Investigating the Dynamism of Iranian LGBTs from a Legal and Religious Perspective


Paper presented at the 7th International Conference on Economics and Social Sciences (P 374-399)

hosted by Cyprus Science University NORTH CYPRUS May 7 – 8, 2022

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Investigating the Dynamism of Iranian LGBTs from a Legal and Religious Perspective

Kameel Ahmady

Social Anthropologist, University of Kent, MA in social Anthropology

Gender is one of the most important issues in human life, which includes sexual identities and roles, sexual orientation, lust, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction. Gender represents peoples’ thoughts, dreams, desires, beliefs, values, behaviours, practices, roles, and relations. Although gender includes these aspects, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Gender is affected by biological, psychological, social, economic, cultural, moral, legal, historical, religious, and spiritual interactions.
This is the first research conducted on LGBT people in Iran and concerns the existing literature on LGBT people by focusing on the residence of this group.
This research is an extract from the book “Forbidden Tale,” which integrates phenomenological, hermeneutic, postmodern, and psychological approaches to provide a theoretical method appropriate for research on LGBT experience, while, at the same time, demonstrating the researcher’s perception of study criteria to preserve “objectivity”.
This study is highly complex as it views sexual orientation and gender-related ideas broadly as well as private and public life. This study, for the first time, conducted in-depth interviews with about 300 LGBTs- 60% male and 40% female – in the three metropolises of Tehran, Mashhad, and Isfahan. This research investigates the challenges from the current age changes in terms of gender relations and the quality of these interactions in Iran from a legal and religious perspective, thus, providing readers, universities and research centres, and public and social activists with systematic theoretical frameworks about LGBTQ people. The main objectives of this research are to understand the sentiments about LGBT people by critically analysing their perspectives and to examine the challenges these people experience when living in religious, class-based, traditional, and patriarchal societies which reject LGBTQ as an identity.

Keywords: LGBT, LGBTQ, religion, Iran, legal, homosexual, sexual orientation, gay, lesbian



Gender, sex, and sexual desire are constantly-changing and fluid concepts that define the very cornerstone of human relations. As a biological characteristic, sex is usually the first question a woman encounters when expecting a child. Put simply, gender refers to the physical or biological differences between the bodies of men, women, and transgender people, which include both the primary characteristics of sex (reproductive system) and its secondary characteristics (e.g., breasts and facial hair). Gender, however, is characterized by social forms that arise from gender classification and represent social or cultural differences created following a specific gender. Western and many other societies have always recognized only two sexes: male and female. As far as sex is concerned, most societies has a bipolar system with only two sexes, i.e., male or female. Sex (female or male) and gender (femininity or masculinity) are titles that often cause confusion and are used mistakenly.  Sex is a kind of biological classification. Beemyn and Rankin maintain that gender is not sex but relates to it. They regard gender to be a translation of biological realities of social expectations from “women” and “men”.

However, we now understand that one’s sex – characterized by his/her biology – is not always consistent with his/her gender. Thus, the terms “sex” and “gender” are not interchangeable. Accordingly, this “sacred affair” is distinguished from a blasphemous act by history, traditions, established norms, and the omnipresent power of religion. A blasphemous act is any sexual relation existing outside this recommended social norm (men relations with women). However, the classification of LGBT people undermines all these norms and the ‘bipolar system’ and “binary”.

Most gender scholars argue that the few references made to homosexuality in the  ‘sacred text’.

have given rise to modern homophobic prejudices. Sullivan and Vedarski (2002) maintain that “the Bible’s references to homosexuality underlie modern homophobia because most homosexuality and homosexual conduct opponents refer to the basic principle that the Bible considers homosexuality as sacrilegious and forbidden.

” This is usually one of the arena where the leaders of most major religions get united and consider this behaviour sexual perversion. For most of these religions, homosexuality is perceived to undermine the institution of marriage and, as a result, the institution of the family and society as a whole.

Klaasen, William, and Levitt (1989) posit that religious perceptions have culminated in fear of homosexuality or any other sexual orientation called deviant based on religious beliefs.

According to this belief, families with religious commitment are observed to have reacted harshly to LGBT-oriented children. This study investigates rejection, disinheritance, and compulsion to medical treatment to get LGBTs to be aligned with sexual orientation norms by drawing on some common experiences cited by respondents from religious families.

Homosexuality has a long history around the world. This phenomenon has always been a part of society in many cultures. Various social approaches have been pursued by scholars about homosexual relationships over time and in different places. Some of these perspectives embrace and expect men’s same-sex relations, while others consider homosexuality a great ‘sin’, calling for their repression through police and judicial measures. In other cases, in some religious societies, homosexuals are sentenced to death. The way different cultures approach this phenomenon depends on how they view it and how they work out their attitudes accommodate it.

In countries where people strictly abide by Christianity and Islamic measures, homosexuality is forbidden.

The term homosexual was first coined in 1869. Until then, homosexuality was not considered to be a distinct orientation. At that time, this sexual orientation which was just adopted began to emerge and was founded on the premise that one’s sexual attraction to his/her same-sex was an inherent characteristic that could not be removed from his/her personality.

Religious attitudes in the modern world are consistent with the communique of the Human Rights Commission which says, “To set international standards, it is required to make uniform governance policies to eradicate practices, even if advocates demonstrate that the practices enjoy religious backing.

Modern approaches to homosexuality are based on religious, legal, and medical aspects. It appears that before the Middle Ages, homosexuality was either ignored or tolerated by the Christian churches throughout Europe; however, by the second half of the twentieth century, hostilities towards homosexuals began to emerge, eventually extending to religious and secular institutions across Europe. Homosexuality and other sexual conduct considered to be “deviant” were condemned, which is continued to this day.

Considering religious limitations, it is no surprise to see homosexuality being viewed negatively in Muslim societies seems redundant. Religious opposition to this issue is found in the Islamic context, i.e., the Quran, Islamic law (the Sharia), and quotations citing the Prophet’s traditions (hadith) and Imams’ narrations, all turning a negative look at homosexuality.

Homosexual practice and rejecting homosexual people -LGBTQs- in most Islamic society is evident as it seeks to direct the thinking and conduct of millions of religious people. Religion constitutes the very “essence” of Muslim identity, and thus the Islamic approach to homosexuality is critical. This approach is more than religious guidance, and, in principle, forms the cornerstone of the political institutions; this is because religion, along with social tradition and custom – both influenced by religion – enjoys the moral authority to affect social views and conduct, particularly in marriage, family life, and education affairs. Islamic societies views on homosexuality are clear and categorical: homosexuality is heinous

Religious beliefs serve as a strong force and a determining factor to obstructing the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriages. Currently, Iranians view homosexuality as a sin and believe transgender is a ‘disease,’ a view which often overshadows the lives of Iranian LGBTs. The Qur’an does not explicitly refer to transgender people, while to our surprise, the Iranian Islamic system facilitates transgender sex change.

