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Gay Iranians Press for World Protests

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Efforts include an online petition and another demonstration in London

In response to the unfolding anti-gay pogrom in Iran, sweepingly implemented by the recently elected government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, gay Iranians are continuing to call for worldwide protests.

Just this week the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, or PGLO, which has secretariats in Norway and Turkey and claims an e-mail list of more than 29,000 Iranians, launched a global petition drive, urging people all over the planet to raise their voices. The petition says, in part: “Iranian gay men and lesbians are suffering persecution in Iran and we demand that they be granted freedom and legal protection by the ruling government; Iranian gay men and lesbians live under a homophobic regime [under which] homosexuality is punishable by lashing, torture, harassment, persecution, and death; Iranian gay men and lesbians have no legal rights in their home country and deserve the legal and political protection of outside governments and organizati­ons.”

The PGLO-initiated petition goes on to call for “A widespread campaign for the liberation of gays and lesbians from the oppressive restrictions placed upon them by the Iranian government.”

An e-mail from PGLO asks gay and human rights organizations everywhere to support such a campaign and to gather signatures for the petition. For those who wish to sign the petition online and get its complete text for circulation, it is available through the free Internet service PetitionOnline.com at http://new.petitiononline.com/pglopglo/petition.html.

The PGLO is an outgrowth of an earlier, smaller Iranian gay group called Rainbow, which first organized in 2002. But PGLO, in its current form, has existed only since 2004.

“We are a young team yet,” said Arsham Parsi, its human rights secretary in Turkey, in a telephone interview.

The group maintains a trilingual Web site in Persian, German, and English. PGLO conducts educational and mutual aid activities inside Iran, and provides support for Iranian gays who have escaped from the Islamic Republic and tries to help them obtain asylum in a country where they won’t be persecuted for who and how they love. PGLO edits a monthly online magazine in Persian, Cheragh, and produces Persian-language radio programs for Webcast—a dozen so far—which are beamed into Iran on the Internet and redistributed there on cassettes. The group will soon launch a TV program that will be video-streamed by Internet and made available to the several satellite-based TV stations that beam into Iran and which are run by Iranian exiles. Videocassettes of these Webcasts will also be circulated clandestinely in Iran.

This reporter asked volunteer Persian translator, Dr. Houman Sarshar, to review the PGLO’s written and audio visual Persian-language materials and report on their content. Sarshar said they all “have a strong teaching undertone—teaching about safe sex; translating segments from self-help books and articles about coming out; dealing with the family after you do, etc. But their primary focus is definitely legal matters and activism around the absence of the gay rights in Iran today, and the horrible persecutions gay people face today in the Islamic Republic.”

As further evidence of those persecutions, the Iranian Student News Association this week released yet another gruesome photo of the public hanging of two gay Iranian teens in the city of Mashad on July 19. Above the photo of the strung-up boys is a banner that reads, “Execution of Justice Equals Creating Security” and is signed by “the public relations office of the Justice Department of the Province of Khorasan. “

“I’m sure anyone seeing this would agree that the banner is riddled with the same bitter irony as the Nazi slogan ‘Work makes you free.’” Sarshar said.

In the case of Amir—the 22-year-old Iranian torture victim who escaped to Turkey last month, whom I recently interviewed for Gay City News, the director of Human Rights Watch’s gay and lesbian department, Scott Long, informed this reporter that he has connected the penniless Amir to some financial resources. HRW has also written an affidavit supporting Amir’s appeal to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for help in being granted asylum status in a gay-friendly country. As to the Iranian government’s Internet entrapment campaign targeting gays, which ensnared Amir, Long said HRW is contacting “every gay Iranian personals site and chat room we can find and posting warnings in Farsi and English about police entrapment.”

Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to the silence of U.S. gay organizations about Iran, on Tuesday there was yet another demonstration outside the Iranian Embassy in London. Organized by the British gay monthly magazine AXM, and co-sponsored by the gay rights group OutRage!, the demonstration of more 100 people was joined by British celebrities like TV soap and film actor Jeremy Sheffield, gay rap star Q Boy, comedian Scott Cappurro, British TV show “Big Brother” contestant Josh Rafter, out gay Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris Bryant, and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. Other show biz celebrities, including openly gay actor Simon Callow (“Four Weddings and a Funeral”) and Boy George, sent messages of support that were read at the rally.

A petition posted by AXM magazine on its Web site, demanding an end to anti-gay persecutions and atrocities in Iran and signed by thousands of Brits, was to have been presented to the Iranian Embassy—which refused to accept it. Instead, Bryant, the Labour MP, will present the petition to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and urge the British government to formally condemn Iran’s anti-gay crusade.

According to UK Gay News, “As well as the celebrity speakers, the protest was addressed by Iranian exiles, representing pro-gay opposition groups that are battling against the butchers in Tehran. These speakers included Maryam Kousha of the Iran Civil Rights Committee, Maziar Razi of the Iranian Workers Solidarity Network, and Bahram Soroush of the Worker’s Communist Party of Iran. These groups have backed the LGBT freedom struggle in Iran, assisting OutRage! in the translation of messages and smuggling out of Iran information about the persecution of LGBT people.”

In her remarks, the Iran Civil Rights Committee’s Kousha underscored that “it really does matter that we protest in a public way.” She continued in colorful language, pointing at the Embassy: “They are in there, looking out. And they will be shitting themselves not knowing what to do,” she said. “They will see the television cameras, the radio reporters… they will be reporting back to Tehran and wondering just how to prevent the news getting into the country. But they can’t. I promise you… by this evening, many people in Iran will read or even watch reports of this protest today. Tomorrow there will be more.”

Kousha insisted that it was vital to keep up this sort of pressure because, while it might not have any effect on the Iranian government, “the news will get through to the people.”

And in an e-mail to this reporter received just days ago, the PGLO’s Arsham Parsi said, “Would you please introduce PGLO to your activist friends and groups and organizations? We need it, we are going to make a big campaign. We need their e-mail addresses. We reach out our hands of need to you! Please do not leave us alone and try to be our everyday supporters and friends. Hoping for the day, when homosexuality does not carry social contempt and hate any more and would be accepted as a social fact, we ask you to join us and stay with us to struggle for reaching this vital goal. We need your supports and the warmth of your hands.”

DOUG IRELAND can be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://direland.typepad.com/direland/.

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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