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New Iran government leaves country’s LGBTQ community hopeless

Ebrahim Raisi involved with 1988 execution of political prisoners

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Photo via the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Twitter account)

Ebrahim Raisi took over the presidency of Iran and promised to be a “true defender of human rights,” but the Iranian LGBTQ community is not hopeful.

Iran, a country where LGBTQ youth face legal challenges such as prosecution, sometimes to the extent of death sentences, is seeing a rise of new ultra far-right leaders.

Raisi is accused being involved in the 1988 execution of thousands of political prisoners in Tehran, but his human rights abuses are not limited to political prisoners. During Raisi’s tenure as “head of the judiciary,” blanket immunity was given to the Iranian officials and security forces responsible for the killing of hundreds of innocent men, women and children. This kind of bizarre record of human rights abuse by Raisi is also reflected in the hopelessness of the Iranian LGBTQ community.

“I did not even vote for the new president,” said Sher (changed name), an Iranian woman who secretly identifies as bisexual. “I do not care anymore because I know he is the same as his predecessor or even worse.”

In June, a poll conducted by the Six Colors Organization suggested that 90 percent of eligible voters living outside Iran had intended not to vote for Raisi. Many LGBTQ youth did not participate in voting to protest against the Raisi.

“Iran is governed based on sharia law, so it doesn’t matter who is the president or supreme leader or a parliamentarian, as long as the country is governed on Islamic laws — LGBTQI+ youth are being sentenced to death,” said Arsham Parsi, an Iranian LGBTQ activist living in exile in Canada and executive director of International Railroad for Queer Refugees. “Raisi is kind of extreme, more than others. He was also involved in the killing of other people at the beginning of the revolution, so he is a scary figure, especially for LGBTQs, because he can force the Islamic state agenda.”

Parsi told Washington Blade that he is not very hopeful about the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said that Iranian politicians do not care about anything but their power and money. Parsi does not believe that LGBTQ people will have any rights under this regime.

Arsham Parsi, Iran, gay news, Washington Blade
International Railroad for Queer Refugees Executive Director Arsham Parsi in D.C. in 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Biden in February issued a memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Persons Around the World.

Biden, in the major foreign policy speech, highlighted the promotion of LGBTQ rights. Although the U.S. does not maintain an embassy in Iran, the Swiss embassy works as the protecting power of the U.S. in Iran. But during Pride month, the Swiss embassy did not fly Pride flags outside of its building.

The U.S. State Department maintained that American embassies and consulates developed individual plans during Pride Month to both celebrate LGBTQ people and raise awareness of violence, human rights abuses and discrimination targeting LGBTQ people globally, including appropriate exterior displays. The State Department did not comment on “why there was no Pride flag flying outside the Swiss embassy during the pride month to spread awareness.”

“The continuous engagement of Switzerland for the promotion of human rights, including LGBTQ rights, takes place independently of displaying specific symbols, such as the Pride flag,” said Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, a spokesperson for the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs. “Switzerland chooses its engagement strategy and instruments in a way that allows it to best fulfill, the general objective to promote human rights, based on the specific context.”

The Swiss president, in a message to Raisi, also congratulated him on his victory.

The Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs did not comment to the Blade on the president’s congratulations, but maintained that the Swiss government is aware of the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ community in Iran.

“Switzerland maintains relations with the governments of all states, including the Iranian government. These high-level political contacts form the basis of an open dialogue in which we regularly address the human rights situation in Iran,” said Eltschinger. “We believe that maintaining an in-depth dialogue with Iran is the best way to achieve improvements that benefit the LGBTQ community. Switzerland will continue to address this and other human rights issues with the Iranian authorities, including at the highest level.”

A European Union official in a statement said that the EU takes action globally to prevent and denounce all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ persons, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence while promoting their access to equal opportunities in all spheres of life. During the interview, the officials avoided the brazen human rights violation by Raisi and did not comment on Iran specifically.