Since 1979, Iran has adopted Islamic law under Article 2 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran whereas the Iranian legal system draws upon the French civil law system. The political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran is made up of the Assembly of the Experts, the Supreme Leader of Iran (Valy-e-Faghih), the Executive Power (the government), the Legislature (Islamic parliament and the Guardian Council), and the Judiciary Power.

Iran’s Constitution considers homosexuality illegal. Criminal laws are founded on interpretations from Islam that prohibit homosexual acts. According to these laws, drawing upon Islamic codes, homosexuality is illegal and includes the punishment of one hundred lashes or death. In the meantime, punishment is more lenient if they ‘confess, not to mention other evidence, has a punishment of up to thirty-one to seventy lashes, while if they confess to having committed the act few times or proven shall be regarded as a criminal offense punished by either one hundred lashes or even death penalty.

However, some people may confess under torture, which is legally questioned, because Article 241 of the Islamic Penal Code states that “in the absence of legal evidence substantiating the incidence of the offense of unchaste act and the accused’s denial, it is forbidden to investigate and interrogate the latter to uncover the matters concealed from the public.”  The Iranian Islamic Penal Code was revised in 2012 and 2013; however, few changes were made to the homosexuality laws. These few changes only apply to the active party, (penetrator role/ active sodomite) who will receive the death penalty only if he has raped the victim or commit adultery. Another case scenario resulting in a death penalty for the action is when the perpetrator is a non-Muslim and the victim is a Muslim.

In case note 1 of Article 233 of this bill the death sentence for the former is envisaged. These laws along with the legislator’s reaffirmation in the new Islamic Penal Code bill comes at a time when Iranian officials have denied the existence of homosexuality in the country, with the death penalties executed under the title of sodomy-rape, a kind of rape; this is while Faraz Sanei, a Human Rights Watch researcher states: “Between 2005 and 2010, no one was sentenced to death solely on homosexuality’ grounds.”

The old Islamic Penal Code envisages that no one has ever felt that s/he could be a homosexual in his/her entire life, so gays and lesbians are perceived as having entered sinful sexual intercourse for ‘unknown reasons’. The old Islamic Penal Code perceived the homosexual to be a person in action, and in this connection, the important change made to the new Islamic Penal Code was the addition of an article stating: “Male homosexuality other than sodomy and intercorss sex including kissing and touching out of lust renders in ta’zir punishment (i.e., discretionary correction) commensurate to the offense and up to 74 lashes.”

In fact, according to the older version: “the active (male) will be subjected to the death penalty in all cases if he is not under the legal age”.  However, this limitation of “only” up to seventy-four lashes for underage people as set by the older version of the law has been removed by the new penal code.

Iran’s Islamic Penal Code provides the death penalty for such cases as a permanent warning, so that if a man plays a “passive” role (passive sodomite) in a homosexual relation, he may also face the death penalty. The “active” (active penetrator) will be sentenced to death under certain conditions; otherwise, he’ receives up to one hundred lashes. Thus, Iranian men who have sex with other men (MSM) or women with other women (WSW) may be sentenced to death or lashes.

In Iran, laws on homosexuality people differ from those on transgender ones. Historical discourses in this area indicate that there are religious discourses, with some of their followers seeking to consider their transgender identity in the form of an Islamic norm. In 1967, Imam Khomeini described Islamic jurisprudence as a guide based on historical experience. His book, Tahrir al-Wasila, was an important philosophical document initially aimed at his followers but later entered national policy-making when he became the supreme leader. This jurisprudence recognized the rights of transgender people to undergo a sex change. His leading jurisprudence suggests that “Al-Zahir or the first appearance renders the sex change not fully prohibited and it is recognised the right to undergo sex ” and, as stated previously, pressure pile up to do so.

The Iranian administrative system often stands tough on transgender people, and this is mainly seen at various government, social, and familial levels. This issue has been noted in many ethnographic studies, such as Afsaneh Najmabadi’s “The Pretending Selves: Transsexuality and Homosexuality Desire in Modern Iran published in 2013. This study shows how sexual and gender-based minorities in Iran have sought to take refuge in the Iranian administrative system out of “need” rather than of “rights”. This means that transgender people have taken advantage of the inconsistent Iranian administrative system to help promulgate several laws which not only make it possible to access medical sources but also help create a context for having a slightly tolerable life and the LGB community.

As Najmabadi (2013) found, sex and gender-based minorities in Iran collaborate with the Welfare Organization and other agencies of government to make the changes they need, rather than trying to change the law through, for example, the Islamic Parliament.

In 2010, the Social Harms Office, affiliated with the Welfare Organization, responded to the lobbying and strategic activism for transgender people, amending the reason for exemption from military service from a “mental disorder” to a “hormonal disorder”. The “hormonal disorder” inserted on their military service card as the reason for their exemption could reduce the discrimination against male transgender job seekers and and not to be called in for compulsory army service. “For medical and legal authorities, sex change is a treatment for morbid perversion, sometimes describing it as a religiously and legally confirmed option for heterosexuals with same-sex desire or similar behaviours,” Najmabadi (2013) elaborated.

Concerning the LGBT people, the legal system is irregular, harassing, and sometimes paradoxical, for it does not recognize homosexuality. The Judiciary does not recognize any concept of a sexual orientation other than the orientation for the opposite sex, and thus, legally, refutes homosexual or bisexual affairs, calling these people the ones who engage in homosexual behaviour. For many LGBTs, these laws and subsequent punishments could have adverse and ridiculous impacts on the private sexual behaviour of two consenting adult homosexuals.

In her second report on the human rights situation in Iran, from January 1 to June 30, UN Special rapporteur Esma Jahangir gathered data from several civil experts including the Abdul Rahman Boroumand Foundation to elaborate on the “grave human rights challenges in Iran”. In her report, Ms. Jahangir criticized the Iranian judiciary and condemned the growing number of executions for homosexuality, which Iran nominally sees as illegal. She reported on the tough conditions the LGBT people are struggling with in Iran.

Following the 1979 revolution, the Iranian judicial system substantially changed, part of which was due to the inclusion of the Sharia in the constitution. In Iran, the Islamic Sharia is influenced by religious governance, which greatly contributes to the legal process. As a result of this law, civil and criminal law changed, and family law, including marriage, divorce, custody, and many civil and female-related rights went through substantial changes.

Citing Najmabadi (2013), Taylor et al. stated: “The Islamic Republic of Iran, following Thailand has the highest number of sex-change procedures across the world”.

Following the Islamic Revolution, the penal code also changed. The Islamic parliament revised the new Islamic Penal Code in 2010, and in May 2013, the Guardian Council, which is more authoritative than the parliament, adopted the new law, officially called the Islamic Penal Code. The new Islamic Penal Code envisages a variety of punishments. Accordingly, so-called ‘Hudud’ punishments include punishments that pertain to “God’s legal right.” Here, the sentence is already clear and the court cannot make another ruling. In ta’zir punishments, the judge has a broader discretion.

