HRC Blog

Congress Explores Iran’s Persecution of LGBT Community

Iran FlagPost submitted by Toby Dershowitz and Ben Lazaroff.

At a hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hossein Alizadeh, leader of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, described the discriminatory and dangerous state of Iran’s LGBT human rights, a subject not often discussed in the halls of Congress and even less in corridors of Iran’s Majlis (Parliament).

The hearing marked the one year anniversary of Hassan Rouhani’s election as Iran’s president and served to take stock not only of LGBT rights, but also his treatment of Baha’is and other religious minorities, women, political opponents, and others. His election sparked a wave of hope for reform and moderation and a reversal of his predecessor’s approach that “there are no homosexuals in Iran.”

Alizadeh reported that Iran’s abuse of its LGBT population continues unabated. Noting that Iran still employs “morality police,” the Iranian-born immigrant testified that “even discussion about sexual rights, gender equality, and homosexuality is met with violent reaction from both the judicial and law enforcement bodies.”  In the words of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who chairs a subcommittee focusing on human rights, Iran’s regime remains “medieval.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) noted that “In Iran, the LGBT community is all but silenced.” He reported that homosexuality is regarded as a crime punishable by death in Iran and that Iran is on a list of only seven countries where same-sex relationships are punishable by death.  

Referring to the “horrific, discriminatory, and unsafe environment for anyone who is gay or lesbian in Iran, “ Rep. David Cicillini (D-RI) asked about the plight of the journalist who blogged about Amadinejad’s denial of homosexuals in Iran. Alizadeh responded that several journalists have been imprisoned for merely writing about homosexuality and a newspaper was shut down the day after an editorial about homosexuality was published.

Reflecting on the role Congress can play, Cicillini expressed hope that “our continuing to raise this issue in hearings will help to advance [the cause of LGBT rights in Iran] as well.”

Commenting on why Iran’s human rights record should inform the current negotiations aimed at a nuclear deal with Iran, Chairman of the foreign affairs committee Ed Royce proclaimed, “how the regime treats its people is a pretty good indicator of how it is going to treat its neighbors.” Let’s imagine that Iran and the P5+1 come to an agreement next month are we comfortable leaving this regime with much of the critical nuclear infrastructure in place. How can this regime which holds the noose in one hand be trusted with the keys to a nuclear bomb in the other?”

Reflecting an obvious sense of exasperation, the hearing’s chairman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) remarked: "Rouhani knows that all he needs to do is smile, and tweet, and promise the US and the West that he will cooperate on the nuclear issue, and his transgressions against the Iranian people will be forgiven and overlooked. Is that really how we want America to project our foreign policy; it's way past our time for our administration to stand up to these thugs and to stand up for the people who cannot stand up for themselves. If we won't do it, who will?

“Human rights cannot take a back seat in negotiations with Iran,” added Deutch.

Deutch asked Alizadeh to share with the Congress what it’s like on a human level to be a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender in Iran under the current regime.

In a poignantly personal response, Alizadeh explained “that this is not only about LGBT people, it is about sexual rights. It is about autonomy over your body. It is about the rights of individuals to decide who they want to love.”

For more on this issue, see this week’s Washington Blade feature on Arsham Parsi who fled Iran after the regime began to persecute him for his activities in support LGBT rights.

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