Benyamin Farnam is a documentary filmmaker and photographer from Iran, with human rights and LGBT perspectives as main topics. Farnam is also one of the people behind Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO), an organization serving, empowering and supporting the Iranian LGBT community. For PEN/Opp Farnam gives an analysis of the situation for LGBT organisations in Iran, using a collection of texts presented in Shahram Farnam's book Homosexuality in the Shadow - A Review of Homosexual Identity in the Context of Iranian Gender History (2017) as the main point of reference.*
The heteronormative discourse gradually became predominant in Iran at the end of the nineteenth century. This discourse was formed in connection with Iranian nationalism and was influenced by the social and structural model of the West. This discourse regarded the pre-modern same-sex relations in Iran as a kind of deviant behavior and a sign of cultural backwardness.
Throughout the twentieth century up until the 1970s, homoeroticism was seen as a kind of transient and deviant behavior related to premarital affairs. Then during the 1970s, transexual and homosexual discussions were linked to deviance and criminality. This also led to the prohibition of sex reassignment operations.After the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Islamist forces came to power and ever since 1979, the Islamic government has always suppressed, arrested and repressed political and non-political opponents of its ideology and killed a number of them. Some of the political and non-political opponents had to migrate or seek asylum in the Soviet Union, Western Europe and North America.
The Sexual Identification
Gradually, communities within the Iranian Diaspora joined the global sexual revolution. Iranian queers living abroad have over the time formed groups and organizations that defend the rights of queers in Iran. These groups and organizations, while at the same time provoking the modern sexual discourse, have also been advocating for queers rights from the Islamic Republic regime. These organizations have highlighted violations of Iranian queers rights in their human rights reports. And in addition to this rights-based activities, they have also introduced informal queer discourse through the activities of activists inside and outside Iran.
In the 1980s, transgender, homosexuality, and gender issues were regarded as a social pathology. Due to this discourse that involved local psychology, sharia and Iranian transgender non-movements that sex reassignment was allowed. Thanks to this policy, carrying out transgender surgery was no longer a problem. However, homosexuality was still viewed as a psychological disorder and deviation from religious and moral norm.
Rights movement, national policies
Efforts by human rights organizations for queer rights in Iran are closely monitored on international level. These reports highlight violations of the rights of Iranian queers and by pressurizing the Iranian regime to respect rights of Iranian queers.
From the point of view of the Islamic Republic of Iran, homosexuality and in general relations outside marriage shall never be accepted. According to the Islamic Penal Code of Iran, the conduct is a punishable criminal offense. Based on this approach, homosexuality is seen not only as a deviation but also as a kind of Western cultural invasion. It is for this reason that LGBT rights' activists seeking to uphold the rights of homosexuals in Iran are mainly from the opposition and are perceived as the enemies of the government. It is this attitude that has made Iranian homosexuals to adopt living in secrecy.
The Linguistic pathologizing of the Iranian queers
The linguistic has led to different consequences for the use and transfer of understanding conceptualized in Western sexuality regardless of the target context. It is necessary to use a critical approach towards universal sexuality models. It is also important to pay attention to the historical patterns and language discourses in Iran in the field of sexuality. Furthermore, the social-cultural background of the Iranian society and the attention to its structures requires a special critical approach. It is very essential and meaningful to adopt a unified inter-sexuality approach to these discriminatory, repressive, and domineering structures.
Paying attention to these points can bring Iran's human rights movement closer to shaping a critical approach that meets the specific conditions in terms of building Iranian sexuality model. In doing so, through taking advantage of the global sexual movement experiences, it may help in identifying more practical approaches against discriminatory and repressive language in Iran and concentrate on corrective measures.
Islamic Human Rights
The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried to put in place an alternative to Universal Human Rights Charter called Islamic Human Rights Charter. For example, one Iranian official Mohammad Javad Larijani) says: "The true teachings of Islamic human rights should be introduced to the world".
The Islamic Republic of Iran through selective readings of Islam as well as modern achievements has always tried to maintain its own language and discourse. According to the Iranian authorities, human rights approach is a Western phenomenon and is a recipe for the destruction of Islamic values. It is these so called values that make Mohammad Javad Larijani respond to the critique of homosexuals by stating that "Iran is proud to suppress homosexuals.1" He has on several occasions pointed out that human rights are an excuse for the West to target the values of Islam and has also regarded homosexuality as a type of illness.
He states: "Socially, we regard homosexuality as an illness and advocating for homosexuality is immoral. Therefore, we also have strict rules in this regard. However, for an individual we view it as a disease that can be cured.”2
Iranian officials have been selective in their rejection of human rights criticisms of their controversial laws. For example, Article 102 of the new Criminal Procedure Code states "to engage in any adultery and sodomy is a punishable crime.
Committing any unchaste action is forbidden and no one is allowed to question this matter unless the offense is done publicly or where there is a complainant and in this case, pursuit and investigation is only to the extent of the complaint or if it becomes evident to judge of the Court.
This is the complexity of the legal language and in engaging in legal debates. According to Article 188 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the judge is allowed to hold the prosecution in secret for crimes related to chastity and morality. That is, reasonable evidence by the Islamic Republic is not publicly disclosed. The efforts of the human rights movement and the queer movement have led to an official linguistic transformation in Iran. Iranian authorities and Islamic punishment texts have used the latest term of homosexuality. However, this term has led to more criminalizing of non-heterosexual behaviors.
In other words, ambiguity in legal texts and legal language in Iran provides for the possibility of lessening the understanding and solving legal claims using logic. According to Iran's laws, having a homosexual disposition is not a crime, but engaging in homosexual behaviors is punishable. Homosexuality is a term that is accepted yet is still regarded as a deviation, illness and a crime.
It seems that the Iranian queer rights movement needs to rethink its approach towards legal and linguistic texts in order to advance its goals. It is equally important to critique the contradictions contained in the laws and prove their ineffectiveness and show that they are inhumane. In this critical approach, laws and concepts should be criticized for their consequences in Iran (internal critique).
Only after this transparency and critical rethinking of the complex and ambiguous texts of Iranian laws that it can proceed to the next step for the implementation of human rights standards. Prolonged procedures and long-term meetings of the Human Rights Council and lack of Iran's commitment to certain conventions weaken the "final recommendations contained in the Special Report" in terms of executive implementation.
The Iranian Queer community can only advance its goals by adopting an intrinsically critical approach towards the linguistic and legal knowledge.
Kiani, Shahram (2017), Homosexuality in the Shadow (A Review of Homosexual Identity in the Context of Iranian Gender History) with references to Babak Ahmadi, Jean Baudrillard, Asef Bayat, Hubert Dreyfus, Michel Foucault, Roozbeh Gilasian, Chris Horrocks, Jahanbegloo Ramin, Scott Lash, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Hussein Ali Nozari, George Ritzer, Berry Smart.
Bochum: 6 Rang, Aida Publishing.