Category Archives: Analysis of Homosexual Issues

LGBT Community Calls for the Repeal of Section 377

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Sam is a university-educated Muslim-born Hindu of 25 years. He is living in Dhaka and works as a university teacher. Six years ago, after graduating from college at the age of 19, he discovered that his sexual orientation deviates from the cultural norm in Bangladesh. Today he is in a romantic relationship with a man. He also has had sexual encounters with women before and describes himself as a bisexual man. Sam and his boyfriend go on trips together, hold hands on the streets of Dhaka and share a bed when staying at each other‟s places. Since male-male friendships are traditionally very intimate in Bangladesh, these practices cast no doubt upon their presumed heterosexual identities. Family and friends consider Sam and his boyfriend to be close friends. “As long as you don‟t come out open to your family, you are safe,” Sam explains. Sam is not his real name. Afraid of the possible social and legal consequences, he agreed to speak only under the condition of anonymity.

Like Sam and his boyfriend, many homosexuals in Bangladesh hide their sexual orientation from their friends and families. “It is easy to live a moderate life with a hidden identity if one is homosexual.” In predominantly Muslim countries, homosexuality is often looked upon as a sin. Accordingly, the consequences of coming out can be severe. Some gay men who inform their families about their sexual orientation are forced into a heterosexual marriage. Other parents consider homosexuality a mental illness and object their gay sons to religious brainwashing or psychiatric treatment. Sam heard of cases in Bangladesh where electric shocks were applied to homosexual men in an effort to “cure” them from their supposed psychiatric condition. He is convinced that, “unless the government, parents and friends understand that a man or woman can be a gay or a lesbian and yet be a very good and devout Muslim, Hindu or Christian, the chances for LGBT (“lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender‟) rights in Bangladesh are low.” Society in Bangladesh is far from that. Homosexuality among men is seen as a morally deprived Western phenomenon that needs to be fended off. “While the existence of gay sex is at least acknowledged by most people though, lesbian sex does not even exist in the dreams of people in Bangladesh.”

The status of homosexuality as a social and religious taboo is also reflected in the Bangladeshi Criminal Code. Its Section 377, a legacy of British rule, refers to consensual oral and anal sex as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” and subjects it to punishment up to imprisonment for life. Effectively, this section makes homosexual intercourse illegal in Bangladesh. Interestingly, prosecutions under Section 377 are extremely rare. Section 377, hence, does not impair Bangladesh‟s moderate image in the world and questions about the country‟s human rights record on the issue of homosexuality are avoided in the international arena. Not only in court, but also in mainstream media the issue has largely been ignored. The LGBT community is forced into a shadow existence and its voice is effectively silenced in the public sphere. However, mainly due to new media, times are changing.

Starting out as an online group in 2002, an organization called Boys of Bangladesh (BoB) has become a central forum for gay and bisexual men in Bangladesh. BoB currently has more than 2000 registered members, including school students as well as Ph.D. holders. Their ages range between 16 and more than 50 years. BoB is run by around twenty young men and has increasingly become public in recent years. In November 2010, it conducted the second edition of a festival titled “Under the Rainbow”, in cooperation with the German Goethe-Institut in Dhaka. Under the slogan “accept diversity and end discrimination”, the five-day festival included movie screenings, art exhibitions and musical performances and brought together leading human rights activists from with the country and abroad. Angela Grünert, director of the Goethe-Institut, explains her involvement in the LGBT movement in Bangladesh with the belief that “everyone should have equal rights in the society”, regardless of religion, ethnicity, sex or sexual orientation. BoB organized various other events, mainly in Dhaka, and its representatives attended international conferences on LGBT issues in Nepal and Thailand. The organization further provides homosexuals in Bangladesh with information on health and legal issues on its website at http://boysofbangladesh.org/.

Change on the subcontinent is also happening on the legal front. An Indian court in the country‟s capital, Delhi, decriminalized homosexual intercourse by repealing Section 377 of the Indian Criminal Code in July 2009, saying that treating certain forms of consensual sex between adults as a crime is a violation of fundamental human rights. For Sam, this is a sign of hope. He is convinced that, due to the profound cultural links between India and Bangladesh, the Indian court‟s ruling will spark a public debate on LGBT issues in Bangladesh and encourage the homosexual youth here to fight for their rights. “It is the youth, exposed to international media and increasingly educated, that is empowering the LGBT movement in Bangladesh.”