“We have consistently asserted our strong opposition toward any abuse, harassment, violence and stigma targeting LGBTQI+ persons around the world, and we continue to have serious concerns over the Iranian regime’s treatment of LGBTQI+ persons,” said a State Department spokesperson in a statement. “We urge the new government in Tehran to ensure LGBTQI+ persons are treated fairly and with full respect for their dignity and human rights.”

While speaking with Blade, Alex Vatanka, Iran program director of Middle East Institute, also expressed hopelessness on the future of the LGBTQ community in Iran under the new presidency of Raisi. He said that Raisi did not say anything progressive on this subject matter.

“The group of people coming in with Ebrahim Raisi are the least likely to engage in any kind of real and meaningful dialogue about the LGBTQI+ community in Iran,” said Vatanka. “Mr. Raisi and his supporters believe that they know best, the way of life that they have chosen for themselves — is really the only way, and instead of trying to seek an opponent and have a dialogue, they would rather force their will, on the society.”

For years, the U.S. and the EU have raised the issue, but there hasn’t been anyone in the central government in Iran with whom to have a serious dialogue. The Iranian government considers this as interference in their internal matter.  Although the hope remains bleak under this regime, the LGBTQ community is still trying to show their protest against the discriminatory laws — sometimes by not participating in the election or leaving blank votes.

Mohit Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), the
Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected]

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Jamaica man attacked after using gay dating app

Victim’s penis partially severed before he was set on fire

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A Jamaican and Pride flag fly on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Oct. 15, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson's Facebook page)

An 18-year-old man in Jamaica remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.

The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.

“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.

Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.

“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”

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Botswana attorney general seeks to recriminalize homosexuality

High Court heard case on Oct. 12

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(Public domain photo)

GABORONE, Botswana — On June 11, 2019, Botswana moved toward being a state that no longer held some of its citizens (and, by extension, visitors) as criminals if they identified within the LGBTQ spectrum. However, the government didn’t take too long before it declared its intention to appeal the High Court judgment that asserted that consensual same-sex sexual activity in private was not to be a criminal act.

The appeal hearing took place on Oct. 12.

There are some key things to understand about what the High Court did for people in Botswana. The judgment, written and delivered by Justice Leburu, not only put a clear delineation between the state’s powers to intrude in people’s private sexual lives, but it also stated that laws that served no purpose in the governance of the people they oversaw were most likely worthy of “a museum peg” more than being active laws of the land.

In the hearing on Oct. 9, a full bench of five judges of the Court of Appeal was treated to the government’s case—as presented by advocate Sydney Pilane of the Attorney General’s Chambers—along with hearing the rebuttals from the legal counsel representing Letsweletse Motshidiemang, who brought the original case against the government, and LEGABIBO, an NGO admitted as amicus curiae, a friend of the court. The appeal, two years in the making, would have been expected to be based on facts rather than opinions of what could and could not be accepted by hypothetical Batswana. Pilane even went so far as to contest that President Mokgweetsi Masisi’s utterances about how people in same-sex relationships were “suffering in silence” were taken out of context as he was talking about gender-based violence and not endorsing their relationships.

The 2019 ruling of the High Court, the most supreme court of incidence in the country, not only declared people who were or had interest in engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity not criminals, but it also allowed non-queer people to engage in sex acts that would otherwise be considered “against the order of nature” freely. The latter clause had often been interpreted as being solely about non-heterosexuals but on greater interrogation one realizes that any sex act that doesn’t result in the creation of a child was considered against this ‘order of nature’ and that nullified much of heterosexual sexual exploration—further painting these clauses as out of touch with contemporary Botswana as Leburu expressed.

In some of his appeal arguments, Pilane stated that Batswana “do not have a problem with gay people”, yet he based his contention on the fact that Batswana “respect the courts’ decisions;” as such they would not take up arms at the court’s decision to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity. Pilane maintained that the decision to decriminalize should be left to the Parliament on the recommendation of the courts. The bench was swift to query whether a body of politicians elected by a majority would be the best representatives of a minority that was oppressed by laws that the very politicians benefitted from.