After the Islamic Revolution, the new Islamic Penal Code, directly and indirectly, transformed the lives of LGBT people. In this context, Chapter 2 of Book 2 (Hudud), Section 2 (sodomy Hudud), Articles 108 to 241 explicate the provisions set for heterosexual relations in the legal system. According to these provisions, the LGBTs are not recognized nor endorsed, facing various types of punishments, some of which are already provided for in the articles set by the Islamic Penal Code. Some Islamic Penal Code clauses on the LGBT people are as follows:

Article 233- Sodomy is the penetration of male genitals the size of foreskin into another male’s anus. It is anal sexual intercourse.

Article 234- The Hudud punishment for the active sodomite, in cases of rape, or having a wife, is death, otherwise, one hundred lashes. The Hudud of sodomy for the passive (with a wife or not) is death in any case.

Note 1- If the active is a non-Muslim and the passive a Muslim, the hudud punishment is death for the doer.

Note 2- Hudud for the male with a wife is death as stated previously, as the man is mature and can have sex with the mature wife whenever he wants.

Article 235- Intercruralex, also known as coitus interfemoris, thigh sex, and interfemoral sex, is a type of non-penetrative sex where the penis is placed between the receiving partner’s thighs and friction is generated via thrusting. Intercrural occurs when genitals are laid between a male’s thighs or the hips.

Note: Penetration no more than peins foreskin/ hood.

Article 236- In intercrural sex, the hudud for the active and passive is one hundred lashes, not distinguishing between the male with or without a wife or rape or non-rape.

Note: If the active participant is a non-Muslim and the passive participant a Muslim, the Hudud punishment is the death penalty for the doer.

Article 237- Male homosexuality for non-sodomy and intercrural sex such as kissing and touching out of lust results in a sentence of seventy-four lashes of the sixth degree.

Note 1- This provision also holds for females.

Note 2- This provision does not include the cases legally subject to hudud.

Article 238 Lesbianism, also called sapphism or female homosexuality, is the tendency of a human female to be emotionally and usually sexually attracted to other females. It occurs when a female places her genitals on the genitals of her same-sex partner.

Article 239- Lesbianism hudud is one hundred lashes.

Article 240- The hudud for lesbianism does not differentiate between the active and the passive, Muslim and non-Muslim, with or without a husband, rape and non-rape.

Article 241- In the absence of legal evidence on the incidence of an unchaste act and the accused’s denial, any investigation into the affair is prohibited. Cases of perpetration with violence, reluctance, harassment, kidnapping, or deception are subjected to the rape case and are excluded from this provision.

The above point concluded that the new Islamic Penal Code criminalizes homosexual relationships and involves a set of punishments including a hundred lashes for consensual sexual intercourse between two women (Article 239) and the death penalty for consensual sexual penetration between two men (Article 234). Also, this code criminalizes other similar conducts such as touching and kissing between homosexuals, for which it calls for up to seventy-four lashes. Articles 232 and 233 of the Islamic Penal Code sentence the “passive” in consensual sexual intercourse between two men to death, while the “active”, as according to the laws, is only punished by a hundred lashes if he is a single Muslim. According to the Islamic Penal Code, non-Muslim married men who engage in consensual sexual intercourse are sentenced to death.

Interestingly, Chapter 4 of Book 2 of the Islamic Penal Code, which embraces all types of sexual offenses, remains completely silent about raping married men. Rape is a common offense unless sexual conduct has occurred outside of marriage. This is the rationale which states two conscious adult men engaged in sexual intercourse have committed an offense and may risked their lives.

According to the new Islamic Penal Code, engaging in homosexuality act and if proven the death penalty is probable, which helps understand why some LGBTs, cognizant of the laws, are living in a state of anxiety and fear.

Like other Abrahamic religions, Islamic laws such as the Qur’an and the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), religious narrations as well as fatwas by religious leaders prevail over sexual orientation, all confirming the man-woman sexual relationship.

In Islam, religious discourse about homosexuality concerns primarily sexual activity between men, with few hadiths (prophetic narrations) citing homosexual behaviour among women. Many lawyers disproportionately suggest that “there is no hudud punishment for lesbians, for this is not considered to be adultery as women lack male genitals and cannot do the penetration. Having said this, they are physically incapable of committing adultery; however, deserving the ta’zir punishment, because this act is sinful.”

Iranian history has provided few examples of punishment for lesbians; however, the author of Tabari History provides an example of the execution of two lesbian slave girls at the Al-Hadi shrine.

This is an example which shows the actions of the ruling caliph.

On the other hand, the some of the Abrahamic religions believe homosexuality is an unforgivable sin and oppose the union between homosexuals, culminating in piled-up pressure on lesbians, because their feelings, desires, and emotions are seen as unnatural and deviant.

The homophobic model introduced by Islam endorses normative heterosexuality, virtually ignoring lesbian people who are forced to conceal their identities while renouncing their sexual orientation. The way they live as Muslim lesbians causes an intersection at which religion and sexual desire collide; this is while Islamic religious homophobia distinguishes these two components, thus not permitting these women to explore and express their sexual desires. Many of them seek to adapt to these conditions by living a secret life. Even those who are members of the Muslim LGBT protection group (Faith Group) are grappling with myriad problems. Tough and biased religious approaches to homosexuality do not help religious beliefs and sexual orientation to be reconciled.

The Well of Loneliness by English author Radclyffe Hall, first published by Jonathan Cape in 1928, recounts the story of the tormenting life of Stephen Gordon, an English wealthy woman of the upper class whose homosexual desires were clear from an early age. This novel portrays lesbianism as a natural and God-given situation while making a specific demand: “Give us the right to life” This demand also holds of Muslim lesbians in Iran, are suffering from sexual violence, the demands for obedience to the patriarch order, women’s relative marginalization and accumulated pressure on a marriage. The influence of Islam, which greatly contributes to shaping the identity of individuals in daily life and personal development can be a source of limitation for Iranian lesbians, who are incapable of expressing their true identities.


Research Methods

This study is an overview of the Iranian LGBTs’ dynamics and uses fieldwork to further the investigations.

This study reveals some 400 personal narratives of biases and various forms of discrimination LGBTs have experienced. Unlike most studies in this area, the present study also examines the root causes of fear and repression of the LGBT community.

Hidden LGBT groups in Iran are clandestine, making it very difficult to identify, approach, and, consequently, gain their trust. One of the reasons for this mistrust is the lack of knowledge and about sexual orientation. Scant research has been carried out on Muslim homosexuality, The main reason is the problems and obstacles face study and research on taboo subjects. Also, as Murray (1997) states, there is a collective culture of renunciation of homosexuality in Muslim societies. Most importantly, this study sought to gather data on LGBTs in Iran in a systematic way.

