Article I of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In 2016, the UN’s Human Rights Council went a step further and adopted a resolution on “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
Clearly, the Islamic Republic in Iran does not believe in these basic and fundamental human rights. Since its inception 42 years ago, the Islamic government has purposely and deliberately persecuted, jailed, raped, and murdered its LGBT citizens with sadistic precision. According to a 2008 British Wikileaks document, the Islamic Republic has executed at least 6000 gays and lesbians since capturing power in 1979. According to the latest report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, the country’s LGBT community face widespread human rights violations on an ongoing basis. The Islamic regime sanctions violence against the community by both public and private citizens. The UN Special Rapporteur adds that justice is arbitrary in Iran and trials are not fair.
The deaths, however, are just part of the tragedy. We will never know the full extent of the regime’s atrocities against Iran’s gay community. Too many suffer in silence, or simply submit to the norms of a tyrannical Islamic government that is unabashedly committed to terror in order to secure its own survival. The gay community is simply one of the weakest of the minorities in Iran with little societal support due to religious dogma and backwardness of the Islamic traditions as they are implemented in Iran.
The international community is fully aware of the nature of the Islamic regime and how it is treating its minority groups, including the LGBT community. Every year, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among others, publish their reports on the Iranian government’s dismal disregard for basic human rights of its citizens. However, these published words fail to convey the true horrors that queer people living in the Islamic Republic face on a daily basis.
During the past 25 years, hundreds of my clients have recounted how they were tortured, raped, trafficked as sex slaves, terminated from jobs, entered into forced marriages, and yes, even witnessed their friends get executed by hanging in public squares just because they were gay. As a human, it pains me deeply to grasp the barbaric nature of the Islamic regime. As an Iranian, it is shameful to see what this criminal regime has done to my birth country. As a lawyer, I’m enraged, yet energized to seek justice for my clients.
The world has for far too long given a pass to the thugs ruling Iran and essentially has succumbed to the regime’s threats against regional peace and prosperity in exchange for oil and other business opportunities. As a result, the Iranian people, including the LGBT community, are considered just collateral damage and dismissed as just an afterthought. Most tragically, even the progressives have failed to demand basic human decency from the Islamic Republic in the name of cultural sensitivity.
As a gay Iranian American, I implore my fellow queer and progressive community not to compartmentalize human rights based on fictional distinctions of borders and national origin. There is nothing “woke” about justifying persecution based on culture. Please join me in demanding that our respective governments seek justice and dignity for our community in Iran, because the LGBT community is not free anywhere until we are free everywhere.
Ally Bolour is an Iranian-American attorney and activist based in California. He tweets at @AllyBolour.