A new report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Iran highlights the problems they face in their own country and when they flee into exile.
Small Media and veteran UK-based gay activist Peter Tatchell will launch the LGBT Republic of Iran report in London on 16 May, a day ahead of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
In a statement released today they said: ‘LGBT Iranians are routinely harassed both by society and by the state. Many have been physically tortured and punished and some have been sentenced to death solely because of their sexual orientation.
‘One of the few ways LGBT Iranians can express their true selves, find valuable information about sexuality, health and identity, and build a sense of community is through the internet, the use of which is also inherently dangerous in the Islamic Republic of Iran.’
Human rights campaigners have expressed concerns about Iranian plans to introduce a nationally-controlled internet, cutting off free access to information.
One 26-year-old gay man from Bandar Anzali (a harbor city on the Caspian sea) who contributed to the report said: ‘If I said I saw myself as being part of this society, I'd be telling the biggest lie of my life. That's because of my homosexuality and the Iranian people's mentality about homosexuality. I usually refer to Iran as “your country” instead of “my country” or “our country”.
‘Words can't describe how important the internet is for me... Because I live in a really small city, where the homosexual community (if there even is one in our city!) is very secretive. The only way for me is the internet.’
While a male to female transsexual, 26 years old, from Lorestan in the mountainous west of Iran, told the report’s authors: ‘I am a human being, but I was created with an imperfection. I'm someone that nobody wants to be friends with, someone that even her own family doesn't like. Nobody will employ me because of the way that I am.
‘I long to become a woman, get married, have a family and find a good job. I like to be surrounded by people, but people always reject me. It's as if I'm from another planet and they don't want to be seen with me.’
Bronwen Robertson, director of operations at Small Media said: ‘As a lesbian who lived in Iran for more than a year, I know first-hand how oppressive Iranian society and the regime can be. This research report was a passion project for me.
‘The threat of the “national internet”, which has been a hot topic in the media of late, is very real for Iran's minority communities, and because Small Media believes in the power of technology to affect change, we are particularly concerned at the heightened repression of online activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
‘The voices in our report cry out for action. Not only do LGBT Iranians feel excluded from their society, they also fear entrapment and risk severe punishments, such as torture and even death.
‘In 2007, Ahmadinejad [President of Iran] famously denied the existence of homosexuals in Iran. But what thrives beneath the densely woven fabric of the regime are vibrant LGBT communities who need our help.’
Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said: ‘This is an extraordinary report which documents the normally hidden, silenced voices of LGBT Iranians. These are moving personal testimonies of the isolation, fear, alienation, suffering, rage and defiance of sexual minorities living under the harsh homophobic rule of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
‘They show that despite state repression and the frequent compromises they are forced to make to protect themselves, many Iranian LGBTs manage to get on with their lives and to forge a sense of community and solidarity.
‘The Peter Tatchell Foundation is honored to work with Small Media to help raise awareness of the lives and aspirations of LGBT Iranians – to give them a platform to speak for themselves.’
Dan Littauer, editor of Gay Middle East and GSN contributor, was not involved in compiling the report but gave it a cautious welcome.
‘The report puts into focus the difficulties that LGBT Iranians face in both their country of origin and the diaspora,’ he said. ‘The stories and voices are invaluable insights but I would emphasize the need for a careful and balanced approach to the issues of sexuality and life in Iran and abroad for Iranian LGBT people.’
A launch event at Amnesty International’s UK headquarters on 16 May will include an overview of the report's findings by Robertson, a music performance from Iranian guitarist Ramtin Montazemi, a question session with a panel of Iranian experts moderated by the Guardian's Brian Whitaker, a poetry reading of work by Iranian LGBT literary activists, a short video screening about LGBT asylum seekers in Turkey, and video messages from LGBT Iranians.
Admission is free but people will need to book a ticket for the event at New Inn Yard, East London.