Ah, to be gay in Iran

Tehran’s latest attacks on its gays remind the rest of us that our differences with the regime extend far beyond the nuclear issue

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The hangings continue in Iran
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Lawrence J. Haas
On 17 May 2012 13:29

As U.S. and other global leaders prepare for their May 23rd meeting with Iranian officials on nuclear issues, the regime in Tehran continues to showcase its odious nature by abusing the rights of its people – particularly its gay population.

Gay rights in Iran may seem disconnected from Iran’s nuclear program but, in at least one sense, they are closely linked. That’s because if this regime develops the nuclear weaponry that it so clearly seeks, it will be even less susceptible to outside pressure over its human rights record.

Consequently, Iran’s homosexuals have lots riding on global efforts to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear pursuit – and we should keep that in mind, particularly today, as the world commemorates the International Day Against Homophobia.

In recent days, an Iranian court sentenced four men from the town of Choram, in the Kohgiluyeh and Boyer-Admad Province, to death by hanging for the crime of sodomy, according to a report earlier this week in Pink News.

“Although being gay is not a crime based on Iranian criminal law,” a gay activist from Iran said, “this is the most clear statement against same sex-acts [sic] in recent months,” adding that “there were other of our men hanged in [the] past five months.”

So, while Americans debate the morality and political impact of President Obama’s embrace of gay marriage, an increasingly dangerous U.S. adversary half a world away continues to slaughter its homosexual citizens.

To be sure, gays are hardly the only disfavoured group that faces the wrath of a vicious regime. The State Department’s most recent annual report on human rights in Iran is a sickening compilation of murder, torture, rape, beating, harassment, abduction, jailing, and mock trials of religious and ethnic minorities, political dissidents, labour leaders, lawyers, adulterers, students, bloggers, and others.

Nevertheless, gays seem to hold a position of particularly unusual animus.

In late 2007, in response to a question about gay rights in his country, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously, and laughably, told an audience at New York’s Columbia University that his country had no gays. He surely knew better then – and he knows even better now – for at least two reasons:

First, the government over which he has presided since 2005 had been slaughtering gays from well before his Columbia appearance. The regime has executed more than 4,000 gay men and women since the Islamic Revolution brought it to power in 1979, according to a May 16th story on the invaluable website Realite-EU. It has tortured and harassed many others. By the time Ahmadinejad took office, Iran was already hanging gay teens.

Second, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Iranians posted videos of themselves on a Facebook page late last year, seeking to call attention to their plight. Iranian gays from both inside and outside the country flocked to contribute to the page, which they called “we are everywhere.”

The sentencing of the four men from Choram capped off a busy few weeks on the gay rights front in Iran.

Late last month, Pink News reported that a “gangster” known by the initials CH M was hanged publicly in Marwdasht, in Fars Province, for engaging in “sodomy” with another man. The Attorney General of Marwdasht, Gholamhossein Chamansara, reportedly told the Iranian Fars News Agency that the death penalty came in response to a “despicable/heinous act” that contradicted Sharia law.

Around that time, London’s Guardian reported that an influential Iranian cleric, based in the holy city of Qom, suggested that gays are inferior to dogs and pigs because animals do not engage in the “disgusting” act of homosexuality.

Almost all Iranian clerics have issued fatwas that make homosexuality punishable by death, the Guardian reported. Moreover, Iran’s parliament recently approved legislation that will subject the “active” participant in consensual homosexual acts to the added pleasure of a flogging of 100 strokes.

For gay women, the legal situation is not much better than for gay men. The punishment for gay sex among women is 100 lashes, but a woman convicted of lesbianism for a fourth time faces the death penalty.

Tehran’s latest attacks on its gay population remind the rest of us that our differences with the regime extend far beyond the nuclear issue. They also provide all the reason we need to support the democratic activists who seek to replace this regime with one far more humane.

Lawrence J. Haas was Communications Director and Press Secretary for Vice President Al Gore. He writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs and is the author of 'Sound the Trumpet: The United States and Human Rights Promotion' (forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield)

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