The recent election of Ebrahim Raisi as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran has sent shockwaves through the country’s LGBTQ community, with many fearing that the new president’s radical religious views will endanger the rights of an already repressed minority group.
For decades, the LGBTQ community in Iran has been subjected to state-sanctioned persecution and brazen discrimination. For this reason, international human rights organizations consider Iran to be one of the most oppressive countries in the world when it comes to gay rights and treatment towards the LGBTQ community.
After the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, clerical authorities quickly moved to ban LGBTQ individuals from entering certain public spaces and participating in everyday society. The Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, a body now led by Supreme Leader Khamenei, swiftly declared homosexuality, and the promotion of same-sex relationships, as infractions of Islamic law, later adding gay, lesbian, and trans films and music to its list of “sacrilegious” media content.
Today, strict Islamic law, often in the form of the Sharia legal system, limits the involvement of LGBTQ individuals in Iranian society. All sexual activities, outside of heterosexual marriage, are considered illegal in Iran, and non-heterosexual individuals may be charged with offenses ranging from “disrupting public order” to the more severe charge of homosexuality, a crime that can result in the penalty of flogging, lifelong imprisonment, or death by stoning.
The escalating legal persecution of Iran’s LGBTQ community has forced thousands of people to hide their sexual identities from their families, friends, and employers. If LGBTQ individuals and activists do choose to express themselves, they are often ostracized by their families or even reported for violating public morality laws. In a study by the Center for Human Rights in Iran, it was also found that “honor killings by LGBTQ family members are encouraged by lenient laws,” with some 77% of LGBTQ Iranians experiencing some form of violence in their home and/or community.
Unsurprisingly, the curtailment of gender identity and sex expression in Iran has had an adverse impact on the health and well-being of the country’s LGBTQ community, with suicides rising to alarming levels under the previous administration. Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community’s inability to openly engage in community life and seek state-provided protection from the authorities has only worsened since Raisi’s inauguration.
A hardline, ultraconservative cleric and former head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has already shown himself to be no friend to Iran’s LGBTQ community. Since 1979, under Raisi’s watch, between 4,000 and 6,000 members of the LGBTQ community have been executed by Iranian authorities. These individuals, many of whom were convicted of sodomy, sex work, or homosexuality, were, in many cases, publicly hanged and tortured prior to their execution.
In 1988, Raisi went even further, spearheading the mass execution, torture, and imprisonment of thousands of political prisoners, social activists, and opponents of Sharia law, including several hundred members of the LGBTQ community. Many of these individuals were held in secret detention facilities under horrific conditions, where they were subjected to further physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. Between 3,000 and 33,000 people are believed to have been executed over the course of the 1988 massacre. Raisi’s involvement in this bloody episode would earn him the nickname, “The Butcher of Tehran.”
Raisi’s actions during the 1979 and 1988 purges have not been forgotten by the LGBTQ community, and his recent election as president of Iran is considered an ominous development for the country.
Arsham Parsi, an Iranian LGBTQ activist forced into exile in Canada, discussed the danger posed by the Raisi presidency in a recent interview with Washington Blade.
“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 Parsi.
“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.”
While Raisi has promised to be a “true defender of human rights,” the president-elect’s abysmal human rights record makes it difficult to believe he’ll become a champion for sexual minorities. Just look at the Taliban’s recent promise to protect women’s rights—it’s clear from recent events that fundamentalists like Raisi and the Taliban are not concerned about upholding human rights if they believe it contradicts their draconian interpretation of Islamic law.
Parsi and others are worried that, once his presidential authority is secure, Raisi will continue to systematically target the LGBTQ community. His comments on the campaign trail have already made it abundantly clear that, under his leadership, religious extremism will not only be tolerated but will be promoted in Iran.