Data were analysed using integrated methods commonly used in comprehensive and sensitive researches. The methods include qualitative, quantitative, grounded theory and snowball sampling. It should be noted that while these methods are presented here in a particular order, the processes have, in fact, been rare, even if they were sequential.

Using integrated methods has always been an adaptive way of data analysis, with the sampling and data collection having a continuous form, each depending on the other. Of course, this requires analysing every stage of the research process. After data were collected from the participants, which was performed throughout the interview process, they were immediately analysed. Strauss and Corbin (1998) have identified five objectives for coding processes: Stages of the grounded theory include:

  1. Developing a theory and testing it;
  2. Providing researchers with analytical tools to manage a volume of raw data;
  3. Helping analysts consider other meanings of a phenomenon;
  4. Systematic and creative coding, and
  5. Identifying, producing, and linking concepts constituting a theory.

Since data collection and analysis is primarily interpretive, this process includes certain steps.

The first step is open coding, in which data from the initial interviews are classified and involves subgroups, features, and dimensions (scope and differences in each category). Open coding includes labelling concepts, defining and developing categories based on their properties and dimensions. In this study, these features and their dimensions can be defined outside of data collection.

The second step is axial coding, which is based on a grounded theory and is the second step of coding that follows open coding. In contrast to open coding where we break the data into discrete parts, with axial coding you begin to draw connections between codes. With axial coding, we organize the codes developed in open coding.

With axial coding in qualitative research, we read over the codes and the underlying data to find how the codes can be grouped into categories. A category could be created based on an existing code, or a new, more abstract category can be developed that encompasses several different codes.

This follows the third step, which is selective coding and is the last in grounded theory, where all categories are connected around one core category. In doing so, we define one unified theory around the research. Selective coding occurs later on in the process and connects categories we have developed from the qualitative data in previous coding cycles, such as axial coding.

The core category developed in selective coding may come from elevating one of the categories from the axial coding stage or may be a new category that is derive based on the other categories. The core category ultimately represents the central thesis of the work.

While approaches to the LGBT community around the world have called for more tolerance, Iran is still one of the countries resisting changes in this regard. In some areas of Iran, homosexuality as a subject of discussion is thoroughly rejected, as no LGBT support groups are allowed to form and no initiatives are made accordingly. Religious foundations in Iran constitute a legal and political “meta-structure” defined by traditional Shiite jurisprudence. This ideological system seldom allows other voices to be heard and still maintains a tough religious stance on the matter.

As a traditional society, Iran emphasizes religion (and miracles) in behavioural norms and values ​​and encourages the establishment of deep-rooted links with the real or imaginary past. Religion has a key role in Iran. Most familial structures have been founded on religious teachings, focusing on the traditions of the Prophet of Islam (PBUH). The considerable impact of religion on people’s identities and lifestyles is still impressive today, as religious followers discriminate against the LGBT people. Religion is not simply a personal belief or rituial, rather it constitutes a public domain that covers the nation as a whole; thus, many belives that the more religious the family, the more pressure it piles up on the individual.

As stated, it is to be concluded that religion, the laws adopted by the country, and the traditional social context are all major factors affecting the restricted lives of homosexuals. This leads to unbalanced relations, mental disorders, and ultimately different lifestyles and identities. This identity includes some components that have been the subject of focus based on data collected during fieldwork. This newly formed identity follows certain behavioural strategies and procedures that will be elaborated on in detail in the strategic measures section.


I don’t do this to please God, I don’t say my prayers, nor read the Quran; I don’t fast either. I swear by God and have anal sex.

28-year-old homosexual girl from Tehran.

Considering the influence of religion on the religious city of Mashhad and the taboo nature of the subject of LGBT people, these two forces clarify the influence of religion on the identity and lifestyle of the individual.

Besides these contextual impacts on family and identity, religious beliefs are prevailing over the city of Mashhad more than other larger cities in Iran, which distinguishes the sexual minorities of this city from other cities. Religious teachings adopted by sexual minorities not only make them resistant to change their desires, but also they make them determined to conceal their identities. The stigma of homosexuality in Islamic societies can leave adverse impacts on the Muslims who consider themselves gay. In Iran, most people follow the basic Islamic concepts in their social life, and therefore sexual relations are considered credible as long as they do not contradict adopted social norms. Under such a system, homosexuality is not tolerated, let alone regarded as a recognized social norm.

Religion mounts more pressure on the Iranian LGBT community. As discussed in introduction, religious beliefs mainly contribute to progressive social reforms that derail the adoption of homosexuality. Iranian society attaches importance to the observance of customs wherein individual freedom of expression is curtailed. It also emphasizes preserving social “norms” as well as defined roles for men and women in a binary environment. Homosexuality, however, challenges this social order. For millions, blindly following a religion that tolerates homosexuality is an unforgivable sin. When sacred social norms within the context of law legitimised by Islam are endangered, religion becomes a modifying tool to organize and control social behaviours. For the family, homosexuality is similar to apostasy.

Religion creates mental disorder, which piles up pressure on individual, social and sexual decisions. Current discourses are differently interpreted as to whether being gay is accepted by Islam or not, and many seek to align their spirituality and sexual orientation. Those Muslim gays who conceptualize their sexual orientation as perversions or wrong acts are always struggling with their self-esteem. Consider, for example, the widely held perspective that maintains homosexuality is a sin. Islam strictly considers homosexuality to be deviant behaviour.

Many do not doubt that homophobia‎ is a deeply entrenched feeling in Iranian culture. The internalized sense of religion that that is the essence of the individual, the social and religious concepts of femininity and masculinity, and heterosexual relations as the only socially recognized relationship in the Islamic context. It causes the individual to judge his or her natural sentiments based on a mere condemnation of homosexuality and religious feeling. The stigma of homosexuality in Islamic societies will have deep effects on Muslims who consider themselves gay.

It is noticeable how religious beliefs deny homosexuality, it can cause some Muslim gays to develop internalized homophobia. For LGBTs, stigmatized by homophobic hatred, their inevitable internal struggles, changing only after years of exposure to sexual orientations, could lead to the renunciation of religion and disbelief in religious punishment.

People who identify as LGBTQ are always the subject of human interpretations, and these interpretations may change based on time, place, and social circumstances. In this connection, most respondents were found to advocate more ethical interpretations of religious texts that respected plurality, valuing the difference among God’s creatures, while at the same time resisting the prevailing interpretations of the Qur’an, to which thinkers’ resort when condemning homosexuality.

Muslims refer to the story of Lut in the Qur’an (like the story of Lot in the Bible) to argue that Islam condemns men who express love for other men. Many Muslim gays have different interpretations of this story, arguing that this story condemns violence, not specific sexual conduct. Seeking to reconcile their faith and sexual orientation, some Muslim LGBTs distinguish between “homosexual acts” and “homosexual identities” to suggest they were born ‘to conform a non-heterosexual divine plan. Thus, their homosexuality is said to be an expression of the divine will not a mere personal choice out of lust or evil desires. In the meantime, a number of Islamic scholars, mainly in the West, are beginning to re-examine Islamic teachings on same-sex relations, concluding that mere condemnation amounts to a wrong interpretation.