Some movements in Islam, such as the US-based Al-Fatiha Foundation, accept and consider homosexuality as natural and work towards the acceptance of non-heterosexual love-relationships within the global Muslim community. Progressive Muslim scholars around the world argue that Qur’anic verses on homosexuality are obsolete in the context of modern society and point out that, while the Qur‟an speaks out against homosexual lust, it is silent on homosexual love. However, in Bangladesh, religion remains the single most persistent obstacle for LGBT rights.

The LGBT rights movement in Bangladesh is growing rapidly and the voices for the repeal of Section 377 are becoming louder. The issue is bound to emerge into a public battle over the young nation’s religious and cultural identity, human rights and modernity and will pose a challenge to policymakers, religious authorities and leaders of civil society alike.

Rainer Ebert is a moral philosopher at Rice University in the United States of America. He is specializing in animal ethics and issues of global justice.

Mahmudul Hoque Moni is the founding director of the Centre for Practical Multimedia Studies at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at the University of Dhaka. He is interested in human rights issues, social justice, sports media and visual communication.

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Samakamita: The first Bengali book on homosexuality

This article was forwarded to me by the author Avijit Ray in early January this year. I apologise to the readers that my health conditions and a few contextual circumstances did not allow me enough liberty to blog for the last six months.


Comments by Tanvir Alim (BOB) : As a  science writer, and an engineer by profession, the writer attempted to provide scientific view and  accessible account  of homosexuality on several bases. In the first half of my book, he explored historical and biological issues. Here he tried to explain the scientific/biological bases for homosexuality, both from historical perspective and the extent to which modern science has gotten in this area of research.  In Part II, he addressed human rights issue and ongoing struggle of gay community in Bangladesh and beyond.

It is probably the first book in Bangla providing an overview of the complexity of issues that surround the culture and and study of homosexuality. Avijit Roy found himself honored to write  such a book in Bangla which he thinks will make significant contribution in gay rights issue in Bangladesh.

This is how the author described his work.


My new book on Homosexuality is going to be out Today. The Bangla name of the Book is Shomokamita – Ekti Boigganik O shomaj monostattik Onushondhan (Homosexuality – A scientific and socio-psychological investigation)- and it is being published by Shuddhashar (a book store in the 2nd floor of Aziz super market) within a few days. In this book, I have attempted to provide a scientific view and accessible account of homosexuality on several grounds. In the first half of my book, I explored historical and biological facts. There I tried to explain the scientific/biological bases for homosexuality, both from historical perspective and the extent to which modern science has been exploring its area of research. In the second part, I addressed human rights issues and ongoing struggle of gay community in Bangladesh and the rest of the world. It is probably the first book in Bangla providing a detailed overview of the complexity of issues that surrounds the culture and involving the study of homosexuality.
I have kept all the information about the book here:
The book will be found in upcoming Bangla Academy Book fair in February, 2010. There are some important discussion going on in some Bangla blogs as well, such as

I am not a gay. However, I am very sympathetic towards gay rights and similar humanitarian issues. You may ask – why did I took responsibility to write such a book? The answer is, over the time, I have seen sufficient incidents to distrust, despise, assault or even slaughter fellow people for having differences in religion, nationality, race or color. While the intellectuals of Bangladesh has been covering those issues, no body took onus to uphold the plight of “hidden minorities” i.e. gay and lesbian people of Bangladesh.  In this book, I hope to bridge the gap, providing an introduction to available knowledge on homosexuality from an eye of a sympathetic heterosexual person and a human rights activist. Hopefully together we will be able to remove the fear of homophobia, perhaps the last acceptable prejudice, from our society.

