Thursday, September 2, 2010

Is Iran moving in the right direction with LGBT issues?

Following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s statement, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country,” which was made at Columbia University in September of 2007, many questions have began to surface as to the state of affairs of the LGBT community in Iran.

Is there truly no LGBT community in Iran?

Contrary to President Ahmadinejad’s statement, there are some estimates that indicate that at least 3% of Iran’s population identifies as part of the gay community. It should be noted, however, that these are not exact estimates. Further evidence of the existence of a gay community can be inferred from the criminal code of Iran, which finds that under Iran’s theocratic Islamic government, the “crime” of being homosexual is punishable by death. It is difficult to understand why Iran would have a criminal code for homosexuals if there indeed are no homosexuals in Iran.

Although Iran takes a very harsh stance against homosexuality, in recent years it has become very accepting of the transsexual community. In fact one cleric, Hojatulislam Kariminia has publicly stated:

"I want to suggest that the right of transsexuals to change their gender is a human right."

With this support from the clerics themselves, the transsexual community has been moving full force in Iran. Dr Mirjalali, Iran’s lead gender reassignment surgeon, recently stated that in past 12 years he has done 320 of these operations. More than six time the amount of any European country. Today Iran, is only second to Thailand when it comes to gender reassignment surgery.

So why the sudden increase in the transsexual community of Iran?

A recent HBO special really explored this question by following a few of the Pre-Op transsexuals through the process required to be qualified for gender reassignment and through the actual surgical procedure as well. One of the reasons that seemed to explain the increase in transsexuals in Iran is the fear of being categorized as a homosexual. As mentioned above, Iran has a zero tolerance for homosexuality, which can be punishable by death. Thus, many homosexuals find that a sex change operation is a preferable alternative to being openly homosexual. (HBO: Be Like Others ). As can be seen from this documentary, there are a lot of physiological draw-backs for individuals opting for the operation. Although Iranian clerics have recognized the operation as a human right, the society as a whole is very much unsupportive of this community.

Trailer for Be Like Others

Although this is not the best solution for Iran’s gay community, the hope is that recognition of transexuality as a human right by the Iranian clerics is the start of acceptance of other LGBT community member as well.


Kate said...
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MRVanegas said...

Offering the right to change gender as a human right is a subterfuge for "reforming" gays and lesbians. The proponents of this view usually believe that there is no need to remain gay or lesbian if one can morph into the opposite of the sex they were born with. This view profoundly misunderstands gender and homosexuality and is dangerous as it offers a surgical solution to that which is a societal problem. All human societies will have to deal with their LGBTQ community, sooner or later. Yes, even in Iran.

Dusty said...

Though I can't speak to it, it would be important to distinguish the history of gay and lesbian people from the history of transgendered people in Iran, for this discussion and also for the folks making decisions on behalf of LGBT folks. This confusion, like Marta brought up, is really detrimental to the values of both lesbian and gay people and transgender people. What is Iran's social history of transpeople? Very often world culture's have long treated transgender people very differently than they have treated gay and lesbian people. They can't and shouldn't be lumped in together. It is possible (pure speculation here) that transgender people's history in Iran makes it easier for the current political/religious government structures to encourage assimilation of transpeople versus assimilation of gay and lesbian people, the key word being assimilation not empowerment of transpeople.

Kate said...

I've always assumed (maybe incorrectly) that Ahmadinejad's claim that "we have no homosexuals" was influenced by the (relative, official) acceptance of transgendered people in Iran.

In the U.S., where homosexuality is (IMO) more accepted and understood than transgenderism, it's relatively common to erase transgendered people by misidentifying heterosexual relationships involving transgendered people as homosexual relationships. For example, Barry Winchell and Calpernia Addams's and Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga's relationships have both been repeatedly misidentified as homosexual, by their supporters as well as their persecutors.

It makes sense to me that, coming from a country which is more accepting of transgenderism than homosexuality, Ahmadinejad might go in the other direction, and rationalize homosexual relationships as heterosexual relationships involving transgendered people. "Those 2 men kissing aren't gay! One of them’s really a woman!"