Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sept. 24 that there are no homosexuals in Iran.
Answering students’ questions at Columbia University in New York City, Ahmadinejad said: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon; I don’t know who’s told you that we have it.” The audience laughed and booed.
Arsham Parsi, head of the Torontobased IRanian Queer Organization (IRQO), posted a reply online which said: “Mr. Ahmadi Nejad, please tell me … who I am?”
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Paula Ettelbrick commented: “The Iranian president’s stark denial of our reality reflects his government’s ongoing refusal to recognize the basic human rights of LGBT people. IGLHRC and other human rights organizations have documented widespread and systematic violations of the rights of members of the … LGBT community in Iran.”
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said: “Today’s assertions … would be simply absurd were it not for the fact that international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence committed against gay people in Iran. These acts of terror have included incarcerations, beatings and brutal executions. Ahmadinejad’s denial that there are gay people in Iran shows the extent to which he devalues the lives of the many citizens his government has and continues to violate.”
Scott Long, director of Human Rights Watch’s LGBT Rights Program, called Ahmadinejad’s denial of the existence of Iranian gays “a sick joke,” affirming that Iran tortures gays and that the penal code punishes sex between men with the death penalty.
The Columbia Queer Alliance, however, had a different take on the matter. On Sept. 23, the alliance’s executive board issued a letter to its members which contained this admonition: “[W] e would like to strongly caution media and campus organizations against the use of such words as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, or ‘homosexual’ to describe people in Iran who engage in same-sex practices and feel same-sex desire. The construction of sexual orientation as a social and political identity and all of the vocabulary therein is a Western cultural idiom. As such, scholars of sexuality in the Middle East generally use the terms ‘same-sex practices’ and ‘same-sex desire’ in recognition of the inadequacy of Western terminology.”