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.

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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.

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