Yalda is a 29-year-old trans woman living in Semnan, in northern Iran. On Tuesday, October 5, she was stabbed by unknown assailants, suffering injuries to her chest, arms and neck. She was rushed to hospital and had to undergo surgery. While recovering from this shocking assault, she told IranWire that she believes anti-LGBT+ sentiment in Iran is getting worse by the day.
Speaking just the day after surgery, Yalda recalled: “I with sitting in the park with my friend when someone approached us and started ridiculing us for our gender identity – for being trans. He then asked us to give him our mobile phones. We refused, which led to a physical fight. Suddenly, he attacked me with a knife and slashed me in several areas with multiple swipes, saying with hatred: 'There’s no place for people like you here.'"
The sorrow in her voice was audible. Trans people in Iran, like other members of the LGBT+ community, more often than not have to endure a lifetime of hurt, demonization and misunderstanding in the country they call home. In fact, Yalda said, she has defended herself against both physical and sexual violence plenty of times in the past.
Amira Zolghadri, a gender equality activist who has known Yalda for several years, posted a heartfelt message on her Instagram in support of her friend. "She comes from a poor family and because of this, she lives alone,” she wrote. “Most working-class trans people have less social security than the middle classes, and less support in the face of such horrible events. They’re more harmed, and worse discriminated against because of their gender identity.”
Decades ago, a fatwa of Ruhollah Khomeini legalized sex reassignment surgery in Iran at a stroke – as long as trans people can get the necessary permission from a court of law. Nevertheless, the cultural and social stigma continues, particularly in the more ardently religious households.
Amira, who now lives in Toronto, says those without a stable income are the most vulnerable in Iran. “I know many trans, gay, lesbian and other people in Iran who, due to a lack of finances, end up homeless. Many are forced to turn to sex work, where they don’t have the least physical or psychological security. It is very worrying that these people also have to live in a society like Iran, experiencing multiple discriminations."
LGBT+ organizations outside of Iran, he said, often struggled to help those inside; NGOs in Canada cannot provide them with financial assistance due to sanctions and other legal and political issues, and have to concentrate their efforts on LGBT+ refugees in Turkey. The Welfare Organization in Iran has a dedicated center for interventions in social crises, which is supposed to provide counseling, shelter, and legal and financial assistance for surgery to vulnerable trans Iranians. But over the years, the lack of sufficient funding has meant people like Yalda are forced to struggle on alone.