All legal documents, such as birth certificates and passports, are also changed accordingly.[1]

Transsexual surgery is not actually legal under Iranian civil law, although the operations are carried out. Iranian law has both secular and religious components, and secular jurisprudence says nothing about transgender issues. In this case, Sharia and fatwas take up the slack until it does, and it is under the religious law and Khomeini’s fatwa during the interlude that surgery can be carried out.[10]:250, 258

UNHCR's 2001 report says that sex reassignment surgery is performed frequently and openly in Iran, and that homosexual and cross-dressing men, although unrelated to trans identity, would be safe as long as they keep a low profile.[3] However, the Safra Project's 2004 report considers UNHCR's report over-optimistic. The Safra Project's report suggests that UNHCR underestimated legal pressure over transgender and LGBT matters.[citation needed] The Safra Project report further states that currently, it is not possible for presumed transgender individuals to choose not to undergo surgery - if they are approved for sex reassignment, they are expected to undergo treatment immediately. Those who wish to remain "non-operative" (as well as those who cross-dress and/or identify as genderqueer) are considered their gender assigned at birth, and as such they are likely to face harassment as being homosexuals and subject to the same laws barring homosexual acts.[4]

The 2016 OutRight report noted that access to healthcare was severely limited for those who could not afford it and that the healthcare system would often refuse to approve individuals who suffered from additional health issues for medical transition (and hence legal rights), with one doctor claiming that "not everyone who wants to change their gender suffers from gender identity disorder." The report also found that many psychologists would encourage parents to actively discourage young children from displaying gender non-conforming behaviour. As well, the report highlighted a culture of gatekeeping in the healthcare system, often imposing extremely long waiting periods on patients out of a belief that it would lower regret rates. A doctor at the Legal Medicine Organization stated that less than half of those who had applied between 1987 and 2004 had been given authorisation for GRS.[17]

Sexual health[edit]

A 2016 study of 104 trans women in Tehran found an HIV prevalence of 1,9%.[20] A 2009 study found no cases of HIV/AIDS among the 58 trans individuals tested.[21]

Forced surgery for homosexual people[edit]

It has been widely reported that homosexual individuals are pressured to undergo medical transition as part of the Iranian state's oppression of homosexuality.[11] A 2016 study analyzes European and American literature about the topic as characterizing legalized transgender surgery at least partly motivated by a desire to enforce a heteronormative binary conception of gender, including 'forced' surgery for some gay people, and critiques that view as an oversimplification.[10]:250 One study, however, has contested the belief that cisgender homosexuals have actually undergone sex change due to social pressure.[22]

Transgender community[edit]

Transgender people have formed non-governmental organizations and support groups in Iran. These groups provide information and skills to support transgender people, and work to combat social stigma. They often rely on the medical model and "treat" transgender identity as a disease. Although this contributes to the pathology of transgender experiences, it gives space for individuals to identify themselves without the judgement of moral deviancy and identify other internalized stigmas.[22]


Increased international attention to the Iranian transgender community and their legal status may have been a result of 2002 award winning film Juste une femme (Just a Woman) by Mitra Farahani.[11]

Transgender director Saman Arastoo directs plays about trans people in Iran, casting transgender actors in the roles.[23][24]

Asylum seekers[edit]

A high number of transgender individuals from Iran have fled the country and attempted to seek asylum elsewhere.[25][26] Some refugees have reported facing discrimination and being shunned by Iranian expat communities in the countries that they end up gaining asylum in.[27][28] Refugees can also face issues regarding legal gender recognition and healthcare in their countries of asylum.[29]

