As the controversial Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, heads out of office, Iranians are at the polls today (14 June) to vote for a new president.
But what will this election mean for LGBT Iranians? Are any of the candidates likely to improve the situation for gays and lesbians in Iran, who face systematic persecution? Is there an end in sight to Iran’s hard-line anti-LGBT policies?
Jafar Mohamadi, a 19-year-old gay Iranian, whose family fled Iran to Dubai, explained to Gay Star News that he sees no reason to vote: ‘No matter who we vote for, no matter what changes the candidates have proposed, my Iran will still continue to be run with the same, ancient mindset of the revolutionary religious authorities.
‘This is why I am not voting, and why I will never vote.
‘In my country, freedom and equality is the lowest priority for the regime.
‘God bless Iran, and God bless Iranian people including those who are LGBT, whose lives have been turned into terror and misery thanks to the monstrous regime.’
Many of the Iranians Gay Star News interviewed share his despair and say none of the candidates are likely to make any difference.
Javid, a 28-year-old Iranian gay man told GSN: ‘The election will not cause any changes to the situation of Iranian LGBT people…’
In a paraphrase of a recent video campaign for LGBT youth, he said: ‘It can only get worse but not better…’
All candidates are carefully selected by the ultra conservative Guardian Council and are establishment traditionalists.
Furthermore, LGBT Iranians thought all candidates are resolutely against equality on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and will not wish or be able to (even of they wanted to) effect any change.
Most are skeptical about the election process, and fear a repeat of widespread electoral fraud, as was the case in the previous infamous 2009 presidential election.
Maryam, a lesbian who fled Iran to the United Kingdom objects to the whole notion of participating in a system that oppresses its citizens: ‘Election in Iran doesn’t make sense and I’m not going to vote.
‘Candidates are the same, same beliefs, same personalities from the same system.
‘The problem is not one or two people the problem is the system, no matter who is going to be the president, at the end of the day we still will be hanged or killed.
‘No freedom equals means no existence.’
Liberal and reformist Iranians see candidate Hassan Rouhani, a traditionalist clergyman who was granted permission to run as a candidate, as the least conservative of all other competitors.
Rouhani, was Iran’s former nuclear negotiator and a member of The Assembly of Experts, a body that is responsible for monitoring and supervising the Supreme Leader as well as choosing his successor.
The Supreme Leader, in any case, is an undemocratic position. Despite being the ultimate religious and political power in the country, he is not elected by citizens but rather chosen for life by the assembly. The job is currently held by Ayatollah Khamenei.
Rouhani has stood out from other candidates by calling for a direct dialogue with the USA and also pledged his support for gender equality, while remaining silent on LGBT issues.
Gorji Marzban, an LGBT rights advocate and founder of the Oriental Queer Organization Austria (ORQOA), explains many Iranians would vote for Rohani, as he is seen as the least conservative of all candidates.
He told GSN: ‘The presidential election is tailored to install a conservative president who would conform to the Supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
‘Even the so-called reformist candidate, Rohani is a traditionalist and therefore not a hope for LGBT community in Iran.
‘However, the majority of young Iranians as well as a part of LGBT community decided to vote for Rohani as a reaction, to reflect their demands for dignity, freedom and human rights.’
Amir, an Iranian gay man who found refuge in Australia after escaping Iran diagrees: ‘I will not vote; not even for Rohani the so-called “reformist” candidate.
‘First of all, I do not see anyone amongst the candidate who could represent me, and none that I could trust to.
‘In addition, there is no guarantee the authorities would not meddle with the voting process.
‘Lastly, whoever enters the office would deny my rights as a human being, similarly to Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University, who said gays don’t exist in Iran.
‘Even if Rohani, wins the election and he wanted to improve things for LGBT people (both highly unlikely) he would be unable to do anything – not even abolishing the death penalty for gays.’
Arsham Parsi, an Iranian gay activist and founder of Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR), has little hope for immediate change.
According to Parsi, Iran’s president, in reality, has very little authority – real power remains with the clerical establishment and the Revolutionary Guard that practically run the country.
Parsi had to flee Iran because of his sexuality and then his family was persecuted because of his advocacy work, forcing them to seek asylum.
Parsi told Gay Star News: ‘The short answer is noting is going to change, because we know it does not matter who will be the president of Iran.
‘Presidents in Iran do not have enough power to control the country or govern it.
‘Everything is under Supreme Leader’s control. For Iranian queers nothing will change as long as the Islamic regime is in power since accepting queer rights is against their fundamental beliefs.
‘However, Iranian queers as citizens regardless of their sexual orientations, are trying to change their situation and many of them are going to vote because they believe it is the only way to keep their hope and fight for their rights as Iranian citizens.
‘To conclude, there is just a hope for a better future among Iranians while they know that hope is far from them.’
Yavar Khosroshahi, a 32-year-old Iranian gay man living in Germany told Gay Star News, says he understands why many of his friends despairs but manages to keep the hope Parsi spoke of, alive.
‘When I was 16 years old and living in Teheran I voted for a government that promised freedom and openness but a few years later threw me in prison, because I took part in a university student’s movement.
‘I endured tortured during a whole month,’ he recounted to GSN.
‘This was the first and last time I voted. I was forced to flee Iran loosing my nationality, and now I live in Germany where I am granted political asylum.
‘The situation in Iran is a catastrophe, the boycott and embargo by the West contribute to make life terribly hard for the less privileged population, whilst the government makes it difficult for everyone but their “friends”.
‘It is a heartbreaking life for millions.
‘I can see why fellow Iranians believe they must go to vote for the lesser evil while others believe that no one should go to vote, because it simply legitimates the fraud.
‘I understand and do not dare question people’s right to believe; acting either for or against a fraudulent election, brings people together, takes people to the streets, connecting, reaching out, demonstrating, showing where the power lies in the end.
‘Only such a way, a better could Iran develop.
Commenting on the issue, veteran British gay rights advocate Peter Tatchell, said: ‘There is no prospect of any change in Iran’s hard-line anti-LGBT policies.
‘None of the candidates support an end to the criminalization of homosexuality or an end to flogging and the death penalty for same-sex acts.
‘Some candidates share the out-going president’s view that there are no LGBT people in Iran or, if there are LGBT Iranians, they are merely copying “western immorality”.
‘This is an implausible denial of the historical fact that homosexuality has existed in the country since the first ancient Persian civilization.
‘The persecution of LGBT Iranians is just one aspect of a wider, systematic tyranny that prevails in modern-day Iran. The whole of civil society is subjected to severe restrictions and repression, which has intensified in the run up to today’s presidential poll.
‘The election is not free and fair: all democratic, liberal, secularist, left-wing and women candidates are banned by the Guardian Council.
‘While Iran’s media is censored with no open political debate.’
Note: Jafar and Amir’s names have been changed to protect them.