News / Middle East

Iranian Homosexuals Speak Out About Persecution

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says they do not exist.  And in Iran, merely trying to be themselves is a crime that brings shame on their families.  But now, Iranian homosexuals are starting to speak out about what it means to be gay and about the lengths to which they have gone to escape persecution. 

The  day begins as normal for Arash and Nima. But for them, just walking out the door is a reminder they are no longer at home in Iran.

"“The LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered people) are a part of vulnerable class of the Iranian society," Arash explained.

Arash left Iran for Turkey nine months ago.  He now works as a filmmaker and shot a video to help document his new life.

Iran’s conservative Islamic laws leave little room for homosexuality.  United Nations experts and rights groups have criticized the Iranian government for criminalizing all homosexual acts, making certain acts punishable by death. Iran has also come under fire for subjecting those suspected of homosexuality to arbitrary arrest and torture.

The issue is one that Iranians are slowly being forced to confront - often through film. Such films, though, are not being made in Iran.

And at least at the highest levels, denial is the rule - as evidenced by comments Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made to students at New York’s Columbia University in 2007:

“In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," Ahmadinejad declared.

Farid, another Iranian exile living in Turkey, said on YouTube the feeling of oppression permeates Iran's everyday life.

“When you walk down the street, you feel you are being assaulted from all sides," he said. "We [gay people] are being looked at like a third gender."

One place gay Iranians have found refuge is the United States, where despite controversy, some states and even Washington D.C., have been extending more rights to homosexuals, including the right to get married.

Mali Kisagari was born in Iran in 1958… and in 2004 she married her partner, Elizabeth Kristen, in California.

“In the U.S., people’s rights are respected," she noted. "When I entered the U.S., I found this is a place I can be myself.”

Such attitudes are a long way from being accepted in Iran. Still, from the Iranian diaspora, singers like Shohreh are pushing back - as in her music video.

“The reason why I used the homosexual flag in my video was to support these people,” she explained. “Families should know that their children should not be blamed for being homosexual.  They have been homosexual since childhood."

For now, couples like Arash and Nima can only wonder what it would be like to live as themselves in their home country.

“I want to bring their face in front of [documentary] movie camera, so that the heterosexual class understands the gays better; so that a day may come that the two classes of people may coexist,” Arash said.

To many gay Iranians, that day still seems a long way off.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: echo from: China
June 01, 2012 3:37 AM
Life is tough,you should be more tough.

by: JustMe from: Noneya
May 31, 2012 10:44 PM
“In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don't know who has told you that we have it," Ahmadinejad declared.

Ummm....Anon - you may want to read that quote again. That's exactly what he said! If there is some miscommunication, then by all means, please clarify what he meant. Is he saying Iran does have gays, but Iranian gays are better than other gays? Are they different in some way? Per his own quote, it still seems to me that he's saying Iran does not have gays...

by: mm
May 31, 2012 10:01 PM
Romans 1 vs 27 ain't no homos gonna make it to heaven.

by: Anonymous
May 31, 2012 5:11 PM
Ahmadinejad did not say we don't have gays, he said we don't have gays like in the gays your country.

by: JustMe from: Noneya
May 31, 2012 10:15 AM
lol "We do not have gays in Iran"...errrr, maybe because you exterminate them like roaches and the survivors run for their lives to other countries! Clearly this guy needs to do his homework before he runs his flapjacks! This world sure would be a better place if we could all just live and let live (provided no one is being harmed, of course). God is the judge and jury over all of us. In the meanwhile, just do as God says - Love thy neighbor!!!!!
Thank God I'm American!

May 31, 2012 10:06 AM

by: Jeremy Smith from: Spain
May 31, 2012 9:53 AM
Unfortunately, Iran, like all countries dominated by religion, has very little humanity. If only people could shake off the oppression of a religion which dictates what you must think. God exists I believe, but He doesn't need human intermediaries to twist his words. Listen with your hearts instead and hear God speak directly to you.

by: Mario F. Stevenson from: Phoenix, AZ, USA
May 31, 2012 9:16 AM
The content of this article reflects exactly why the world is selective when it comes to information. This is sexual-biased activism stemming from the United States nonsense of creating a whole new gender-biased laws or influence used to motivate or oppress another gender group. An example is the U.S. VAWA; though it's unconstitutional, a whole new segment of laws were created to support a gender-bias even though the Civil Rights laws already do for what it does. This gender-biased activism takes a new approach to become sexual-biased activism charging the world to accept and make extra space in government exploitation for a sexual-biased non-government government exploitation.tra space in government exploitation for a sexual-biased non-government government exploitation.

by: michael from: usa
May 31, 2012 9:13 AM
many who have endured the wrath of the accuser will hold the sword of justice with michael that day and strike satan dead.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs