In recent days, videos of sexual relations allegedly involving a number of male officials of the Islamic Republic made the news. Reza Saghati, the dismissed director-general of Culture and Islamic Guidance in northern Gilan province and Hojatolislam Mahdi Haghshenas, former deputy of the Headquarters for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in the same province, are purportedly among the officials who appeared in videos depicting same-sex relations.
Many media outlets outside Iran and also members of the opposition to the Islam Republic have adopted the wrong approach toward these events and have replicated the regime’s homophobia and anti-LGBTQ ideology by using words such as “sodomy” and “pederasty.” This misguided response has been criticized by the Iranian LGBTQ community and gender activists.
In a statement on August 1, 6Rang (“Six Colors”), the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network, condemned this institutionalized homophobia. 6Rang said that the release of these videos “follows specific political and security purposes, which can range from internal conflicts among the officials of the Islamic Republic and distracting people’s minds…on the anniversary of the murder of Mahsa Amini or even purposes that are out of the scope of our speculation.”
“But whatever the purpose of publishing these videos, news or analysis about them should not promote homophobia and punishment of same-sex sexual relations,” the statement reads. “6Rang believes that, instead of such a wrong approach that ultimately increases hatred and violence against sexual and gender minorities, we must target the ethics, the double standards and duplicity of the Islamic Republic officials…”
“They scarcely point out that all the officials in the published videos have been in charge of agencies such as the Headquarters for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice or the departments of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which throughout the 44-year history of the Islamic Republic have been responsible for the suppression of women, especially in the area of forced hijab, and the LGBTQ+ community. These individuals represent the ideology of the Islamic Republic and have never stopped at any possible action to use violence against the opposition.”
Certain media sources and members of various opposition groups are fomenting homophobia by failing to remind their readers of these facts and of the violence and discrimination that members of sex and gender minorities suffer from, every day at home and in the society.
Nima Nia, painter, a poet and queer activist, says it seems that fighting against the Islamic Republic has provided some opposition figures and forces with an excuse to promote hatred against the LGBTQ community, directly or indirectly: “One of the consequences of the events in recent weeks is the use of epithets that are rooted in Islamic jurisprudence and the Islamic penal codes; epithets such as ‘sodomy’ that the Islamic Republic has used to criminalize queer relationships under the law and thereby deprive the members of this community of their right to life. In most comments, the use of this word to describe what we see in Reza Saghati’s video shows how a criminalized view of queer relation has gone beyond the confines of Islamic penal codes and has infiltrated the core of political and social discourse in Iran.”
The expressions of disgust toward queer relationships by some political activists and, more generally, by the social media users show that they consider such relationships to be synonymous with “disgrace,” “infamy” or a form of moral corruption and degradation. These words are arrows that are targeted at the very identity of queer individuals.
Also, people generally imagine that LGBTQ persons, with all their variety of sexual, emotional and gender tendencies, are a specific social group or class, and they do not distinguish these tendencies from other human attributes and moral qualities. The same way that a heterosexual person can be a murderer, a traitor or a thief, any person, even an official of a tyrannical government such as the Islamic Republic, can be anywhere on the sexual, emotional and gender spectrum.
“Queer sex is not synonymous with rape and child abuse, but it seems that the public opinion views everything that happens in a non-heterosexual relationship as tantamount to child abuse and rape,” says Nima Nia. “When people come across such a relationship, they think about rape and sexual abuse, and this is another kind of disgust toward sexual relations of queer individuals. This is what you see in some of the reactions to Reza Saghafi’s video.”