By Dan Littauer
Imagine you live in a country that hunts you down and aggressively seeks your death – officially you don’t even exist and any mention is treated with contempt, hate and is a dangerous affair that can cost you and your family life and social standing.
In Iran this is precisely the reality for hundreds of thousands of people belonging to its diverse LGBT communities. Publicly they are rarely acknowledged and if at all it is with great contempt and hate – they have no representation whatsoever and nothing is spoken or published about them except religious condemnations and the occasional cases of public executions.
In Iran for queers to speak means one of two guaranteed outcomes: at best the affair ends in exile and being disowned by your family and community, at worst - death. Either way, any voices other than those sanctioned by the regime and tainted by prejudice and hate are brutally silenced.
With no voice to call one’s own the void is filled with isolation, fear and agony.
Having a voice is not only means to call attention to such issues but a space for discussion, self-recognition and affirmation that frees itself from the shackles of hate and prejudice. But how can Iranian LGBT communities be heard in a country that denies their very existence and actively sends them to their death?
Surprisingly, in early 2009, one answer came from Farid Haeri Nezhad, the director of Radio Zamaneh. This station was approached by Saghi Garahaman, the CEO of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO) of Toronto, and together IRQO and the Radio embarked on a remarkable project.
Radio Zamaneh would provide Iranian queers a space and platform from which their voices can be heard. Furthermore, it would enable gay, lesbians, bi-sexual and trans-gendered people to use this platform to educate the general public about the realities of their lives, as well as issues of human and civil rights. It was called the Queer Section (DegarBash Page). Everyone was acutely aware of the risks that such involvement entails, yet the project went ahead and was launched in late July, 2009.
Writers from LGBT Iranian communities were called to contribute and bloggers were invited to write about their own experiences. Of course their identities would be disguised at all times as to give them some measure of protection.
The first hand experiences written in the form of autobiographies attracted the most amounts of comments while the essays were less controversial. Comments, coming from both supporters and critics of the LGBT rights were carefully considered as to evaluate the impact of the ideas and opinions that were being expressed.
It became evident that not only the queer voices were met with no overwhelming objections but in fact comments indicated a strong need for a wider scope of educational material. Such concerns, routinely expressed in comments, showed a real appeal of ideas such as sexuality, freedom and democracy to people who have little or no understanding and experience of what such concepts mean in real life.
Put differently: what does it mean to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered in Iran? What kind of rights could be demanded and what is their place in the framework of human rights and democracy?
These findings lead the project editors to call for more essays and content, in particular from well-articulated LGBT writers who have a sound experience in political and civil issues. The idea was to help people realise that belonging to a sexual minority group that consists of gays, bi-sexual and trans-gendered people can be not merely free from the stigma of sin and pathology but openly and actively exploring and questioning one’s place in Iranian culture, society and the world.
All this happened within sixteen months of the project’s inception! From a nascent collection of writers and bloggers to a strong and vibrant LGBT community of Iranians that demand to be treated and respected as equals in their own country.
The projected is highly revered by local and diaspora based Iranian LGBT communities. Progressive civil activists, journalists, free thinkers, writers and intellectuals have consistently shown their support and admiration.
The project also received attention and is well-regarded in the west, both by the media and civil rights movements, such as the Iranian Queer organization. During the sixteen months 24 articles were published by established LGBT bloggers exploring themes and titles such as:
- The Meaning of Homosexuality in the sexual discourse of Iranians by Nima Shahed;
- Cliché promoting cinema by Erazer Head;
- Fear, and revenge of the gaze of the father by Pinocchio;
- Homophobia and Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran by Sepehr Masakeni;
- Theater and homosexuality by Pinocchio;
- A quick look at the Euripide’s Bacchae by Picocchio;
- Foundations of Fighting Dictatorships by Dionysius;
- To stand in waiting for the coming of the self by Dionysius;
- Seven false images about homosexuality;
- Contemporary Queer Blog Spots by Reza Pesar;
- We are homosexuals by Hamed;
- Searching for a patch of earth to live on by Mirza Kasra;
- Shapeless islands in a dark prairie by Namia;
- The Others’ gaze at Me as The Other by Ramtin Shahrzad.
- Homosexuality and modernity and Homosexuality in the era of enlightenment by Abdi Kalantari;
- About Sexual Minorities by Arash Naraghi, a well-known thinker and pioneer in exploring the field of homosexuality in Iran;
- a well presented paper, Compulsory heterosexism:
- Future challenges of the feminist movement in Iran by Raha Bahreini;
- plus a moving interview with the first lesbian rapper residing inside Iran, by Zamaneh’s reporter Lida Hoseini Nezad.
Queer Section (DegarBash Page) in Radio Zamaneh has been publishing weekly now since July 2009. It constantly examines and reflects on its much commented section. Debates, with positive and negative views on LGBT rights at times collect over 100 comments on the articles published.
The section is going to be extended and expounded in the coming months.
Radio Zamaneh is the only Persian Media braving the path to broadcast an on-going pogram on Queer Rights as being part and parcel of Human Rights in Iran. It provides the communities with a space to lobby against a notorious penal code condemning LGBT people to death; it promotes educational material and campaigns for diversity and acceptance.
Such a progressive agenda distinguishes radio Zamaneh and its management in the brave act of inclusivity. It is truly a step forward in the Iranian movement for democracy and human rights.
The project, sixteen months after its launch in July, is not only its growing but its scope and aims are expanding – from a community of voices to an exploration of LGBT Iranians of their right for a fair and just society, enjoying equal human rights. Audio programs of the written articles and a section for the on-line libraries of Persian and English E-Books in the field will be added to the Queer Section of Zamenh in the coming months.