Please send the message to your friends who are interested to collect the book. The book will be found in shuddhashar (in Aziz super market), and will be available in upcoming Bangla academy  Book fair in February, 2010.
I convey my gratitude towards all including you who were directly/indirectly involved with this book!
Thanking you
Avijit

প্রকাশকঃ শুদ্ধস্বর (আহমেদুর রশীদ চৌধুরী)
৯১ আজিজ সুপার মার্কেট (৩য় তলা)
শাহবাগ, ঢাকা।
ফোন : ৯৬৬৬২৪৭, ০১৭১৬৫২৫৯৩৯


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CSBR Bangladesh: A first for the Queer members of Bengali society

Crossposted from CSBR e-news

http://www.wwhr.org/files/CSBR_Enews_Winter_2009.pdf

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Living on the Extreme Margin: Social Exclusion of the Transgender Population (Hijra) in Bangladesh

Sharful Islam Khan1, Mohammed Iftekher Hussain1, Shaila Parveen1, Mahbubul Islam Bhuiyan1,Gorkey Gourab1, Golam Faruk Sarker1, Shohael Mahmud Arafat2, and Joya Sikder3


1Social and Behavioural Sciences Unit, Public Health Sciences Division, ICDDR,B, GPO Box 128, Dhaka1000, Bangladesh,2Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, Dhaka1000, Bangladesh, and 3Badhan Hijra Sangha,Kuril, Dhaka 1229, Bangladesh

ABSTRACT
The transgender people (hijra), who claim to be neither male nor female, are socially excluded in Bangladesh.This paper describes social exclusion of hijra [The term is used in this abstract both in singular and plural sense] focusing on the pathway between exclusion and sexual health. In an ethnographic study,50 in-depth interviews with hijra, 20 key-informant interviews, and 10 focus-group discussions (FGDs),along with extensive field observations, were conducted. The findings revealed that hijra are located at the extreme margin of exclusion having no sociopolitical space where a hijra can lead life of a human being with dignity. Their deprivations are grounded in non-recognition as a separate gendered human being beyond the male-female dichotomy. Being outside this norm has prevented them from positioning themselves in greater society with human potential and security. They are physically, verbally, and sexually
abused. Extreme social exclusion diminishes self-esteem and sense of social responsibility. Before safer sex interventions can be effective in a broader scale, hijra need to be recognized as having a space on society’s gender continuum. Hijra, as the citizens of Bangladesh and part of society’s diversity, have gender, sexual and citizenship rights, that need to be protected.

Read the full article here: http://www.icddrb.org/images/JHPN274-Living_on_the_Extreme_Margin_Social_Exclusion_of_the_Transgender_Population(Hijra)_in_Bangladesh.pdf

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Comments by Ashok DEB:

Joya Sikdar

Joya Sikdar

This research paper has been published by ICDDR- B and prominent Trans Right activist Joya Sikdar has actively contributed to this article. This can be conceived as a step in the right direction as we need the members of the Trans Community to speak out for themselves.Generally the trans population in Bangladesh are unethically utilized by the research workers to gather a glimpse into their secretive lives and societies. Generally these researchers, some of them have even self-appointed themselves Hijra Experts of Bangladesh, have treated these individuals from an anthropological point of view, rather ignoring the massive human rights violations,anti-pathy and societal marginalization these individuals suffer in Bangladesh.

Presently the Trans community needs to identify resourceful members within its own community to steer them into a direction where they can co-exist within the conservative Islamic fabric of Bangladesh. This research paper vividly describes the discrimination, persecution, physical abuses and rights violation that the Trans community in Bangladesh are being subjected to relentlessly.

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CSBR discusses SEXUALITY in context to ISLAMIC SHARIA

Crossposted from BoB message board where the article was forwarded by a BoB member who attended the CSBR conference in Istanbul.

Sexuality and Sharia

f_islam

As the international coordination office of the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), Women for Women and Human Rights (WWHR) “ New Ways organized the 2nd CSBR Sexuality Institute in Istanbul, Turkey on 11 “ 18 September 2009.

During the seven-day gathering, Siti Musdah Mulia, an expert on Islamic jurisprudence and chairperson of the Indonesian Conference on Religion and Peace (ICRP), led two sessions on sexuality and Sharia.

