Throughout history, the prime stimulus keeping oppression toward LGBT people locked firmly in place and enacted in societies — on the personal/interpersonal, institutional, and societal levels — resulted from the destructive doctrines and judgments radiating from primarily orthodox and fundamentalist religious communities.
Individuals and organizations have employed “religion” to justify the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, oppression, and murder of entire groups of people based on their social identities. At various historical periods, people have applied these texts, sometimes taken in tandem, and at other times used selectively, to establish and maintain hierarchical positions of power, domination, and privilege over individuals and groups targeted by these texts and tenets.
We have seen this throughout the Christian world, from Roman Emperors Constantine I and Theodosius, to the Spanish Inquisition, Queen Elizabeth I of England, through colonial America, Nazi Germany, to the present.
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Islamic tyrants also justify oppression toward LGBT people under Sharia Law, which holds homosexuality illegal and punishable by death. For example, ISIS combatants are conducting a war on the West, on women, and on religious minorities. They are also actively fighting a horrific war on LGBT people by tossing people suspected of engaging in same-sex sexuality (primarily men) from roof tops as others below pelt them with rocks.
We do not yet know if the Orlando shooter’s motivation for murdering 49 LGBT people of primarily Hispanic descent connected with his allegiance with ISIS’s treatment of homosexuals, but initial indications seem headed in that direction.
The repressive Iranian regime, in addition, executes suspected homosexuals. Now that the brutal reign of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has finally left the scene since he was ineligible to run again in 2014, and the perceived more moderate administration of Hassan Rouhani has risen to power, an easing of tensions between the U.S. and Iran seems more possible, at least more so than at any time previously since the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979.
The Obama administration is currently engaged in critical negotiations with the Iranian government to limit that country’s capacity to manufacture and deliver nuclear weapons. In addition, Iranian jet fighters have joined with other countries, including the U.S., Jordan, and Egypt, to degrade and eventually destroy the terrorist group ISIS that has been relentlessly grabbing formally sovereign territories in the Middle East, and savagely raping and murdering citizens and foreigners throughout the region.
During this potential thaw in relations, I hope the Obama administration will include an additional agenda item to its list of objectives with the Iranians. Let us not forget that since Iran’s revolution, which replaced the Shah with an orthodox theocracy, many segments of the population have experienced repression under Iranian Sharia law — of the many segments, in particular, include Iran’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans residents.
Since 1979, some human rights activists estimated between 4000 – 6000 LGBT people have been executed in Iran. Same-sex sexuality between consenting partners in private is defined as a crime. Iranian law condemns men involved in sexual penetrative acts (sodomy or lavat) with the possibility of death, and so-called non-penetrative acts with flogging. After the fourth non-penetrative “offense,” the penalty is death.
Women convicted of engaging in same-sex sexuality (mosahegheh) may be made to undergo flogging with 50 lashes. And also, following the fourth conviction, they too are eligible for the death penalty (Articles 127, 129, 130).
Examples are many. Two gay Iranian teenagers, 18 and 17-years-old, were hung in the streets of Iran on July 19, 2005, in Edalat (Justice Square) in Mashbad, Iran. Reports of the widespread repression of homosexuals in Iran have been verified by Human Rights Watch and the Iranian Student News Agency.
Following the Islamic Revolution, trans identity and expression were also classified as crimes. However, the government reclassified this in 1986 as “heterosexual” if the person undergoes gender confirmation (formerly known as “sex reassignment”) surgery. Today, Iran stands as the country performing the most gender confirmation surgeries in the world, second only to Thailand. Iranian trans people, however, still suffer frequent harassment and persecution.
Repressive regimes around the world currently and throughout history have scapegoated, oppressed, and murdered LGBT people. The time has long since passed that we speak out against repression in all of its forms. Though I am not naïve enough to believe that we will soon witness general human and civil rights legislated and enacted in this authoritarian theocracy anytime soon, maybe we can now see, however, some progressive movement in the plight of LGBT people in Iran.