Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

No gays in Iran, prez says


Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that there are no gays in his country.
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew derisive laughter from a packed auditorium at Columbia University Monday, September 24 when he said there were no gays in his country.

"We don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country," Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter in response to a question from an audience member at the forum. "In Iran we do not have this phenomena. I don't know who has told you that we have it."

The comment was one of many that brought hoots from the audience during the two-hour event. Executions of gays in Iran have sparked worldwide protests.

Not only are there gays in Iran, there is even an official Mr. Gay Iran. Kaveh Ghaderi, 24, from Tehran, represented Iran and participated in the International Mr. Gay Competition last October in Palm Springs, said Don Spradlin, executive producer of the International Mr. Gay competition. Ghaderi is currently a student living in Canada.

Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger had greeted Ahmadinejad with opening remarks in which he said to the Iranian, "You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator � You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated."

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese called Ahmadinejad's comment on homosexuals "simply absurd were it not for the fact that international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence committed against gay people in Iran ... [His] denial that there are gay people in Iran shows the extent to which he devalues the lives of the many citizens his government has and continues to violate."

Gay pundit Andrew Sullivan at first did not comment "because it seems superfluous." He then added, "If there are no gays in his country, why is he hanging so many of them?"

He was referring to the widely reported incident in July 2005 when Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hung for allegedly being gay and charged with raping a 13-year-old boy.

Sullivan also wondered, "Would Columbia ever invite a right-wing extremist with the same views as Ahmadinejad on women, gays, Israel, and the Holocaust? Or do you have to be a brown-skinned, terrorist-enabling, nuclear proliferating, certified nut-job to get the invite?"

San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis has been among those calling attention to the often dire plight of gays in other countries, particularly within the developing world. He took perverse pleasure in the grilling Ahmadinejad got at Columbia and added, "When was the last time Bush or Cheney faced a similar questioning from a less than friendly audience?"

Petrelis has been active in helping organize vigils for the two Iranian men who were executed two years ago, and this year a ceremony was held in the office of San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who is Iranian American.

Tuesday, Mirkarimi told the Bay Area Reporter that he was astounded at Ahmadinejad's comment, but not surprised.

"It's obvious that fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist politics don't mix," Mirkarimi said. "He's nuts. It doesn't surprise me that without batting an eye he hangs people for being gay and then does not have the spine to admit it."

Charlie Hinton, a gay San Francisco resident who last year wrote an open letter to Ahmadinejad, sounded distressed at the recent statements by the Iranian leader.

"But who are those queers protesting in Toronto and why does Pegah Emambakhsh fear she will be killed if she returns home?" he said, referring to the plight of an Iranian lesbian who is fighting deportation to Iran. "Who are those 4,000 people executed since 1979 for homosexual acts, if Iran has no gays? Will you please answer me that, Mr. Ahmadinejad?"

Petrelis sounded surprised that HRC would comment on foreign affairs. "I had no idea HRC could be diverted from its main task these days – electing Hillary Clinton to the Oval Office – to pretend it gives a damn about gays beyond America's borders.�

"The HRC PR machine pumping out a release on the Iranian president's obscenely ignorant comment that there are no gays in his country cannot obscure the fact this group's leaders and members have done nothing of substance for Iranian gays since two gay teenagers were hanged in the Islamic Republic in 2005," Petrelis added.

"Occasional releases on global gay matters are not enough. Let's see some HRC pickets for international solidarity at foreign embassies in Washington," Petrelis said. "Our gay brothers and sisters in Uganda, Cameroon, and Nigeria sure could use HRC's assistance in fighting their governments, as they fight for equality and fairness in across Africa."

Cynthia Laird contributed to this report.

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