She argued that people were equal in the eyes of God regardless of their gender, ethnicity, wealth, social status or sexual orientation. She said that what is considered sinful is people who commit sexual violence, pedophilia and other crimes.

Mulia underlined womens right to their own bodies. Female sexuality is a right that belongs solely and fully to women,she stressed. Womens morality cannot be judged from sexuality, nor from the male point of view.

In a session especially dedicated to understanding LGBT issues in Islam, Mulia made a distinction between sexual orientation as an irreversible, predestined character that includes several variants including heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual and asexual, and sexual behavior as a learned behavior by which someone channels his or her sexual desire in a manner that is influenced by social construction that imposes heteronormativity or heterosexual orientation as the single truth.

She added: Islamic law doesnt speak about the issue of sexual orientation, but speaks about sexual behavior. Islamic law is always directed to the deeds done by human beings offering free choices, not to something that is predestined in nature for which human beings are offered no choices.

Mulia explained that Islamic condemnation of homosexuality arose from a narrow-minded and literal interpretation of the story of Lot and his people. She offered an alternative understanding of the story, underlining how God enacted his punishment because the people of Lot committed abuses, acts of violence and sexual exploitation, and because their behavior was unjust and discriminatory.

The big obstruction of LGBT people is the religious interpretation, not the religion itself,she said, that is a heteronormative, gender-biased and patriarchal interpretation. Biased interpretation is intentionally preserved from generation to generation in the name of God for the interest of reaching political objectives.

To fight these systems of oppression, Mulia suggested the following courses of action:

  • Re-reading texts and providing an alternative vision and challenging the hegemony and monopoly of those who claim to be the guardians of theology;
  • Developing a new religious interpretation that is more human, more egalitarian, more conducive to peace, piety, justice and promotes human rights. In other words, promoting Islamic humanism, which leads to the appreciation of human dignity;
  • Struggling for the right of interpretation;
  • Striving to change the culture from patriarchal to egalitarian; and
  • Reforming Islamic family law because it inflames the behavior of governments and society as a whole

http://www.bekhsoos.com/web/2009/09/sexuality-and-sharia/

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India: Government Defers Decision on 377 to Supreme Court

http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/resourcecenter/974.html

09/18/2009

The government of India decided on September 17, 2009 that it will not oppose the Delhi High Court verdict on Section 377 of the Penal Code, which decriminalizes homosexuality by “reading down” the section pertaining to same-sex relations between consenting adults in private. Indian activists are praising this decision as a symbol of tacit support for decriminalization in this landmark case.

Following the High Court’s ruling on July 2, 2009, a panel composed of Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, Home Minister P. Chidambaram, and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was assembled to consider the advantages and disadvantages of changing the law. After reviewing the findings of the panel, the government has opted not to join the appeal and to let the Supreme Court determine the “correctness” of the High Court’s ruling. Upon announcing the decision, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni added that the Cabinet would ask Attorney General Goolam Vahanvati to assist the Supreme Court in any way possible, suggesting that the government could still weigh in during the appeal.

The Cabinet’s deference to the judiciary effectively leaves the fate of Section 377 in the hands of the Supreme Court, which can be unpredictable or unwilling to intervene on moral issues. The Supreme Court has received several private challenges to the Delhi High Court’s verdict in this case, some of which are led by religious organizations using language reminiscent of Christian fundamentalism in the United States. The government’s neutrality on the issue – despite varying degrees of support for reading down Section 377 from all three members of its exploratory panel – suggests that the government may be reluctant to bear the furor of opponents from conservative political parties and unleash a backlash from conservative community groups.

Gay journalist and activist Vikram Doctor says, “We knew there was resistance from some members of the government but saner voices have prevailed, and this is a really important signal to the Supreme Court on how the government would like the case to proceed.”

While IGLHRC appreciates that the Cabinet has refused to join the appeal, the government must also be a proactive voice for vulnerable segments of India’s society who are targeted for their sexual orientation and subjected to all kinds of abuses, including sexual violence, physical assaults, blackmail and intimidation by unscrupulous members of the community and police force who use the presence of Section 377 to act with impunity. Unequivocal support for the Delhi High Court’s decision by the central government will send a powerful message that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in India are entitled to human rights.

