Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has defended the country’s death penalty for homosexuals, arguing that the law reflects the nation’s moral values. Mr. Zarif made the remarks at a joint news conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas on June 11 in Tehran.
“Our society has moral principles, and we live according to these principles. These are moral principles concerning the behavior of people in general. And that means that the law is respected, and the law is obeyed,” Zarif said in response to a question in English by a reporter from the German tabloid newspaper Bild, Paul Ronzheimer, regarding capital punishment for homosexuals in Iran.
By contrast, the U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted on June 1: “The Administration stands with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals based on their sexual orientation. My administration has launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality and invites all nations to join us in this effort.”
The following is Kayhan Life’s interview with Shaya Goldoust, the host of Radio Ranginkaman’s “I Am a Trans” talk program, which highlights issues facing LGBTIQA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, asexual, agender, aromantic, and other diverse sexual orientations and gender identities) people in Iran.
Shaya is 33 years old and underwent man-to-woman gender reassignment surgery in June 2012 in Tehran after receiving permission from the Iranian Legal Medicine Organization.
The U.S. State Department recently released a video produced by Radio Ranginkaman to support LGBT people in Iran. The move was a significant event for the editorial staff and all of your colleagues at Ranginkaman and other Iranian online sites. What are your thoughts?
June marks Pride Month for the LGBTIQA+ communities around the world. Pride means self-respect and joy. People with diverse sexual orientations march in the streets of towns and cities to assert their human rights and freedom to choose.
The promotion of the video by the U.S. State Department reaffirms Radio Ranginkaman’s role as the representative of the LGBTIQA+ people in Iran. Ranginkaman has been a major advocate of the rights of the LGBTIQA+ community inside Iran and around the world. By publishing the video, the U.S. government is also trying to show its concern about the plight of the LGBTIQA+ community in America and other countries. However, the U.S. government has been very slow in processing the applications of Iranian LGBTIQA+ asylum seekers, many of whom have been living under harsh conditions in Turkey for a long time.
Global marches and protests have forced many governments to review their existing discriminatory laws. For instance, the Taiwanese Parliament passed legislation on May 17 legalizing gay marriages. Unfortunately, Iran has not decriminalized homosexuality. The state treats members of the LGBTIQA+ community as criminals and punishes them severely.
You have been advocating the civil and human rights of LGBTIQA+ people in Iran. Have they been subjected to systematic discrimination as with all other minorities in Iran for the past 40 years?
We must consider several issues. There was not much social awareness of LGBTIQA+ people forty years ago. People did not have access to information about diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The situation was no different in developed countries, which have been advocating the rights of LGBTIQA+ people in recent years. The internet and social media have helped inform and educate the public about diversity and inclusion. However, not only have the conditions for LGBTIQA+ people not improved in Iran for the past 40 years, they have even worsened.
Although the Iranian public did not acknowledge diversity and inclusion before the Islamic Revolution, it respected the civil and human rights of all citizens. Gay, lesbian, and transgender artists could work in the state-owned media with no problem. However, the social, political, and cultural climate changed in Iran after 1979. Many in the LGBTIQA+ community have been terrorized and persecuted ever since. The state has given the green light to fanatics in Iranian society to commit violence against LGBTIQA+ people with impunity.
Many people from the LGBTIQA+ community have left Iran in recent years. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has not processed many asylum applications. Some of them have been living in Turkey and neighboring countries, and are facing an unknown future. How do you assess the situation?
Iranians have been living under a harsh economic, social, and political climate for a while now. Conditions are even worse for all minority groups, including LGBTIQA+ people, many of whom are ostracized by society and their families. Lack of family support makes LGBTIQA+ people more vulnerable to abuse. Authorities do not arrest and prosecute those who abuse, assault and rape people in the LGBTIQA+ community. Many cannot find employment, despite having university degrees. That is why many of them try to leave Iran and find sanctuaries in other countries. They seek asylum in a foreign country where they hope to find peace, safety, and security. It is difficult to live on the fringes of society. The situation is even worse for LGBTIQA+ people in Iran who live in complete isolation.
What has your experience been like as a transgender person?
Transgenders have relatively fewer legal problems than others. However, the entire experience of enduring social and cultural difficulties forces many transgenders to withdraw from society for a while, particularly those who undergo gender reassignment surgery. They still face prejudice and discrimination, even after a successful gender transition. That is why many members of the LGBTIQA+ community ultimately leave Iran.
There are many people from the LGBTIQA+ community in Iran who have settled in other countries. They hold good jobs and are successfully integrated in their new communities.
You were recently a guest of the Samt-e Now talk program on the London-based Manoto network. Many viewers have commented on that segment of the show.
It was a new experience for me. Although I had given interviews before, being on Manoto TV, which draws many viewers, was extraordinary. It allowed me to share my experience and those of others in the LGBTIQA+ community with a broader audience. Our parents and grandparents may not use social media, but they watch TV.
I tried to inform and educate the viewers of the program about a segment of society which has been marginalized for too long. Media plays a crucial role in changing the public’s perception of minority groups. They even have a greater responsibility to highlight the plight of victims of discrimination and prejudice.
Foreign media and news outlets have reported widely in recent years on the issues concerning the LGBTIQA+ communities around the world. There have been many documentaries and programs about the lives of LGBTIQA+ people in various societies. More work, however, is needed to raise public awareness about these issues and dispel many taboos associated with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
[Translated from Persian by Fardine Hamidi]