However, many of these people have limited choices, which include: Keep your beliefs and be what you are, because you cannot continue to “wear a mask” and deny your homosexual desires. If one is deprived of the family and relatives’ support and is rejected, while the religion is no longer relief for him/her, it is no surprise to see him/her losing his/her religious faith and relying on the support of secular institutions. Sometimes, however, religious belief may produce the opposite effect, namely, it may lead people to a more conservative ideology.  LGBTQ people, fearing negative family reactions, seek to comply with social norms and keep imitating the behaviour and dressing style of heterosexuals. This conservatism can lead to short-term illicit relationships.

The spirit of Islam is belives in empathy, tolerance, and understanding; however, the LGBT people do not enjoy a positive religious framework within the Islamic context. Recognizing or endorsing homosexuality could undermine the very foundations of Islam. However, the need for a religion that recognizes LGBTQ groups and accepts that they tend to be secular is not seen at this point in time. This has led many people to seek a new path towards spirituality and alternative ‘religious precepts in their lives rather than to follow the dominant religion of Islam. These concepts include ‘’humanism’, belief in human dignity as a truth religion or the orientation towards new wisdom that posits sexual fluidity. The present century can probably enjoy strong support of coexistence, tolerance, and participation that transcends superficial support and solidarity.

As the following narrative of an LGBT participant in this study shows, the road to recognition is a difficult one howver  in this century tolerance is the norm.

I recall when I used to go to the mosque with my parents; however, after all the problems, I had a defensive stance towards God at the first stage, because I was under pressure. God could create me as a homosexual; alternatively, I could live a normal life, marry and have a child. I could live at peace. I still have the same feelings. The problem we are faced with makes us ignore out habits and beliefs; however, this made us do away with many of my religious beliefs. I would like to die one day and ask God why.  I am having sex with some people. I am tired.

31-year-old lesbian from Mashhad

LGBT people are harassed and abused in Iran, they also face tough laws. They are vulnerable to domestic and social abuse and violence. There is inseparable relationship between religion and sexual norms in Iran on the one hand, and its legal system and rigid laws, on the other; accordingly, people who do not follow religious and sexual norms will be subjected to punishments. Legal punishments will be employed by the government, the judiciary, and non-government actors such as schools, communities, and families. Iranian laws do not protect this group against discrimination or harassment for their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTs are deprived of the legal right to have independent identities and be themselves.

According to the Iranian Islamic Penal Code- discussed in detail in Chapter 1 of the author’s previous books – there is an undeniable gap between criminal measures and executive realities. A recent study has shown that punishments for homosexuality (see Chapter 4), pederasty and lesbianism combine a set of corporal sentences such as lashes, sentenced to death or stoning if the conduct is repeated as the evidence against the accused suggests. At the same time, such sentences have not been executed for years, and the judiciary and police seem to tolerate the LGBTQ community, as long as they do not gather in large numbers and they remain invisible. When sexual minorities are asked about general laws and legal information about LGBTQ’s withen the Iranian law, many of them seem to be confused about the details of the laws which applied to them, though some respondents used words such as execution, stoning, and lashes lightly.

This study reveals that, while many of the participating sexual minorities felt they were controlled, there was a sense of disbelief about the punishments following a conviction, as no recent cases of execution or stoning had been reported recently, with many downplaying the possibility of such punishments. In the present fieldwork, the research team witnessed the occasional police threat. Police patrols disrupted the fieldwork several times and interrupted the interviews conducted in the parks, causing the interviewees to disperse to remain unknown. It should be noted, however, that the fieldwork varied in the cities of Tehran, Mashhad, and Isfahan, and differences existed even between different areas of a city.

In one interview, a gay person from Mashhad expressed his feelings as follows:

Sexual minority communities present current vulnerabilities based on their context and type. Gatherings for a birthday party or anniversary celebration in the presence of transgender people or those in special clothing are reactions by the police.  I have heard good things taking place in Mashhad, like LGBTs’ birth parties and celebrations; however, Mashhad is a major religious city and the situation there is awful; I don’t know why.

An interpretation of the interviews suggests that the anxieties of sexual minorities were not necessarily limited to government security forces and that revealing the potential sexual orientation to family, friends, and relatives was another concern.

To understand homosexual relations, the root causes of such desires must be investigated. Scientific discussion about the roots of homosexuality and investigation of sexual desires is a complex subject outside the scope of this research. There are two main theories about the causes of homosexual desires;


My mother tells me I actually wanted to be a boy as a child. Even strange to me. I told them to call me Farshad. I did not used to wear a shirt. Girls usually have a dream of the wedding and things like that, at that time I thought I could marry a girl. I loved my female friends. I fell in love with the girl next door. Later I fell in love with my uncle’s daughter. Because social norms tell you that heterosexuality is normal, I thought so. I thought it was the right thing to marry a man.

28-year-old bisexual from Tehran

A) Homosexuality is primarily affected by genetic and biological factors which are regarded as a congenital tendency. Simply put, people are born “gay” or “lesbian”, and

B) Homosexuality primarily results from psychological and environmental influences as well as early experiences.

To sum up, there are probably several factors that cause homosexuality. The first sexual encounter usually occurs during high school years, i.e., from 15 or 16, although it is also seen in some cases during primary school years. These relations lead to more serious sexual interactions.

My mother tells me I actually wanted to be a boy as a child. Even strange to me. I told them to call me Farshad. I did not used to wear a shirt. Girls usually have a dream of the wedding and things like that, at that time I thought I could marry a girl. I loved my female friends. I fell in love with the girl next door. Later I fell in love with my uncle’s daughter. Because social norms tell you that heterosexuality is normal, I thought so. I thought it was the right thing to marry a man.

28-year-old bisexual from Tehran
Adolescence involves considerable changes of various aspects of intellectual maturity, immense psycho-social development, and several physical developments resulting from neurological and hormonal processes, all of which are all intertwined, summarised as a process called ‘puberty’. Puberty is associated with heightened levels of sex hormones. During puberty, the body secretes hormones that cause the ovaries to produce the hormone oestrogen. The most characteristic physical changes during puberty result from the considerable impacts of hormones. Secondary signs of sexual changes (e.g., breast formation, testicular and penile growth, and genital hair), physical changes, and fertility are all signs of this process[1].