As noted by Chief Justice A.P. Shah of the Delhi High Court in his ruling on Section 377, “Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are.” Enacted by the British in 1868 when they ruled India, Section 377 is inconsistent with the Indian Constitution, specifically Article 14 on equality before the law, Article 15 on non-discrimination on grounds of sex, Article 19 on freedom of expression, and Article 21 on right to life and personal liberty.

At a September 16, 2009 forum on HIV, human rights and MSM in Washington, D.C., Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS linked homophobia and continued criminalization of homosexuality to a lack of HIV-related services. According to Sidibe, “We have to remove these laws as they reflect deep-seated stigma and prejudice. Instead of universal access, we have universal obstacles. Gay people are the ones who brought attention to HIV and AIDS but as we moved on to generalizing services for people with the virus, we forgot them.” Sidibe added that India’s decision on 377 is a huge victory because “removing laws that criminalize and discriminate herald a new framework and new commitment and a new movement to universal access to health and human rights.”

Click http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/globalactionalerts/931.html to see the full text of the Delhi High Court decision. Click http://www.iglhrc.org/cgi-bin/iowa/article/takeaction/partners/205.html to read the court proceedings on the 377 case.

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Allah’s Pink Sons; Persecution of Homosexuals in Islamic Countr‏ies


Protests to support Ayatollah al-SistaniImage via Wikipedia

Source: Der Spiegel (via Welcome To A Pakistani Humanist’s World!)

By Juliane Von Mittlestaedt/Daniel Steinvorth
Translation by Faris Malik of Queer Jihad

In most Islamic countries, homosexuals are despised, persecuted and sometimes even killed. Repressive regimes foment hatred against “effeminized men.”

Bearded men kidnapped him in the middle of Baghdad, threw him into a dark hole, bound him with a chain, urinated on him and beat him with an iron pipe. But the worst moment of all for Hisham, 40, came on the fourth day when his abductors called his family. He became scared they would tell his mother that he was homosexual and that this was the reason they had abducted him. Then he would never see his family again. The shame would be unbearable for them.

“Do what you want with me, but don’t tell them!” he cried.

Rather than humiliate him in front of his family, the abductors demanded 50,000 dollars in ransom, a huge sum for an ordinary Iraqi family. The parents had to borrow money and sell all of their son’s possessions. A short time later, the abductors threw Hisham out of a car in northern Baghdad. They did not shoot him, they let him walk, but they yelled after him: “This is your last chance. If we see you again, we’ll kill you.”

That was four months ago, and Hisham has gone to Lebanon. Helies to his family, telling them he was fleeing violence and terror, and had found a job in Beirut. He kept it to himself that, as a gay man, he could not remain in Iraq because of the death squads that are hunting down “effeminized” men.

At the beginning of the year in Baghdad, there began a new series of murders of men suspected of homosexuality. They are often raped,their genitals cut off, their anuses glued shut. Their corpses end up in trash dumpsters or on the street. There is a “systematic campaign” with hundreds ofmurder victims, according to Human Rights Watch, which has documented this string of violence.

The trigger for the murders, rapes and kidnappings isconsidered to be the video of a party in Baghdad in the summer of 2008, at which men danced with one another. It was viewed thousands of times on handheld devices and the Internet. Islamist preachers then began agitating against the spreading danger of a “third sex,” brought into the country by American soldiers. Especially followers of radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr have since then felt called to restore “religious morality.” Their black-clad militiamen patrol their bastion, the Sadr City district of Baghdad, and lie inwait for everyone whose “unmasculine behavior” catches their attention. Longhair, tight t-shirts and pants, or a strutting walk often enough bring a death sentence.

Other groups, too, not only the Mahdi Army, are said to be involved in the murders of gays: for instance, Sunni militia who are close to Al-Qaida, but also Iraqi security forces.

The lives of homosexuals are particularly endangered in Iraq at the moment, but they are ostracized virtually throughout the Islamic world.More than 100,000 women and men are discriminated against or threatened,according to gay groups. Thousands commit suicide, end up in prison, or have fled.