Botswana’s legal system allows for the High Court ruling to remain the law of the land until such a point as it’s struck down. The Court of Appeal ruling in favor of Batswana’s sexual liberties will be a nail in the proverbial coffin of residual colonial sex-related laws plaguing Botswana. This will not be the end by any means though. Where the attorney general can form a case stating that decriminalizing consensual same-sex relations could be likened to people locking themselves in their houses with animals and having their way with them, we know that mindset changes need to be prioritized to ensure that all Batswana understand their constitutionally protected rights to privacy, expression, and freedom of association as relates to their personal and sexual lives.

The 2010 Employment Act of Botswana already protects people from being discriminated against based on their sex or gender identity. The nation’s sexual violence laws were made gender neutral, thus covering non-consensual sex (rape) in all its possibilities. In upholding the ruling of the High Court, the Court of Appeal will allow the LGBTQ and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and sex characteristics) movements in Botswana some respite as attention is then channeled toward other pressing matters such as name changes, access to healthcare, and other culturally pertinent issues.

The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down a judgement following their deliberations in 4-6 weeks (mid to late November), however, this remains at their discretion. As it stands, since the High Court ruling in 2019, Botswana has experienced increased social accommodation for LGBTQ matters and figures—however, this is not to say there have not been any negative instances. With the continued sensitization, the expectation is that the courts, the government and NGO players will all contribute to a broad, national, culturing of LGBTQ rights in Botswana devoid of colonial residues.

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U.S. regains seat on U.N. Human Rights Council

Previous administration withdrew from body in 2018

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global forum, Human Rights Day, gay news, Washington Blade
(Photo by sanjitbakshi; courtesy Flickr)

The U.S. on Thursday regained a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council, three years after the previous administration withdrew from it.

The U.S. won election to the council alongside Argentina, Benin, Cameroon, Eritrea, Finland, Gambia, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Montenegro, Paraguay, Qatar, Somalia and United Arab Emirates.

The council in recent years has emerged as a champion of LGBTQ rights around the world, even though Cuba and other countries with poor human rights records are among the 47 countries that are currently members. Venezuela and Russia are also on the council.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man who used Facebook Live to livestream the first of more than two dozen anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, remains in custody and faces eight years in prison. The Washington Blade last month spoke with several Venezuelan LGBTQ activists who said persecution forced them to flee to neighboring Colombia.

Russia’s crackdown on LGBTQ rights and the Kremlin’s close relationship with Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov continue to spark criticism around the world.

Then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley during a 2018 press conference that announced the U.S. withdrawal from the council noted Cuba and other countries “with unambiguous and abhorrent human rights record” are members. Haley also said the council has a “chronic bias against” Israel.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.  Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday in a statement said LGBTQ rights will be one of the U.S.’s focuses once it officially rejoins the council on Jan. 1.

“Our initial efforts as full members in the Council will focus on what we can accomplish in situations of dire need, such as in Afghanistan, Burma, China, Ethiopia, Syria and Yemen,” she said. “More broadly, we will promote respect for fundamental freedoms and women’s rights, and oppose religious intolerance, racial and ethnic injustices, and violence and discrimination against members of minority groups, including LGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities.  And we will oppose the council’s disproportionate attention on Israel, which includes the council’s only standing agenda item targeting a single country.”

President Biden in February issued a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The previous White House tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead a campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations, but many LGBTQ activists in the U.S. and around the world have questioned its effectiveness. The Washington Blade in August filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department that seeks Grenell’s emails around his work on the decriminalization initiative.

“The President and Sec. Blinken have put democracy and human rights—essential cornerstones of peace and stability—at the center of our foreign policy,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday after the U.S. regained a seat on the council. “We have eagerly and earnestly pursued these values in our relationships around the world.” 

“We will use our position to renew the council’s focus on the core human rights principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.N. Charter, which undergird the council’s founding,” added Price at the beginning of his daily press briefing. “Our goal is to hold the U.N. Human Rights Council accountable to the highest aspirations of its mandate and spur the actions necessary to carry them out.” 

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