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Risking Lives to Fight for Trans Rights in Iran

LGBTQ Flag and Iran Flag on Concrete

With Iran in the news so much these days after thousands of pages of proof surfaced that the rogue nation has broken its terms of agreement with President Obama for a nuclear deal, other issues about the country have come to public attention.

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Mehdi Fattahi and Nasser Karimi recently published “Transgender People in Iran Face Discrimination despite Fatwa” about trans people living in Iran.

“…(Iran) Perhaps to the surprise of those abroad—has perhaps the most open mindset in the Middle East toward transgender people. The Shiite theocracy’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a religious decree, or fatwa, 30 years ago calling for respect of transgender people, opening the way for official support for gender transition surgery.”

It’s a surprise indeed, considering the story is mainly about how much discrimination and hardship transgenders face in a country where gay teenagers are hanged in the public square for the entertainment of crowds, where Jews and Bahai and other religious minorities are persecuted, where women are stoned to death for adultery, and where state officials constantly refer to free nations as “Satan.”

The writers tell the story of a transgender heroine, Maryam Khatoonpour Molkara, who sought out Khomeini while dressed as a male. Molkara explained that her gender was different from her physical sex. Khomeini then sanctioned sex-reassignment surgery and officially recognized Molkara as a woman.

This speaks volumes about the bravery of this incredible Iranian woman, and readers can acknowledge the courage of nineteen-year-old Nahal, as well, who shares her current hardships living trans. The article does state how this “open-minded”government position isn’t demonstrative in general of Iran’s benevolence—the state position is that gays don’t exist, for example, even though they are often put to death up until this day.

The story mentions the true motivation behind this ruling, but glosses over the reality of it… this isn’t remarkable state leadership on a controversial issue under Sharia religious law, but rather, in its perverse understanding, a punishment meted out to homosexuals.

Iran considers surgical feminization a cure for gay men, who must become women if they want to survive the capital punishment that comes with being gay. Although Iran carries out more trans surgeries than any nation other than Thailand, its official understanding of transgender as a punishment for being gay, or as a corrective or cure, is reprehensible.

A Safra Project report noted that trans people could not choose whether to undergo surgery or not—surgical treatment is mandatory, or else the individual is subject to laws on homosexuality, which are lashing and death.

That said, there are of course some folks in government policy, religious authority, and education who use the cover of the laws to promote the humanity of trans people. Trans women receive birth certificates acknowledging them as women. All who risk their reputation or their lives to promote transgender rights deserve our recognition and applause.

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