Quantitative results of the research

Considering the secret life of LGBTs and the understandable fear of their sexual identity being exposed, this research cannot claim that the sample population represents the general LGBT community. However, the data reveal realities that have overshadowed the Iranian LGBT community. This study uses field techniques and purposive interviews to estimate the number of homosexuals in Iran by concentrating on the three major cities of Tehran, Mashhad, and Isfahan, the results of which are presented in terms of their religious beliefs:

Figure 1 illustrates the prevalence of religious beliefs in the sample population in Tehran, Mashhad, and Isfahan. According to the figure, 14.28% of homosexuals in Tehran, 33.3% in Mashhad, and 20.7% in Isfahan have faith in religious concepts such as God and ritual ceremonies such as prayer and fasting. These data suggest that homosexuals in Mashhad have stronger religious beliefs because development and socialization under religious rituals in this city are much greater. Isfahan and Tehran tend to be more ‘modern’ with low religious beliefs. As stated earlier, many of the LGBTs have faith in religious matters just like other people in the region, some of whom are ‘reported that they have taken part in cultural and religious ceremonies, while others have attended religious rituals like Ashura.

I went through an ordeal during my academic years, which transformed my entire life. There was someone at the university and we were very much interested in each other. I expressed my interest in him and he apparently had no problem. However, he was a heterosexual. By the way, we were having a two-year relationship, one year and half of which was a bit terrible for me. I was quite relying on him. I abandoned everything. I lost my life. I had a studio where I used to sing songs. I abandoned it and quit composing poems, and then began to drink wine, because I had started a wrong relation.

31-year-old gay from Tehran

Picture1 2

Figure 1: Percentage of religious beliefs in the sample population

In Iran, the law, religion, and custom are the three forces that dictate how the individual should behave, and all three ‘foreces’ have opposed homosexuality. These three forces operate separately, collectively, and simultaneously. So, Iranian LGBTs cannot expose their identities like their counterparts in other countries. However, signs of ‘tolerance of homosexuality recognition are beginning to emerge. In other words, this very specific lifestyle is growing slowly as part of the larger society and the youthdemonstrates little more tolerance of homosexuality, more people feel confident enough to identity themselves as homosexual in places they feel protected.

In the pre-modern moral and legal system, sexual relationships were often seen as legitimate only as a means for reproduction with any sexual act not leading to reproduction being considered immoral. For example, masturbation and having anal sex with women, using contraceptives, and sex with non-religious people were considered religiously perverted and sinful.

Figure 2 illustrates the percentage of violence, discrimination, and humiliation against homosexuals in Tehran, Mashhad, and Isfahan. Accordingly, Isfahan (80%), Mashhad (66.6%), and Tehran (17.1%) accounted for the most violence and discrimination, respectively. Mashhad and Isfahan were found to be more traditional and religious compared to Tehran. Thus, there homosexuality is seen as a deviation and anomaly, and it is no surprise to see these two cities having a higher rate of violence against homosexuals.

Opponents of homosexuality view it as moral corruption or an ‘deviancy. Homophobia and stigmatization in these societies are major causes of violence and discrimination.


Picture2 1

Figure 2: Percentage of experience of violence and discrimination in the sample population

Research results in Muslim countries

Although homosexuality tends to enjoy more ‘respect’ or ‘legitimacy in many Western societies, it is still stigmatized and, to a large extent, Muslim countries prohibit it. ‘While Muslim countries to a large extent prohibit homosexuality, homosexaulity is largely tolerated in most Western socieities, although it is, at times, still stigmatized’ .

In the Middle East and the rest of muslim societies, approaches to the LGBT community have not changed, as they have around the world. The Middle East continues to resist changes the most. In many areas of the region, it is even forbidden to talk about homosexuality, making it very difficult for LGBT support groups to make changes. A review by the Pew Research Centre on global approaches to homosexuality found that, compared to 80% of Canadians and British, less than 5% of those surveyed in Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine, and Tunisia believed that the society should decriminalise homosexuality. Some of the Muslim countries which showing more flexibility towards homosexuals are Malaysia (9%), Turkey (9%), and Lebanon (18%), where Islam seems to have a weaker role in their political and social lives.

In Muslim societies, judicial and extra-judicial measures adopted against homosexuality sends a clear message to society that homosexuality is wrong, perverted, and illegal, and thus punishable. The Islamic Republic of Iran, under the Islamic Sharia, has a tough legal stance on homosexuality, adopting the death penalty and lashes as relevant punishment. According to the Iranian Islamic Penal Code, “When two men not having blood relations are found to be nude under a covering, both shall be punished by up to 99 lashes (discretionary punishment)” and “when two women not having blood relations are found to be nude under a covering, both shall be punished by less than 100 lashes (discretionary punishment)”.

Repeating the act also results in ta’zir punishment of third-degree offense of 100 lashes. However, “When one kisses the latter out of caprice, he shall receive up to 60 lashes”. In the meantime, homosexual relations without anal penetration could result in 100 lashes; whereas accordingly, anal penetration could result in the death penalty. Under the Islamic Penal Code, people shall receive punishment for homosexuality only when they confess four times, or four virtuous Muslim men testify they have seen the sexual relationship between them.

It is also clear that none of the Muslim countries provide social or legal environments to support the LGBT community. In the meantime, one would argue that a social support mechanism to address this is lacking, and the need for Islamic support organizations to support the psychological and social well-being of LGBT people is strongly felt. In recent years, ISIS’s public display of violence in Syria, which was also a hostile environment for people who identify as LGBT before their presence, has received the attention of the international community[8]. The situation for the Iraqi LGBTQ community sharply deteriorated following the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Islamic groups emerged out of this political turmoil to target and killing as many as 200 LGBTQs in 2012 alone. These groups are now working with the Iraqi government to fight ISIS.

Disregarding and despite the limited local efforts, no sign of change to the social or legal status of Egyptian LGBT people can be seen on the horizon. In Lebanon, the establishment of LGBT advocacy organizations is a major step in the fight for social and legal rights which has brought about changes in attitudes. This change is a product of socio-political factors that have helped create new orientations in Lebanon. Although ‘practicing homosexualty is prohibited in most Muslim countries, there are some exceptions, too, with a few Muslim-majority countries (such as Jordan) legalizing homosexuality; however, even in these countries, the LGBTs receive little legal protection and they fear more aggravated punishments.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, has a vibrant bisexual cultural tradition widely tolerated by the public. Homosexuality and gay sex are not illegal in Indonesia. as observed abovesurprisingly, transgender men and women are being recognized in many Islamic cultures around the world. The idea of ​​a man or woman who considers him/herself a member of the opposite sex is more acceptable than that of a man or woman who has a sexual desire for someone of his/ her sex.

However, hopes for more changes are diminishing, though some measures have been taken to facilitate the lives of transgender people in Iran and Egypt.

In 1988, sex change was declared acceptable by the thinkers of the Egyptian Al-Azhar University, the world’s oldest Islamic university, under Islamic law. In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini in 1964 gave a fatwa in the book Tahrir al-Wasila to decriminalise sex change, while the Shiite jurisprudence also determined criteria for the person’s new identity and religious duties, in addition to recognizing sex change.

