In a 2007 speech at New York’s Columbia University, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his audience that, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
He later clarified to CNN, “Perhaps there are those who engage in [homosexual] activities … but these are not known elements within Iranian society.” “Rest assured,” he added,” this is one of the ugliest behaviors in our society.”
Given these stark realities in Iran, the “not known elements” to which Ahmadinejad referred – are Iranian lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender persons (LGBTs) – are among the most deeply closeted in the world today. For LGBTs in Iran, getting exposed could cost them their lives.
But things in Iran were not always the way they are today.
Political writer Doug Ireland suggests that homosexuality was tolerated during the Pahlavi dynasty. One of the ways Iran’s then spiritual leader, the ayatollah Khomeini, is said to have ousted the shah was by stirring up public outrage over the “immoral lifestyle” of the Pahlavi court, based on rumors that his prime minister gay.
After the fall of the shah, the new regime switched from a legal system based on a hybrid of European and Islamic jurisprudence with a stricter interpretation of Sharia.
Article 110:The hadd (punishment) for lavat (homosexual act) where penetration has occurred is death and the method of execution is at the discretion of the Sharia judge.
Article 111:Lavat is punishable by death so long as both the active and passive partners are mature, of sound mind, and have acted of free will, – Islamic Republic of Iran’s penal code on homosexuality.
Twenty-six articles of Iranian law deal with homosexuality, outlining punishment for various same-sex acts. This can range from imprisonment and lashings to execution. Lesbians have it a little easier than gay males under the law: They are to be given 100 lashes for the first three ‘offenses’. On the fourth, they are to be put to death. As with adultery, the law requires four witnesses to come forward. In some cases in which the accused confess, they can be pardoned.
It is difficult to determine how many LGBTs have in fact been executed under the current regime. Some rights groups suggest that such executions are commonplace. Physicians for Human Rights reports that in 2011, at least three Iranian men were executed after being convicted of lavat – officialy defined as an “act of congress” between two partners. Other gay men remain on death row. In 2007, 20-year old Makwan Moludzadeh was charged and executed for “rape at the age of 13,” though details of his case remain fuzzy.
Roya Boroumand is Executive Director of the Washington, D.C.-based Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights in Iran. The foundation maintains an online database of everyone executed in Iran since the Revolution in 1979. It is a work in progress, says Boroumand, because it is difficult to get detailed information from such a closed regime.
“In the early 1980s, Iran used to announce executions of homosexuals,” Boroumand said. “But then they realized this was causing an international hassle. So if homosexuals are being executed now, they don’t say; they accuse them of other charges.”
But in spite of the harsh atmosphere created by the regime, Iran does have an active gay community, says Boroumand. “They have parties, they have a life; everyone knows there are certain cafes in Tehran where you can go on Thursday night, however, these are frequently raided by police.”...