It is challenging for all asylum seekers to demonstrate that they are at risk of persecution but the challenges are even more daunting for individuals who identified as transgender applicants. Transgender fall within two main categories of gender identity: ‘normative’, where one’s biological sex and felt gender are in alignment, and ‘transgender’, where one’s felt gender differs from one’s biological sex. Transgender identity challenges the binary conception of sexuality. In the culture of homophobia there is an irrational fear of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Similar to homophobia,
transphobia is prevalent in many parts of the globe, even in countries where it is legal to be transgender.
Transgender identity often excludes people from the protections of citizenship in their country of origin, and puts them at risk for forced sterilisation, castration, corrective rape, domestic violence, forced sex work, institutionalised violence and even execution. In Europe, many countries require people to be sterilised before they can legally change gender. One of the biggest challenges lies in the public and authorities’ lack of awareness that gender is different from biological sex. ‘Transitioning’ is the outward process of publicly assuming one’s felt gender through clothing, behaviour, hormone use or surgery. In Indonesia, the national government recognises a transgender person only after s/he has undergone gender alignment surgery but people in the earlier stages of transition, or those with no desire for surgery, are unprotected. Many transgender people live in chronic fear of discovery.
Even after reaching a receiving host country, transgender asylum seekers continue to be at risk. Research has identified transgender people as “particularly vulnerable to physical, sexual and emotional abuse within asylum detention centres and community-based single sex shared accommodation” and therefore “at a high risk of self-harm or suicide” during the asylum process.
Although the international LGBT community is slowly gaining worldwide legal and social recognition, in the Middle East, the situation for the LGBT community remains stagnant and dismal.
Across the Middle East, the LGBT community face varying degrees of repression, due to laws explicitly directed against them and social stigma enveloped in disgust, disdain and hatred. However, Tel Aviv has frequently been referred to as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world, famous for its annual Pride Parade and gay beach.
Nevertheless, with the exception of Israel,most Middle Eastern countries openly condemn the LGBT community. Consequently, the LGBT community in the Middle East exists covertly and subversively with many members of the community living in chronic and sustained fear of being discovered. Barring a few exceptions, the outlook for LGBT individuals in the Middle East is bleak, or even outright deadly. LGBT individuals often face major struggles in their quotidian lives and many of their struggles are social in origin, such as being bullied in school, disowned, raped, beaten by family members or feeling compelled to run away from home, a phenomenon seen in most parts of the world, including the United States. These abuses are often not reported to authorities due to the threat of additional violence from the officials themselves.
The narrative of “LGBT rights” itself is used as a tool of oppression. Hate crimes against queer communities are very much a part of their existence. Even the nominally inclusive term ‘LGBT’ that represents lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sexualities, is restrictive. In the Middle East this term is viewed as a Western ideology, reflecting a history constructed in the West, loaded with struggles, accomplishments, experiences, and identities unique to Western societies, and not necessarily applicable to Iranian society. For these reasons, even this ‘progressive’ terminology can be alienating, as it fails to describe the struggles of sexual orientation and gender identity in Iran.
In Yemen, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, (in some southern regions), Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Iran homosexuality may be punishable by death.
In Algeria, Bangladesh, Chad, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia and Syria, homosexuality is illegal.
Many Islamic societies prohibit homosexuality and in many of these countries it is sanctioned by death. In Islamic societies, both judicial and extra-judicial measures taken against homosexuality communicate a clear message that homosexuality is wrong, immoral, illegal and thus punishable. In Islamic countries, LGBT individuals
lack legal protection and face widespread social stigma in the countries that are heavily influenced by conservative and religious values. Lesbian Gays and Bisexual in Iran identity is negated by the law itself.
For example, there have been a number of reliable reports of extra judicial persecution, assault, and murder of gay men in Iraq.The Penal Code of Iran is based on strict Sharia law that reserve some of the harshest penalties for those convicted of same-sex sexual conduct. For example, under Article 124, a man found guilty of kissing another man “with lascivious intent” is punishable “by up to 60 lashes of the whip. Under Article 123, the Penal Code further stipulates that “if two men, unrelated to one another, lie, without necessity, naked under the same cover, they will each be punished by up to 99 lashes of the whip.
Research published by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) serves as a stark reminder of just how widespread such criminalisation can be. In a total of 74 countries, same-sex sexual contact is a criminal offence. In 13 countries, being gay or bisexual is punishable by death. These are: Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar, UAE, parts of Nigeria, parts of Somalia, parts of Syria and parts of Iraq. In 17 countries, bans are in place to prohibit ‘propaganda’ interpreted as promoting LGBT communities or identities. These are; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lithuania and Russia. In 17 countries, bans are in place to prohibit ‘propaganda’ interpreted as promoting LGBT communities or identities. These are: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lithuania and Russia. 40 countries retain a ‘gay panic’ clause which enables people to use as a defence for committing crimes such as an assault or a murder that they were provoked because the person was gay, lesbian or bisexual.
None of the Islamic countries can be said to offer social or legal environments that are supportive of LGBT, at least not at the present time.
Same-sex relationships have historically existed and continue to persist even in today’s toxic environment, though silenced and under-recognized. The lives of LGBT Iranians are readily hidden, sheltered, or censored from public appearances. It is almost as if they do not exist.
There is a lack of social community support mechanisms in place or enough affirmative Islamic organizations for LGBT individuals that can provide the social and psychological comfort so desperately needed. Whilst the public display of ISIS, LGBTs’ persecutions have attracted international attention over the past years, as in Syria. The situation was already precarious for LGBT individuals long before ISIS took control. Indeed, the situation began to rapidly deteriorate for Iraq’s LGBT community after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Islamist groups emerged from this political chaos and began targeting gay people, killing an estimated 200 LGBT people in 2012 alone.
Today, these same groups have partnered with the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS, giving them the freedom to continue their persecution of LGBT individuals.
Read more: Migration and Gender for Iranian LGBT