The premise which explains this apparent disparity between the tolerance shown to transgender people and the intolerance of homosexual practices is that man is born transgender, whereas homosexuality is a choice. Homosexuality is thus believed to be a sin. However, many transgender Muslims are still suffering from physical and verbal violence and social and cultural rejection in their communities following sex change. Many of these victims of discrimination cannot escape to another country to remain anonymous.

Activism for LGBT people in Lebanon has led to the establishment of organizations such as Helem, a progressive LGBT group in the Arab world, which provides LGBTs with health and legal services. Its mission is to lead a non-violent struggle for the liberation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and other persons with non-conforming sexualities and/or gender identities (LGBTQIA+) in Lebanon and the MENA region from all sorts of violations of their individual and collective civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.

Helm is a well-established and influential entity in Lebanon that regularly hosts events on LGBT issues and even organizes street protests against violence directed at the LGBT community in Lebanon. However, while Beirut is more liberal compared to its neighbouring cities and countries, it is still less tolerant of LGBT issues compared to Western societies. Services provided by Helem have only supported a limited number of individuals, usually wealthier classes of the society while ignoring the marginalized and excluded.

For example, scholars such as Massad have argued that Helem is a foreign entity, and organizations backed by foreign money, such as OLGA and Helem, seek to create gay communities in Lebanon by promoting sexual identities as adopted in Western society. According to him, homosexual behaviour is a problem, thus giving rise to interventions to endorse these communities.

This issue has also attracted the attention of the Iraqi and Arab media. In Baghdad, for example, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite cleric, publicly endorsed a humane approach to LGBT people, stating they should not be treated with violence. Since clerics reserve a moral right to intervene in all matters, including all political and social matters, it should be noted that Iraqi religious figures are the most influential people guiding the public opinion in this regard.

Ayatollah Sadr’s statement became controversial, for it contradicted the position of other clerics and religious entities, like other Shiite thinkers in Iraq and Iran. Clerics in both countries have prohibited homosexuality in Islam ‘arguing it contradicted Islamic precepts; however, there is a difference as to how to approach it.

Most Iraqis condemn homosexuality, but they do not advocate violence against them. Iraqis and Lebanese laws have not specified punishments for homosexuality.

Iran is one of seven countries in the world that still executes people who commit homosexual acts. Iran also has the highest number of executions relative to population size compared to other countries. In absolute terms, only China has carried out more executions than Iran. In 2009, the Iranian judiciary executed 388 people, with the number of executions sharply rising from 2010 to 2014, totalling at least 3,242 in this period.

Despite its accession to human rights treaties, Iran executed eight adolescents in 2007, and from 2008 to 2009, it was the only country that was continuing to execute children in violation of its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2013 and 2014[13], at least eleven executions of children were carried out in Iran, which only included figures made public.

On August 6, 2014, two men, Abdullah Ghevami Chahzan Jiri and Salman Ghanbari Chahzan Jiri were hanged in southern Iran for alleged sodomy.

It is not clear whether they were executed for being gay or not, as there were conflicting reports of them. One source said they were gay, and another wrote that their “offense” was not clear; however, this source still rebuked them as “perverted offenders.” In 2011, three men were hanged in Iran after being convicted of homosexuality. These individuals, called only by their initials, were executed in southwestern Iran in the city of Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province. A judicial official told the public gathering that the three convicts were sentenced to death for unchaste acts against the Islamic law and “evil deeds.

” The Norwegian Human Rights Organization in Norway said that the men had committed “sodomy” (sexual penetration between two men).

In 2007, it was reported that twenty offenders had been executed in Tehran for various crimes, including rape and sodomy. No further details were available to the public.

In 2005, media outlets widely reported the execution of two teenage boys, Mahmoud Askari and Ayaz Marhouni. They were hanged in public for complicity in sodomy and rape, with their execution images widely shared on the Internet. The two were children at the time the crime took place, and one of them was said to be a child even at the time the sentence was enforced. It is still not clear whether the two were executed for being gay or not. The charges upon which they were executed are still unclear. Similarly, an adolescent boy of 13, named Moloudzadeh was executed for sodomy and raping three teenage boys. This is despite the fact that all the witnesses retracted their allegations, and Moloudzadeh retracted his confession.

The new Islamic Penal Code targets those whose sexual orientation is perceived to disrupt social norms, and this is an reason for the government to cleanse “offenders” from the earth. Laws on sodomy in many criminal codes are intertwined with heinous crimes such as rape, sexual assault, adultery, and child sexual abuse, confusing the public and causing anger. Child sexual abuse and rape are shameful and horrific offenses, but homosexuality is not so. However, as mentioned in previous chapters, homosexuality has always been associated with pederasty and sexual perversion, which is rejected by society and punished by law.

In 2010, Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation of homosexuals and other sexual minorities in Iran. The report said that because the courts investigating “moral cases” are not made public, it is difficult to determine how many people have been executed for homosexuality. Amnesty International estimates that some 5,000 people have been executed for homosexuality since 1979. Of course, this claim is difficult to substantiate due to a lack of official evidence.

The Committee on Cultural, Social, and Economic Rights, along with the Committee on Human Rights, has frequently called on all member states, including Iran, to abolish laws criminalizing homosexuality. Iran is a member of the ICESCR and ICCPR. The terms and obligations set out by these international instruments are clear. However, the Iranian judiciary has responded by using the current penal code to criminalize homosexuality.

The problems LGBTQs are facing in Iran are legal, and if their rights are violated, limited legal assistance will be provided to them. Also, the laws are against the rights of these people. Unfortunately, the laws are inherently discriminatory, biased, The law is inherently discriminatory, bigoted, and deeply in conflict with Iran’s vulnerable sections of society, in violation of Iran’s international obligations.

Some of the LGBT people and especily those with higher education and living in larger cities are aware of the stigma and prejudice against them, as well as the heavy punishment that awaits them if their sexual identity is exposed, and this portrays a bleak image of life for the LGBTs who live with discrimination and intolerance. A review of the situation of homosexuals and bisexuals in neighbouring countries can potentially provide a broader perspective on possible legal reforms and solutions to face social challenges in Iran. In Turkey, for example, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1858, and legal discrimination was restricted. One of the greatest achievements of the Turkish LGBT community, social activists, and NGOs was the LGBT parade in Istanbul, which saw Turkey become the first Muslim country to host such an event. Iranian LGBTs participated in some of these parades in Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Stockholm in 2015 and 2016.

Despite this promising public response, Turkish society still has a negative attitude toward LGBT people. A 2013 survey by the Pew Research Centre suggested that only 9% of people in Turkey were accepting of homosexuality in their society, with most Turkish people strongly opposing homosexuality. This opposition has also been seen in Russia and Lebanon. Homosexuality is not a crime, they stated, but 80% and 74% of people, respectively in both countries believed that society should not accept homosexuality. Despite legal reforms- which is undoubtedly a big step – social challenges remain an obstacle to overcoming the challenges that LGBT people face regularly.

