- TV news reporter Aram Bolandpaz left Iran for Britain then came out as lesbian but is still fighting for the community.
When people ask me how my life has changed since I left Iran and moved to Britain, my mind traces back to the time when I felt unsure of myself living in Iran.
When the regime casts a shadow and creates a darkness on your being, your true self is an enigma.
In Iran, I was not given a choice about my own identity. Instead I felt the need to conform to a lifestyle which I did not feel connected to. I felt isolated and alone.
Coming to Britain gave me a sense of belonging, a place to find my own identity. It was like putting your head above water and regaining clear vision and audible sounds.
Life in Britain cleared the obstruction between me and the light. I was no longer in the oppressive shadows that I had grown up in. I felt liberated under my skin, I became free to express myself amongst others without feeling the need to hide.
Let’s be real, it was not a fairy tale. And, of course, people have discriminated against me on many occasions since I arrived. But at least I know that the laws that govern the country acknowledge me and respect my identity.
Death penalty for gay sex
I now appear around the world on the Iran International TV station.
That means I’m doing something that was previously unheard of in Iran. To be an openly proud member of the LGBT+ community working as a journalist and presenter is a unique opportunity.
It has enabled me to report on the issues I care about the most. My work primarily focuses on human rights and edgy stories. That includes reporting on LGBT+ life inside Iran and the experiences of the LGBT+ community more broadly in the Middle East.
You see, LGBT+ rights in Iran have come into conflict with the Iranian penal code since the 1930s.
Post-revolutionary Iran forbids any type of sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage. Moreover same-sex sexual activities are punishable by imprisonment, corporal punishment, or execution.
In the Middle East, Iran is one of five countries to punish same-sex relations by the death penalty. The others are Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, and Sudan.
When it comes to the lesbian and bisexual community inside Iran, the punishment for same-sex conduct starts with lashes. But on the fourth ‘offense’ the court can give the death penalty.
Forcing people into gender surgery
Meanwhile Iran actually supports gender confirmation surgery for trans people.
But I have also reported on a worrying trend where homosexuals are having gender surgery just so they fit in with society. Remember, this is a society that brands them as deviants and can use the law to intimidate them.
Reports suggest almost 40% of the gender reassignment surgeries in Iran are for men and women who are lesbian, gay or bi. They have the surgery not because they want it but because of state and social pressure.
However, the real figure is difficult to establish. Many in Iran will never openly discuss their sexuality through fear of isolation, rejection or worse.
Police raids and punishments
In Tehran, the LGBT+ community frequently use Telegram groups or Instagram, meet at house parties and have found spaces for socialising.
These spaces provide the community with a feeling of acceptance, belonging and self-esteem in a society which shames us as abnormal.
However, the police frequently mount raids on these spaces. The result is often prosecutions and penalties ranging from lashes to public hangings.
Everyday LGBT+ Iranians live in daily fear of punishment simply for being who they are.
Iran threatened me and tried to jam our signal
As a journalist and documentary filmmaker who has worked in the media for a decade, I understand the importance of representation. The media can be very powerful in offering hope to marginalised communities around the world. It can also educate those who marginalise.
I know that many LGBT+ people around the world do not have the privilege that I have in Britain.
However, the belief that my role as a journalist may inspire people around the world and shine a light on the everyday experiences of LGBTQ+ citizens in Iran inspires me and encourages me to continue with my work.
Naturally, the Iranian regime has fiercely objected to my work for Iran International. They even tried to jam our signal and have threatened me unless I quit my job.
Other colleagues and their families face similar threats for the work they do. Indeed, this is the sad reality and human cost of objective and unbiased reporting. But despite this, we will not be afraid to report on what the regime would rather keep hidden.
About Aram Bolandpaz
Aram is a journalist and filmmaker who has worked in the TV industry for 10 years. However, the Iranian government forced her to come out as a lesbian. She came out to the public on her social media accounts four years ago.
This was the first time an Iranian public figure like Aram spoke out about being homosexual in Iran. Today, she continues to report, particularly on human rights issues.