An official report issued by Iran’s parliamentary research department has uncovered a surprising fact: 17% of young adults surveyed said that they are gay. In this conservative and deeply religious Islamic country, the unspoken rule for years has been that you can do whatever you want to do as long as it is behind closed doors. It is dangerous for Iranians to be openly gay, as being gay is legally punishable with imprisonment and in some cases execution.
In his 2007 visit to New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in fact denied there being any gay people in his country. Speaking at Columbia University, in response to a student’s question about the recent execution of two gay men, the president said “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country….In Iran we do not have this phenomenon.”
The results of the parliament’s research say otherwise. A staggering 17% of young adults reported being gay or lesbian. Compare this to findings in the US: the most recent report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that around 2% of adults identified as gay or lesbian. Estimates of the LGBT youth population in past years have put this number at 3 to 6% of US adolescents, including those who identify as bisexual or transgender. For 17% of Iranian youth to report being gay or lesbian is mind-boggling.
There are signs that Iran is making progress -earlier this year one of Iran’s most famous pop stars, Googoosh,featured a lesbian couple in her music video for “Behesht” (Heaven), which carries the message of freedom to love for all. And transgender people have not found the same obstacles as LGB people in terms of living freely. Health insurance companies must cover the full cost of transition-related procedures, and the Huffington Post reported that Iran performs more gender reassignment surgeries than any country in the world except for Thailand. Young gay and lesbian Iranians teamed up in 2012 to put together a video for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in which they spoke about their experiences living openly in their country:
However, as for the new survey results, religious rulers and members of parliament are unwilling to talk about it, according to The Economist. Neither is Iran’s media, instead playing it safe by ignoring the report for fear of being shut down. Being openly gay continues to be illegal in the country.