Conclusion and future work

The social suppression LGBT people encounter varies from country to country and involves various levels of violence, discrimination, and stigmatization that reflect the prevailing local context. The Internet and social networks have also provided an environment for the exchange of positive information about LGBT identities. In the meantime, the Internet is a conducive environment for promoting legal protections of sexual minorities.

In countries where homosexuality stigmatization is high, the LGBTs find each other online. Although the Internet is usually a tool in the hands of more affluent individuals, it does serve as an important channel for the exchange of views and solidarity. The interactive nature of the Internet has brought about a space through which communities are formed and conversations unfold. Cyberspace provides opportunities for peoples’ socialization, support, movements, and information exchange techniques of survival. In Iran, although the government blocks websites it believes could undermine political, religious, or moral issues, many in Iran have access to filter-breaking software that helps them circumvent censorship.

In Iran, LGBT people are constantly exposed to harassment. There are rigid and tough laws set out against them, and they are vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and domestic and community violence. However, films, documentaries, music, and other forms of art have created a glimmer of hope in recent years, which may have helped Iranian LGBT people, giving rise to new attitudes. For example, in 2011, the Iranian film “Opposite Mirrors” portrayed the feasibility of religious people adopting a new attitude to sexual minorities. The film is the story of Edy, a young transgender man, who tries to escape from a family who wants to force him into a marriage to save the family’s face.

In this film, a traditional religious woman first shows disgust and dislike towards a transgender woman. Shortly after, she observes the suffering of the transgender woman because of her father’s violence, only to conclude that the imposition of such suffering on others represents “evil” in the religious sense. “Opposite Mirrors” does not claim to have found a solution to the problem, but it views these aspects of the society from a new angle to endorse the idea that “renouncing and abandoning these people is not the solution to the problem”.

Since its creation, ISIS has persecuted religious minorities, as well as women and individuals whose identities or lifestyles were not consistent with the group’s rigid and fanatical ideologies. Various levels of violence, extreme isolation, and deliberate social stigmatization are always destructive. In areas controlled by the Islamic State, militias have issued rulings against homosexual behaviour and flashy hairstyles, promising to execute anyone arrested on sodomy charges. In just one day, ISIS killed nine men and a 15-year-old boy in a Syrian city for being gay.

The ISIS’s show trials ruled that gay sex receives the death penalty and savage punishments. This is only one of the examples of ISIS’s abuse of social and religious prejudices against gay people, this trend continued until 2017.

It is this author’s hope that this research paper help researchers and activists to reflect more on ways that may contribute to improving LGBT lives in Iran. The main challenge facing the LGBT people in Iran is to eradicate the negative view held in society, which strongly advocates intolerance, discrimination, and legal prosecution. This negative view becomes more serious when Iranian laws and regulations renounce LGBT rights. In the meantime, NGOs’ social activists aim to raise awareness of this issue in the community. Awareness-raising about LGBT people in Iranian society as well as greater access to social networks provide a better public understanding of LGBT people.

Several issues should be addressed to deal with the situation of LGBT people. The challenges LGBT people face in life, problems defining and classifying the issues, and the words used to describe LGBT people must all be taken into account, because legitimizing minorities and addressing their particular concerns represents the first major step to improving their situation. Today, however, because of all the problems, even under the toughest conditions in the Middle East, LGBT people continue to come together underground. Over 31% of Iran’s 80 million people are between 15 and 29, and this very young population profile represents an opportunity for change, new political dynamism, and potentially a new attitude on gender. Promoting this generation-based perspective requires gathering, sharing, and formulating an educational paradigm on integrating LGBT people into all areas of life.

Progress in meeting the basic needs of the LGBTQ community in Iran will be expedited by the following: filling information gaps, exploring existing data and gathering accurate data, supporting research, testing new and innovative ideas, and planning based on accurate evaluations. When the results of such struggles are shared, the community working in this area can promote the successes and avoid repeating past mistakes; there is no doubt the entry of the NGOs into the field and their social support of the LGBTQ community can be fruitful.

However, society has strong considerations for the LGBTQ population and is generally at odds with non-LGBTQ people. Therefore, it seems that the governments in the Middle East in general and in Iranian particular are not willing or feel the need  to do anything. The pressure of denial and confrontation is exerted by the society, from some the civil society organizations and the family institution, which has caused the government not to bother and ignore the right of the LGBTQ community, and of course, there is a serious demand by LGBTQ groups in the absence of cohesive and official LGBTQ organizations and their rights in Iran.

Could give rise to measures to find solutions to the problem. The fact that individuals do not tolerate LGBT people is quite evident from movements across the Middle East, and under this situation, government institutions enjoy a secure and ‘stable position’ because they are in line with accepted opinion. Regardles, the current situation needs to change and LGBT and their citizenship rights should be recognized in all areas of society.


About the Author
A social anthropologist and scholar, Kameel Ahmady received the IKWR 2017 Truth Honour Award from London Law University and placed first in the literary category at the 2017 Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation ceremony hosted by George Washington University.

A dual British-Iranian national, Kameel Ahmady studied economic environment and publishing at the University of Communications in London, earned an M.A. in Social Anthropology from the University of Kent, and pursued additional courses on research methods and Middle East Studies at the London School of Economics and Birkbeck, University of London.

Kameel has worked mainly on international and social development, focusing on gender and minority issues. Published in English, Farsi, Turkish and Kurdish, his previous pioneering research has garnered international attention. In 2011, Etkin in Istanbul brought out Another Look at East and South-East Turkey, and his ground-breaking research, In the Name of Tradition: Female Genital Mutilation in Iran, appeared in 2015 with UnCUT/VOICES Press.

Nova Science Publisher added An Echo of Silence – a study of early child marriage (ECM) in Iran – to its programme in 2017, a work that Shiraze publishing made available in Farsi. In 2019, Childhood Plunder (about scavenging – i.e. waste picking – in Tehran) was printed by IRSPRC. In 2020, A House on Water, investigating temporary marriage in Iran, was brought out by Shiraze in Tehran and Mehri in London.

In the last few years, Kameel has focused on LGBT+ and ethnicity in such works as Forbidden Tale, a comprehensive study of LGBT+ individuals in Iran, printed in English and Farsi by Mehri. In 2020, The House with an Open Door, a comprehensive look at temporary marriage in Iran, was printed, and in 2021, From Border to Border: An analysis of Iranian identity and ethnicity, based on research with five major ethnic groups – Turkish (Azari), Kurdish, Baloch, Arab and Fars (Persian-speaking) – was also published by Mehri in Farsi and English. His new book on child labour, Traces of Exploitation in Childhood: A Comprehensive Research on Forms, Causes and Consequences of Child Labour in Iran was published in June 2021 by Avaye Buf publishing. His latest research on male circumcision (MGM) will appear shortly.



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