In an April 28 ceremony at Manhattan's Asia Society, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) bestowed its 2008 Felipa De Souza Awards on the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) and Chilean trans activist Andrés Ignacio Rivera Duarte.
IRQO at IGLHRC's "Celebration of Courage" (April 28, 08)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Hossein Alizadeh and I am the communication coordinator at IGLHRC. As a IGLHRC staff member who has worked closely with Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) over the past two years, and as an Iranian who extremely proud of IRQO’s activities and outreach, it is my honor and pleasure tonight to present the 2008 Felipa de Souza Award to Arsham Parsi, the founder and director of IRQO, who is here with us to represent his organization.
The Iranian Queer Organization is an all volunteer, grassroots organization that started back in 2001 as a listserv by a group of young Iranian gay and lesbian inside Iran. Despite the risk of wiretapping and infiltration by the Iranian morality police, these brave Iranian queers decided to get together and form the virtual support group to empower members of the community who face similar legal, political, and social challenges.
Over the past seven years, despite limited financial resources and constant threats from the Iranian authorities, IRQO has become the voice of thousands of Iranian LGBTIs both inside Iran and overseas.
Today, IRQO offers phone counselling to it members inside Iran, publishes regular articles on homosexuality in Iran, works with other human rights groups and members of the media to document the human rights violation of LGBTIs, and support Iranian refugee and asylum seekers who are forced to leave their country.
For most people working with IRQO, the organization is almost synonymous with Arsham Parsi, the man whose dream of connecting and organizing Iranian queers has been the driving force behind IRQO. Arsham dedicates his entire life to the cause, selflessly working around the clock, and without pay, to ensure that the Iranian queers are not forgotten or ignored.
Last September, in a controversial talk at Colombia University, the Iranian President Dr. Mahmood Ahmadinejad categorically denied the existence of queers in Iran. “In Iran, we don’t have homosexual like in your country” he said.
By being the face of the Iranian queer movement, and by telling the stories of LGBTQI Iranians, Arsham repeatedly proves the Iranian president wrong. Arsham shows the international community, that in spite of many problems, the Iranian queer movement is very much alive and demands equality, dignity, and justice.
Arsham, congratulation to you and the Iranian Queer Organization for this very well-deserved award…
YES, I do exist.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
I’m happy to be here tonight in New York to represent the Iranian Queer Organization along with my colleague Ms. Roshan Borhan.
First of all, we would like to sincerely thank IGLHRC for the 2008 Felipa Award.
When Paula Ettelbrick informed me about the Award, I was working on Mehdi Kazemi’s case. Mehdi Kazemi is an Iranian gay man, who had escaped from the United Kingdom after being denied asylum there. He was detained in the Netherlands, and feared being deported back to Iran, where he could face the death penalty for being gay.
Like Mehdi and his friends, I was in low spirits. At such a difficult time, the news of the Award gave warm encouragement to everyone in the organization, and to all Iranian LGBTs.
Seven years ago, the Iranian Queer Organization was only a web-based group in Iran with a handful of members. We survived numerous difficulties and now we are a well-known organization with representatives who speak on panels and at conferences.
Probably one of the organization’s most crucial achievements was bringing the issue of sexual minorities in Iran out of invisibility and into kitchen-table conversations and seminars, under the banner that queer rights are human rights. Today it’s rare to find an article in Persian that fails to mentions queer rights along with women and children’s rights, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.
Our organization is registered in Canada.
Due to our scare resources we decided not to have an office and instead to work as volunteers so that we could allocate our entire budget to asylum seekers, providing for their lodging, food, clothes, and health care.
So far organizations such as IGLHRC, Eagle Canada, Rainbow Railroad, Al-Fatiha, and others have helped queer Iranian asylum seekers with their donations. This is a great platform to express our gratitude.
The Board of IRQO has made a decision to spend the $5000 Felipa Award on publications to promote cultural change and fight homophobia. We have identified a great need for books and brochures in Persian. We’re starting a new project to publish a collection of poems written by Iranian queers in Persian and English. Given the overwhelming number of requests from Iranian activists, students, and everyday people who ask for literature on homosexuality in Persian, we’re planning to publish a series of brochures and booklets on sexuality and sexual orientation.
This is another project that needs the help and support of publishers as well as of human rights activists like yourselves.
To close, I just wanted to thank IGLHRC again for the Felipa Award. I hope there will be a day when IRQO will reach such a level of success that no Iranian queer will be discriminated against, tortured, executed, or mocked, and when their rights will be respected by all.
That day will come; we just need to keep on working toward it.
-- Arsham Parsi