Updated: Jan 5, 2022
Since the Revolution in Iran back in 1979 and the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Sharia law rules in this country. Sharia law means the country rules under the laws of Islam. Homosexuality has been criminalised by the state. Gay men and women can be sentenced to imprisonment, corporal punishment and even a death penalty (Mohammad Hossein Nayyeri, 2012). The state has not stopped spreading hate with every chance they get since the time they came to power.
The words of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (The revolution leader) clearly shows his standpoint on homosexuality when he was asked about a boy shot for homosexuality to which he responded “corruption, corruption, we have to eliminate corruption” (Oriana Fallaci, 1979). When the most powerful man of the state which at the time had an unbelievable number of followers (back in 1979) shows his opinion about homosexuality in this way, ordinary people get encouraged to spread hate and discriminate against the gay men and women.
A new phenomenon that has recently arisen in order to extend the hate is putting the rainbow flag on the ground of the streets during special events like the anniversary of the Revolution. The aim is to firstly raise awareness that this is the flag of “Sodomians” and putting gay men and women in potential dangers of getting reported if they are in anyway using this sign for social purposes (In Iran a large number of gay people use the flag sign in order to find each other and socialize). Secondly, for people that participate in these events to trample on the flag is seen as a sign of disrespect. An organisation named ‘Halalzadeha’ is behind this new movement.
Halalzadeha is supported by the state and has the authority to carry out these events. The organisation has stated their main goal as the reconstruction of the real family values (Halalzadeha, 2017). The first time that this organisation took action on this was on February 12th 2020, the Revolution anniversary day, and was reported by 6Rang, a non-governmental organization of lesbians and transgenders of Iran (6Rang, 2020), stating “The rainbow flag has also been added to the list of the state’s enemies." The Islamic Republic of Iran has a history of burning, and trampling, on the the flags of opposing countries such as USA’s flag and Israel’s flag to provoke hate and aggression in people towards these countries. Now the rainbow flag is being targeted.
The most recent activity took place on October 16th 2021. Halalzadeha had made an official announcement of this event taking place both on their official website and social media pages including twitter and Telegram (Halalzadeha, 2021). It was specifically organized on the death anniversary of prophet Lut (The story of Lut is mentioned in Quran as the prophet who fought against the act of sodomy). This time, the families including children have participated in this event and were holding signs such as “Two people of the same sex do not make a couple”, “We are the defenders of prophet Lut” and “homosexuality, the modern barbarism”, as well as trampling the flag (Halalzadeha, 2021).
Ten years ago, the government was not actively spreading hate by raising destructive awareness against the LGBTQ+ community, although the discrimination and the criminalization of homosexuality still existed. Yet today, as the number of the LGBTQ+ and human rights activists are rising in Iran, the government has perceived this as a threat and now is trying their best to put even more pressure on the LGBTQ+ community in Iran than ever before.
As a result, we unfortunately had to witness the murder of Alireza Fazeli Monfared, a young gay man from Ahvaz by his family members on May 4th (BBC, 2021) as well as the arrest of the lesbian activist, Sareh, by the IRGC (Islamic revolutionary guard corps) on October 27th of this year. She has been trying to get herself to Turkey from west Azerbaijan, Iran (BBC, 2021). These are just the ones that made it to the headlines and many more remain unknown, as they always do.
Sareh’s fate is still unknown as there are no information on where she is and what has happened to her. You can show your support by using the #ساره_را_آزاد_کنید (meaning: Free Sareh) on social media platforms.
Some quotes from Iranian LGBT people on the new flag phenomenon shows a mix of fear yet resilience:
“I remember the first time they did it (putting the flag on floor). It happened in Mosalla street where Khamenei (The supreme leader) was making a speech… They know the meaning of the word they’re using on the flag and they do it on purpose (The word "همجنسباز" has been used on the flag which is the equivalent to the word faggot in levels of offensiveness). I feel sorry for these people. They’re uneducated and naïve. From the very young age, they’ve only been taught to hate and see the world as black and white. The fact is, many people in Iran are still uneducated about different sexualities and identities and before they get a chance at learning, these people come and introduce us as the enemy. The picture that shows a young boy with his parents hurts me deeply. They’re bringing this kid up with the wrong information. Maybe this kid grows up to be a part of the LGBT himself and he’s going to suffer from the internalized homophobia. Another picture shows teenagers participating in this event. They learn that their LGBT classmates are their enemies and these teenagers are going to suffer even more than they already are in schools."
"They are going to consciously spread the hate in schools. Using the term “pervert” by this organization indicates that gay people are just all about sex and lust and they actively compare us with paedophiles! The government knows exactly what they’re doing. If you go ten years back in time, they tended to deny the existence of us. Like when Ahmadinejad (former president) said “We don’t have homosexuals in Iran” at Columbia University when asked about the LGBT rights in Iran. But today, they feel threatened by the courageous LGBT youth who try to educate people and now they are purposefully targeting us.”
“I’m so tired… we’ve been silenced for a long time… it just makes me hate this country and these people”
“I’m terrified to my core. They’re encouraging people to hate us”
“The sorrow I felt seeing these photos is unreal! I have decided to come out just to show them we cannot be silenced”
“The LGBT flag is the new American flag to the Islamic Republic. They have announced a war against us. I don’t live in Iran but I still want to be able to see and visit my family back in Iran and I feel like with the situation that is going on at the moment, I might not be able to go back ever again. At least until the current government is still ruling. Sometimes the uncertainty of the situation drives me mad. I don’t want to think negative but this is the truth, if say for example there would be a family emergency, I would not be able to go back to Iran and this is absolutely heart breaking”
This blog was written by an Iranian activist who would like to remain anonymous. Photographs were supplied by the activist and have been used with their permission.
Nayyeri, M.H. (2012) New Islamic penal code of the Islamic republic of Iran: an overview. Research Paper Series.
Khomeini, R. (1979) An Interview With Khomeini [Interview by O. Fallaci]. The New York Times, p.8.
Halalzadeha, (2017) viewed 12/12/2021, http://halalzadeha.ir/halalzadegi/
6rang, 2020, viewed 12/12/2021, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=481261315879806
Halalzadeha, (2021) viewed 12/12/2021, http://halalzadeha.ir/2021/10/18/9698/ما-مدافعان-حضرت-لوط-هستیم/
BBC, (2021) Alireza: Alleged killing of Iranian gay man sparks outcry, viewed 12/12/2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-57091251
BBC, (2021) دستگیری یک زن همجنسگرا به دست سپاه ایران, viewed 12/12/2021, https://www.bbc.com/persian/live/59549563