Iranian Gays Coming Out on Facebook
The recent reported executions of three gay men in Iran took place against a backdrop of protest: Gay Iranians are emerging from the closet, at least on Facebook, reported British newspaper the Guardian on Sept. 11.
"A group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Iranians have posted videos of themselves on Facebook in a campaign to highlight the discrimination against sexual minorities in Iran where homosexuals are put to death," the Guardian reported.
"Hundreds of Iranians in and outside the country have joined a Facebook page, called ’We Are Everywhere,’ which encourages members to share their personal stories online," the article continued. "Members of the campaign in Iran have posted audio messages or videos which do not reveal their identity while some outside talked about their sexual orientation freely."
Because the regime in Iran follows an interpretation of Islamic sharia law that punishes homosexuality with death, gay Iranians must be cautious when coming out on Facebook, both for their own sakes and that of their families, which might face social disgrace. Even gays who have left the country speak out with care.
The means by which some chose to tell their stories included some novel and ingenious ones. In one man’s case, his story was written on paper towels that he then unrolled before the lens of a video camera. The footage communicated his words without revealing his face or his voice.
"I am an Iranian gay," the scrawled account read. "I fear to show my real face, I fled Iran, I escaped from my own family, I was driven away from my country. Now, I am a gay refugee in Turkey and count the days, we are everywhere."
The newspaper account noted that Turkey is one place of refuge for gay Iranians. Others go to Canada. A film by Parvez Sharma, "A Jihad for Love," recounted the stories of a handful of gay Iranian refugees in the context of looking into gay Muslim lives in a number of nations.
"One of the things I always say -- and I have said it on my Web site, I’ve said it on my blog -- is that, for me, the central concept in the making of the film is that we are Islam’s most unlikely storytellers, and the silence that has surrounded our lives had been extremely loud," Sharma told EDGE in a 2008 interview.
"We need to demolish that silence, and we need to start staking claims, as Muslims, to our own religion, and finding the space in all the discourses of violence that surround Islam right now" in order to offer another vision. Sharma said.
The international community responded at the Facebook page with words of encouragement.
"You are brave and amazing," wrote one well wisher. "We sign lots of petitions here in Australia in your support and we really care and appreciate what you are doing."
"Lots of love, support and PRIDE from Scotland," another posted.
Others posted greetings from Germany, Greece, Spain, and the United States.
"Stand up for your rights," one supporter wrote. "There are many people out there that support you and stand beside you in this."
Though anti-gay religious bias is deeply rooted in Islam, a growing movement seeks to counter animus in the Islamic faith community both socially and scripturally.
In the Old Testament, angels looking to see whether there were any just men in the city of Sodom visited Lot. When a gang of men appeared at Lot’s door demanding that he surrender his visitors so that the mob could rape them, Lot offered the gang his own daughters instead; but the mob insisted that the visitors be handed over.
This is one of the Biblical passages that fundamentalists and anti-gay Christians point to when they condemn gay people for their sexuality. But the story appears in the Qur’an also, which is the holy book for Muslims. The Muslim prohibition against gay relationships is drawn from that scriptural episode. A gay Muslim scholar living in Canada told the press last year that the passage does not condemn gays at all. Rather, he argued, the passage condemns sexual assault. Committed same-sex relationships based on love, and the people united in those relationships, should not be shunned by the faithful, but embraced as part of the community.
But Dubai-born Canadian scholar Junaid Bin Jahangir, 32, found his new interpretation a hard sell, despite his years of careful research and study. The young scholar has made it his vocation to understand the Muslim injunction against gays, and correct what he says is a misinterpretation of scripture. His efforts bore fruit with his contribution to new book, "Islam and Homosexuality," a project edited by prominent Australian scholar Samar Habib that collects essays from contributors around the world.
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