Iranian Dissent Through The Eyes of Gay Refugees
By Matt Vella
Meanwhile, the standoff is being watched closely by LGBT refugees who've already made it to the U.S. or Canada. "It's horrible because we're here, with no access to people or true information," said Arsham Parsi, who heads the Toronto-based Iranian Queer Railroad, which works to get LGBT people out of Iran and safely to the west. "Watching Iranians being killed and security forces shooting them-it's very hard. I think the Iranian people are paying the price for [striving for] freedom right now." Still, Parsi wonders whether the situation would improve if the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, were to succeed Ahmadinejad. "He still introduces himself as loyal to Iran's constitution," under which homosexuality is punishable by arrest, lashings or even death, "and to the Supreme leader," said Parsi. "But he could change."
Also in our story, Babak, the unofficial "house daddy" for an apartment full of LGBT refugees in Kayseri, Turkey. (His back is to the camera in the first picture you'll see if you click on the story.) Over e-mail, Babak, who is still waiting for his flight date to the U.S., seemed angry about events in Iran. "For sure, it doesn't feel good," he wrote. "When we chat with friends, they all say that people are crushed and killed...they have guns and don't care [if they kill] in the name of religion and Islam...I'm glad that the world can see now what's really going on in Iran."
In Babak's house, the lesbian we named as Sahar is the only refugee who's still waiting an unusually long time, even as she was back in February, to hear from the U.N. about asylum status, the first step in the years-long process of coming to the U.S. or Canada (or, in some cases, Europe or Australia). Her real name is Roodabeh. Iranian Queer Railroad has started an e-mail campaign to the U.N. Refugee Office in Ankara to get the U.N. to green-light both hers and Nima's asylum status. Click here to take a minute or two to join onto the campaign—there's even a sample letter you can e-mail or fax. (In the petition, Nima is named by his real name, Ali.) A flood of faxes and e-mails from the west just might help these two get the official U.N. nod they've been waiting for.
Even then, they'll wait months, likely years, more before they finally touch down in Canada or the U.S. (The good news? Since we were reporting the story in February, 10 new refugees have made it to Canada or the U.S., says Parsi.) Meanwhile, even while following the exciting, unnerving news from the homeland they fled, Iran's LGBT refugees stuck in the No Man's Land of Turkey go on waiting. "I've been here a year and a half now," said Nima/Ali. "I'm working, I bought a few plants for myself. I feed my cats and try not to get crazy, but I'm tired. I'm really tired. How much more long?"
-- TIM MURPHY
Previously > Be Like Others: Transitioning in Iran