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Shortly after the Islamic Republic took over, a fatwa, or legal decree, was issued by the late Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini, the leader of the Revolution, stating that gender-altering procedures were legally permissible for diagnosed “transsexuals.” Homosexuals who are “diagnosed” are legally obligated to have the operation in order to fully live in Iranian society and more critically, to evade legal punishment.
Presently, Iran has one of the highest rates of sex change surgeries, second only to Thailand. The government subsidizes the surgeries and makes necessary adjustments to legalize birth certificates. According to Iran’s clerics, gender reassignment is a “cure” for homosexuality. The official view is that these medical procedures prevent social disorder that is brought about by same-sex relationships.
As bleak as life remains for gays inside Iran, President Ahmadinejad’s infamous response at Columbia University has helped Iran’s homosexuals gain support in foreign countries. There has since been an increased rate of homosexuals escaping Iran and seeking refuge in Western countries and certain heads of state are now willing to grant Iranian gays asylum.
Arsham Parsi, a 29-year-old refugee who fled Iran, founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR) in 2008, a non-profit group aiding Iranian gays obtain asylum in safe countries. Currently living in Toronto, Canada, Parsi, fled Iran in 2005 after his work in the field of homosexual research and advocacy alerted Islamic authorities. Currently, the IRQR is helping more than 200 gay Iranians file for refugee status.
Things may also be changing, however slowly, inside Iran. According to Parsi, gays in Iran have been empowered since the June 2009 uprising against the fraudulent presidential elections, and he remains hopeful that further progress can be made. “Change will come to Iran. I know it will,” he says. “Some day queers in Iran will have their human rights respected. They will be free to be who they are – love who they love – and not be afraid of retaliation or torture or execution. I hope to be a part of that change.”
With their struggles increasingly gaining international attention, Iran’s gays could indeed make that change a reality – even in the face of a vicious tyranny that denies their very existence and a feckless progressive Left that reinforces the regime’s brutal line with its complicit silence.
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