Why is there LGBT silence on Iran?

August 16, 2015 22:23
4 minute read.
An activist waves an LGBT flag near Israel's Knesset building

An activist waves an LGBT flag near Israel's Knesset building. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Gay men are being killed in Iran.

At least 146 of them since 1979.

Consider just two of them – Abdullah Ghavami Chahzanjiru and Salman Ghanbari Chahzanjiri.

They were hanged in southern Iran on August 6, 2014, possibly for the “crime” of consensual sodomy. Their deaths were part of a wave of executions in Iran, with more than 400 in the first half of 2014 alone, according to the NGO Iran Human Rights.

Under Iranian law, which is derived from Shariah law, punishments for gays range from lashings to executions.

Article 109 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code states: “In case of sodomy, both the active and the passive persons will be condemned to its punishment.” Article 110: “Punishment for sodomy is killing; the Sharia judge decides on how to carry out the killing.” Even kissing or standing naked under one roof are considered crimes and subject to punishment of up to 99 lashes. Article 134: “If two women not related by consanguinity stand naked under one cover without necessity, they will be punished to less than [one] hundred (100) lashes.”

Everyone (or everyone who has been paying attention) knows that the current Iranian regime poses a threat to the United States, the Middle East and Israel. In his recent book Palestine, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei boasts of his plants to destroy Israel, using such terms as “annihilation,” “fading out” and “effacement.”

Everyone knows that Iran and its proxies have spread anti-Jewish terrorism across the world – most notably, the attack on the AMIA building in Buenos Aires, which occurred on July 18, 1994, killing 85 people and wounding hundreds.

Iran is the single largest sponsor of terrorism in the world.

Moreover, Iran has executed Iranian Jews: • Habib Elghanian, an Iranian Jewish businessman and leader, executed in 1979.

• Nourollah Rabizadeh and brothers Cyrus and Avraham Ghahremani, killed in February 1997 while attempting to flee to Israel via Pakistan.

• Adiva Mirza Soleyman Kalimia, an Israeli-born woman, and her husband Varjan Petrosian (an Armenian Christian), hanged at Evin Prison on March 14, 2011.

• Daniel Magrufta, 24, who was dating the daughter of a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, executed in 2013.

That’s six Jews (and one Armenian) murdered by the Iranian regime.

By contrast, Iran has executed 80 times that number of gays.

Remember the murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998 for being gay? Remember the galvanizing effect that horrific act had – not only on the larger LBGT community, but on the American soul? That was one Matthew Shepard.

There are at least 146 Matthew Shepards in Iran.

And yet, the LG BT community has been largely silent on the deal with the Iran – with one major exception: the Log Cabin Republicans, the gay Republican caucus. Their full-page ad shows a dead man hanging from a gallows. The text of the ad reads: “Secretary Kerry: This is about more than nukes! Right now Iran is executing gay people and people merely suspected of being gay. Why are John Kerry and the Obama administration even contemplating regarding a nation guilty of terrible human rights abuses against gays, Jews and women by lifting sanctions? Human rights can’t be ignored in these negotiations. Tell John Kerry this is a bad deal.”

This ad was run in March – months ago.

Here we are, weeks after the US Supreme Court affirmed the rights of Americans to marry whomever they choose. By all accounts, the fight for LG BT rights in the United States has been the fastest social revolution in history.

How can it be that this community is now, at this historic moment, silent over the plight of gays and lesbians in Iran? For, in fact, this is hardly the first time that Jews and gays have been victimized by the same people. Have we forgotten the co-mingling of yellow stars and pink triangles in the concentration camps? So, too, we must ask the question: to what extent have American Jewish organizations that are concerned about the Iran deal reached out to LG BT organizations to say: “We have a common enemy here. How can we strengthen and support each other?” It was, after all, a slogan of the warriors against AIDS: “Silence = death.”

They learned that equation from the Jewish experience in history.

Whatever you might think about the Iran deal (and reasonable people might reasonably disagree about its ramifications), at the very least let those who have been victims of Iran’s regime speak up.


The author is the senior rabbi of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida, and the author of numerous books on Judaism.

His blog, Martini Judaism: for those who want to be shaken and stirred, is published by the Religion News Service.

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