More than 30 Islamic countries prohibit homosexuality bylaw. The punishments range from flogging to life in prison. In Mauretania, Bangladesh, Yemen, in parts of Nigeria and Sudan, in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Iran, gays even face the death penalty.

But even in countries where homosexuality is not prohibited by law, gays are persecuted, arrested, and sometimes murdered. Egypt is particularly harsh, although the country was long known for its open gay scene. Homosexuals are pursued by a morals police force that taps phones and recruits informants. Then they are charged with “debauchery.”

In Malaysia, homosexuality is even used as a political weapon: In the year 2000, the well-known politician Anwar Ibrahim was sentenced to nine years in prison for “unnatural sexual intercourse” with his chauffeur and a speechwriter, but then was exonerated on appeal in 2004. In the summer of2008, the macabre drama was repeated. The charge was “homosexual sexual intercourse,” and the trial still continues.

Anwar was once the protégé of Mahathir Mohamad. He was supposed to succeed him as prime minister, until Mahathir sacked him in 1998. Ten years later, Anwar won back his seat in Parliament – but that is as far as his comeback has made it so far.

Even in cosmopolitan Lebanon, homosexuals are threatened with one year in jail. Still, Beirut is the home of the only gay and lesbian organization in the Arab world, called “Helem” (meaning “dream”). At an office in the middle of the city, posters about AIDS education and tips against homophobia are on the walls. Helem is no more than tolerated, as the Interior Ministry has yet to issue an official permit to the organization. “And it is hardly conceivable that we will ever get it,” says executive director Georges Azzi.

In Istanbul, there is a free homosexual scene and a Christopher Street Day festival, and even devoutly religious fans rave for transsexual pop diva Bülent Ersoy or gay singer Zeki Müren. But away from the catwalk or the stage, it is considered a disgrace, a disease, to be a “götveren” (meaning”faggot”). In the army, homosexuality is grounds for discharge. To unmask fakers, military doctors require photos or videos as evidence, showing the recruit having sex with a man – in the “passive” role, of course, because being active passes as masculine enough in Turkey.

It looks as though a wave of homophobia has gripped the Islamic world, which was once known for its openness. Homoerotic literature was widespread here, sex roles were less narrowly defined, and, like the ancient Greeks, men let themselves be entertained by dancing youths.

But now the Islamists have assumed cultural hegemony. They include men like popular Egyptian television preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who demonizes gays as perverse. Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani published a fatwa four years ago, in which he called for the most brutal possible murder of gays. These opinion leaders justify their aversion with the history of Lot in the Qur’an: “You approach men in lust instead of women. You are immoderate people.” For these sins, the people of Lot are destroyed along with their cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. In addition, there are a few statements of Muhammad, in which he condemns the “act of the people of Lot,” once even calling for the death penalty.

However, the Lot story and other Qur’anic verses were not clearly applied to homosexual sex until the 20th century, says New York professor Everett Rowson. He says this redefinition originated in the West, of all places – due to the prudery of European colonial masters, who spread their sexual morality in the newly conquered world.

In fact, half the prohibitions of homosexuality that still exist worldwide go back to a single law promulgated by the British in India in1860. “Many attitudes toward sexual morality, that are said to be identical with Islam, owe more to Queen Victoria than to the Qur’an,” Rowson declares.

Modern persecution of gays was brought on, above all, by the politicization of Islam, because since then sexual morality has been no longer private, but rather is regulated and instrumentalized by the state.

“The most repressive are secular regimes like Egypt, Morocco and Turkey, which are under pressure from Islamists and therefore try to outdo them when it comes to morality,” says Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. “In addition, the persecution of homosexuals shows that a regime has control over the private lives of citizens – that is a sign of power and authority.” Thus for the last few years there has been a deliberately fomented “moral panic” in many countries.

For instance, in Iran. Since the Islamic Revolution,homosexuals have been persecuted, sometimes more, sometimes less – and rather more since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office, who never tires of stressing that there are no homosexuals in his country at all.

