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5 min

‘I was forced to flee Iran’

Iranian gays do exist and need the world's support

LASHED FOR BEING GAY. Iranian police raided a gay party and arrested everyone there. Farsad and Farnam received 80 lashes each and may receive more for their 'improper' relationship. Credit: (Iranian Queer Organization)

I was born in September 1980, in Iran. As a teenager growing up in Shiraz, I was lonely and filled with self-loathing. I had never met another queer, and I thought I was a freak.

I prayed to become a good person, a normal person. Other people fasted for one month, but I fasted for three.

Then I found the internet. And I discovered that I was not alone.

After that, I started to understand who I am and come to terms with my sexual identity. I began to do advocacy work for the queer community in Iran, but my work earned me the attention of the Iranian authorities and I was forced to flee Iran on Mar 4, 2005.

It was 12:45 pm. I have never forgotten that time. I had to leave all my own things in my motherland and go into exile. It was intolerable.

My train took me to Turkey, where I was able to register as a refugee at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara. I had stopped praying by then.

When I fled to Turkey, I promised my God that I would continue my support for Iranian queers and that would be my form of worship.

Three months after arriving in Turkey, my case was accepted, and two months later I was invited to Canadian Embassy in Ankara. Eight months later, here I am in Canada.

Homophobia runs deep into Iranian society. This, of course, partly reflects the influence of the conservative Islamic legal and religious standards promoted by the government. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini notoriously called for homosexuals to be extirpated as “parasites and corruptors of the nation” who “spread the stain of wickedness.”

It also reflects a patriarchal social system in which sexuality is controlled and feared, except when at the service of reproduction.

Before I fled to Turkey, three of my closest friends committed suicide because of their sexual orientation. More recently, Iranian police arrested two gay men in their 20s for hosting a small house party. The men received 80 lashes each; I doubt that I would be able to endure one. I admire their courage.

After getting his punishment, one of the men asked the person who executed this inhuman sentence whether he felt closer to God by this savagery.

Their lives, like many if not all the other LGBTs in Iran, is miserable.

“Since childhood I could not find any attraction to the opposite sex; yes of course I am a homosexual,” says Farsad, 26. At 21, in order to meet other people like himself, he set up a successful blog. The secret police found his address through his IP and arrested him. He spent three weeks in solitary confinement, and then he was accused of obscenity, advocating decadent values and homosexuality.

Last winter, Farsad met Farnam in a gay chat room. After corresponding they moved in together to start life as a couple, in disguise but together. They invited a small group of their friends to celebrate this union. Just 15 minutes after the party began, the police broke into their house and arrested everyone.

They were brutally beaten, says Farsad, and then transported to a police detention centre. They spent the entire Persian New Year holidays in a prison cell. “We were beaten to the point that my spine hurt permanently; I still feel the pain caused by the fists pounding my face,” Farsad says.

Within the Middle East, Iran is distinguished by the overt severity of the penalties it imposes on consensual, adult homosexual conduct. “Sodomy” or lavat — consummated sexual activity between males, whether penetrative or not — is punishable by execution, regardless of whether the partner is passive or active.

Article 111 of the Islamic Penal Code states that, “Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will.”

According to Articles 121 and 122 of the Penal Code, Tafkhiz (the rubbing together of thighs or buttocks, or other forms of non-penetrative “foreplay” between men) is punishable by one hundred lashes for each partner. Recidivism is punishable by death on the fourth conviction.

Article 123 of the Penal Code further provides that, “if two men who are not related by blood lie naked under the same cover without any necessity,” each will receive 99 lashes.

Iranian lesbians are not allowed to have an existence in Iran either. Many are forced by society and/or family to live a lie and marry a man. Women convicted of lesbian sex face flogging or, after conviction for a fourth time, the death penalty.

Each time they are arrested, they are raped, whipped and tortured to death. If they are raped by strangers or acquaintances, they and their family members are often reluctant to file a formal complaint because being raped is itself a matter of shame and disgrace.

According to Iran’s Penal Code, which is consistent with Islamic law, an accused person can be convicted of sodomy if he reiterates a confession to the act four times. The practice of torture is prevalent in Iran, and the practice of torturing prisoners to extract confessions is common. Forced confessions are openly accepted as evidence in criminal trials.

The death penalty for lavat is not merely a paper punishment in Iran: it is enforced.

Trials on morals charges in Iran are held in camera, and international outrage over the frequency of executions has led the government to exercise tight controls over press reporting of the death penalty. For these reasons, confirming the frequency of executions for lavat is effectively impossible.

On Nov 13, 2005, the semi-official Tehran daily Kayhan reported that the government publicly hung two men, Mokhtar, 24, and Ali, 25, in Gorgan. The government reportedly executed the two men for the crime of “lavat.”

On Mar 15, 2005, the newspaper Etemad reported two men were sentenced to death, after the wife of one of the men discovered a videotape of the two engaging in homosexual acts.

In November 2005, an 18-year-old boy was set on fire by his father in Rasht. Outraged and saddened with the news of his son’s homosexuality, the father first poured gasoline on his son and then on himself in order to save his family’s honour. The boy died from severe burns. The father survived with burns on his hands and face.

Other queer Iranians managed to flee, as I did, and tell their own stories.

On Nov 14, 2006, however, Iran’s state-run news agency, IRNA, reported that Shahab Darvishs, was executed in Kermanshah. According to Justice Department, he was found guilty of the despicable act of sodomy.

Taraneh is an Iranian lesbian refugee who now lives in Europe. She was 21 years old when she was arrested for the first time. She spent 27 months in prison and received 280 lashes of the whip. She says she was severely tortured there, and was forced to confess to her lesbianism. She spent several days in solitary confinement while bleeding and lacking access to sanitary and medical accessories.

Sayeh is one of the many Iranian transgenders who have experienced such governmental acts of arrest and torture first hand. She was arrested several times by police forces and experienced humiliation and abuse at their hands. Police forces pushed her into a black car, bombarded her with demoralizing and dehumanizing words and took her to a detention centre.

Above are just a few examples to show how in Iran, the state, society and family are often united in creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and danger for Iranian queers.

I have many more stories I could tell, but my point is this: Iranian queers do exist in Iran. President Ahmadinejad’s statement that “we don’t have homosexuals like in your country” is simply not true.

There are many gay and lesbian people in Iran, and they need your support. Right now.