In 2020, protests were held in Iceland over the potential deportation of a trans teenager from Iran who was seeking asylum. The teen had originally intended to seek asylum in Portugal, but had been forced to leave the country and flee to Iceland after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard attempted to arrest them and forcibly return them to Iran.[30]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (In accordance with Shiite version of Islamic law)
Equal age of consent[31] No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment No (None for all LGBT people)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No (None for all LGBT people)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No (None for all LGBT people)
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT allowed to serve in the military[32] No
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 1980s)
Third gender recognised Yes (No; binary only)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Barford, Vanessa (February 25, 2008). "BBC News: Iran's 'diagnosed transsexuals'". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
  2. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017".
  3. ^ Welle (, Deutsche. "How Iran's anti-LGBT policies put transgender people at risk | DW | 28.04.2020". DW.COM. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  4. ^ Transgender In Tehran: Arsham's Story, retrieved 2021-06-11
  5. ^ "Iran's transgender community are being beaten and disowned in spite of legal protections". PinkNews - Gay news, reviews and comment from the world's most read lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans news service. 2018-05-21. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  6. ^ Welle (, Deutsche. "Iran: How transgender people survive ultraconservative rule | DW | 16.05.2021". DW.COM. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  7. ^ "Transitions: Transgender Rights in Pakistan and Iran". Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  8. ^ "A/hrc/46/50 - E - A/hrc/46/50 -Desktop". Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  9. ^ "Ancient civilization in Iran recognized transgender people 3,000 years ago, study suggests". Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  10. ^ a b c Saeidzadeh, Zara (November 2016). "Transsexuality in Contemporary Iran: Legal and Social Misrecognition". Fem Leg Stud (thesis). 24 (3): 249–272. doi:10.1007/s10691-016-9332-x. ISSN 0966-3622.
  11. ^ a b c Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2008). "Transing and Transpassing across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran". Women's Studies Quarterly. 36 (3/4): 23–42. doi:10.1353/wsq.0.0117. JSTOR 27649782. S2CID 154350645. Surgeries to alter congenital intersex conditions were reported in the Iranian press as early as 1930. Ittila'at, October 27, 1930.
  12. ^ a b c Terman, Rochelle (2014-03-01). "Trans[ition] in Iran". World Policy Journal. 31 (1): 28–38. doi:10.1177/0740277514529714. ISSN 0740-2775.
  13. ^ The Ayatollah and the transsexual,That Maryam Khatoon Molkara can live a normal life is due to a compassionate decision by one man: the leader of the Islamic revolution himself. By Angus McDowall in Tehran and Stephen Khan, The Independent Thursday, 25 November 2004
  14. ^ "A fatwa for transsexuals,One woman's courage in appealing to the late Ayatollah Khomeini has made Tehran the unlikely sex change capital of the world. By Robert Tait". Archived from the original on 2011-06-07.
  15. ^ Najmabadi, Afsaneh (2008). Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran. Women's Studies Quarterly. pp. 23–42.
  16. ^ "Despite Fatwa, Transgender People in Iran Face Harassment".
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^ "The United States and Iran: Two Transgender Military Bans". Fordham International Law Journal. Retrieved 2021-06-11.
  20. ^ Moayedi-Nia, Saeedeh; Taheri, Leila; Hosseini Rouzbahani, Negin; Rasoolinejad, Mehrnaz; Nikzad, Rana; Eftekhar Ardebili, Mehrdad; Mohraz, Minoo (2019-06-23). "HIV Prevalence and Sexual Behaviors Among Transgender Women in Tehran, Iran". AIDS and Behavior. 23 (6): 1590–1593. doi:10.1007/s10461-018-02380-w. ISSN 1573-3254. PMID 30734211. S2CID 59616780.
  21. ^ Nadoushan, Amir Hossein Jalali; Bahramian, Alaleh; Taban, Mojgan; Alavi, Kaveh; Sharifi, Hamid; Shokoohi, Mostafa; Ardebili, Mehrdad Eftekhar (2021-02-28). "High-Risk Sexual Behaviors Among Transgender Individuals in Tehran, Iran". Acta Medica Iranica: 113–117. doi:10.18502/acta.v59i2.5578. ISSN 1735-9694.
  22. ^ a b Eftekhar Ardebili, Mehrdad. "Transgenderism in Iran" in Current Critical Debates in the Field of Transsexual Studies edited by Oren Gozlan. New York, NY : Routledge, 2018. ISBN 9781138481305
  23. ^ "Agonizing Odyssey of Iranian Transsexual: From Despair to Survival". IFP News. 2017-06-14. Retrieved 2018-03-09.
  24. ^ "Iran's transgender community: Legally recognised yet socially ostracised". euronews. 2018-01-12. Retrieved 2018-03-08.
  25. ^ "Caught Up In Travel Ban, Iranian Transgender Asylum Seeker Sees 'No Way Forward'". Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  26. ^ "Transgender Iranian Refugees Are Struggling to Outrun Prostitution and Violence". Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  27. ^
  28. ^ "From Iran to Turkey to Canada, a transgender woman seeks refuge". The World from PRX. Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  29. ^ Quell, Molly (2020-07-16). "Iranian Refugee Wins Transgender Rights Case Against Hungary". Courthouse News Service. Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  30. ^ "'He would die': Iceland activists try to stop deportation of Iranian trans teen". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  31. ^ "Iran Age of Consent & Statutory Rape Laws". Retrieved 2018-06-30.
  32. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017". Retrieved 2018-06-30.

Further reading[edit]

  • Hashemi, Kate C. "Divergent Identities in Iran and the Appropriation of Trans Bodies," Kohl Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, Winter 2018.
  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. 2014. Professing selves: transsexuality and same-sex desire in contemporary Iran. Durham ; London : Duke University Press, 2014. ISBN 9780822355434
  • Najmabadi, Afsaneh. "What Can We Learn From Transsexuality in Iran?". In: Schreiber, Gerhard. Transsexuality in Theology and Neuroscience: Findings, Controversies, and Perspectives. Berlin and Boston: Walter de Gruyter 2016 (ISBN 978-3-11-044080-5), pp. 175-194.
  • Bluck, Sahar. "Transsexual in Iran: A Fatwa for Freedom?" (Chapter 3). In: Pullen, Christopher. LGBT Transnational Identity and the Media. Palgrave Macmillan. 29 February 2012. ISBN 0230353517, 9780230353510.
  • Iran's 'diagnosed transsexuals' (BBC News, 25 February 2008)

External links[edit]