Even the suspicion of “unnatural” acts is enough to earn a whipping. Anyone who is caught multiple times faces the death penalty. So far148 gays have been executed according to official figures, but presumably the number is far higher. The most recent case to draw attention was that of 21-year-old Makwan Moloudzadeh, who was hanged in December 2007. He is alleged to have raped three boys years before. Homosexuals are almost always charged with other crimes in addition,like rape, fraud, or theft, in order to justify the execution.

Thousands of gays and lesbians have fled Iran for this reason, and for most the first stop is Turkey. “There was no alternative for me but to flee,” says Ali, a 32-year-old doctor. “If I had stayed, they would have killed me.”

Ali had been careful. He only rarely went to parties, used several different Internet cafés for chatting, and he did not even tell his family his secret. That went well, until his boyfriend’s father caught the two of them kissing. Two days later, Ali lost his job at the hospital, then he washit by a car, apparently not by accident, and a short time later he received a call: “We want to see you hang.”

What he had not known before was that his boyfriend’s father was a high-ranking member of the Revolutionary Guard.

Ali withdrew his savings from his account and took a train to Turkey, where he applied for asylum. Since then, he has been living in a tiny apartment in Kayseri in Central Anatolia – one of 35 gay Iranian exiles living in this city.

Arsham Parsi, 29, fled too from Shiraz four years ago. This graceful man with downy cheeks and glasses is one of Iran’s “most wanted” men,because he founded the country’s first gay network in 2001. They only communicated by e-mail, few people knew his real name, yet he was still found out. Parsi managed to escape the morals police at the last second. He received a visa for Canada, where he founded the “Iranian Queer Organization,” which now has 6000 members in Iran. They include many transsexuals – or people who consider themselves such. After all, Parsi estimates: “Nearly half of all sex changes are undergone by gays.”

Gay persecution has led to a boom in sex changes, so that more operations are performed in the Islamic Republic of Iran, of all places,than anywhere else in the world except Thailand. They were permitted in 1983 by Ayatollah Khomeini himself, who defined transsexuality as a disease that could be cured with an operation. Since then, thousands have sought the treatment,with a portion of the costs borne by the state.

“Relatives and doctors push gays to undergo operations to normalize their improper sexual orientation,” says Parsi. This is also how a high-ranking Shiite religious scholar was able to finance a female body for his secretary and then marry him afterwards.

The ultra-conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country where Shari’ah law is applied exclusively – homosexuals are whipped or executed. “Nonetheless, gays are much freer here than in Iran,” says Afdhere Jama, who traveled through the Islamic world for seven years researching his book “Illegal Citizens.”

The Kingdom leaves gays an astonishing amount of freedom in everyday life. Newspapers report on lesbian sex in school bathrooms. Certain shopping centers, restaurants and bars in Jeddah and Riyadh are considered gay meeting places, which is an open secret.

“There are many Saudi Arabs who take boys as love objects,because they are single or because their wives happen to be pregnant,” says Jama. Homosexual sex is often the only option to have sex at all – extramarital affairs with women are virtually impossible. “Here in the West, a man would be considered gay in that case, but in countries like Saudi Arabia, it is harder to make that classification,” says Jama. Most Muslims hardly know what to make of the Western conception of a “gay identity” – there is no gay lifestyle or movement here.

Daayiee Abdullah, 55, is an imam, he wears a prayer cap and a beard – and he is gay. That makes him one of only two imams in the world who openly declare their homosexuality. He voluntarily chose Islam, having grown up a Baptist in Detroit. During his studies in Beijing, he came to know Chinese Muslims and converted to Islam. “They told me it was no problem to be gay and a good Muslim.”

The imam – and not only he – interprets the history of Lot differently: The people whom God condemned were not homosexuals, but rapists and robbers. It is not homosexuality, but rape, that the Qur’an detests. “The rejection of gays is based on culture and politics,” he says. “Just like honor killings and arranged marriages – those things are not in the Qur’an, either.”

Abdullah lives in the US capital of Washington, and says prayer at funerals of homosexuals, especially when they died of AIDS, since no other imam is willing to do it. He performs same-sex marriages and has counseled pious gays for eleven years through his “Muslim Gay Men” Internet forum.

He receives death threats over and over, but at this point he laughs about it, saying: “How can two loving gays shake the foundations of God?”

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