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Location: Kansas City, Missouri, United States

Doing my part to irritate Republicans, fundamentalists, bigots and other lower life forms.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Iran's anti-gay crackdown: Canada rides to the rescue

Several months ago while in a gay online chatroom I received a private message from someone who identified himself as a gay man from Iran. We talked for a while and he told me about his life in that Islamic state.

He told me how, when he wanted to talk to other gay men around the world, he would have to take his laptop computer (a possession that marked him as a member of Iran's upper class) to a cafe and sit with his back against the wall so no one could see what he was typing, even if it was unlikely other customers spoke English. He talked about the difficulty of meeting other gay men in Iran and how you never knew if the handsome man you were considering inviting home with you would be someone who would denounce you to Muslim authorities. He talked of acquaintances who had "disappeared" for weeks on end, only to return one day battered and bruised from brutal "interrogations." And we spoke about his desire to one day come to the West - to England or France or the U.S. - where he could live his life openly, out of the reach of Muslim laws and police who enforced the laws like ruthless gangs.

I told him about gay life in America. Even with the setbacks and the opposition from the religious reich, he thought America sounded like a paradise. To be able to gather in a club with other gay men without fearing a raid followed by imprisonment is only a dream to him. To be able to kiss a man he loves in public without the act being followed by a rain of sharp stones from outraged countrymen was almost beyond his comprehension.

We talked several times in the chatroom. For me it was a window into an alien culture, but a culture in which Western ideas of gay identity and culture was beginning to take hold. Our conversations were an intellectual exercise for me. But for him they were a lifeline of hope that somewhere out there people like him lived freely and openly ... although I didn't understand that at the time.

Gradually I began to distance myself from my Iranian acquaintance. It began when I would become irked at his way of demanding my full attention. He'd become impatient if I was talking to another friend in the chatroom and failed to answer his messages in a manner as timely as he'd like. I attributed his irritation with his upper-class status and rebelled against his demands for immediate attention by making him wait even longer for a reply. Finally, after one particularly tense exchange, I took the ultimate step in distancing myself from him and put him on "ignore" so his messages would no longer come through. The only thing worse than a pushy foreigner is a pushy foreigner who thinks his class and money will impress me, I told myself.

I haven't seen him back in the chatroom since then. Lately, though, I have been thinking about my Iranian chat friend. Earlier this summer came reports out of Iran that two teenagers were hanged for being gay. In his blog DIRELAND, activist Doug Ireland published an interview with a gay torture victim who survived a brutal beating.

While those stories generated a ripple through America's LBGT population and produced sympathetic "oh, that's just terrible!" clucking, it wasn't long before our attention was back to focusing on Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoing the California gay marriage bill and Connecticut getting ready for civil unions and Catholic Church preparing to search their seminaries for (gasp!) homosexuals. Activism and outrage, like charity, it seems, begin at home for American LGBTs.

Even The New Republic, in it's current issue, raised an eyebrow over American gays wearing blinders when it came to their Isalmic brethran. In an article titled How America's gay rights establishment is failing Iranian gays it writes:

When it comes to the oppression of gays and lesbians in Muslim countries, gay activism hasn't died; it never really existed. Gay activists have used two types of excuses to justify their failure to aggressively mobilize for the rights of gay Muslims--moral and strategic. The moral argument is that Americans are in no position to criticize Iranians on human rights--that it would be wrong to campaign too loudly against Iranian abuses when the United States has so many problems of its own. Then, there are two strategic rationales: that it is better to work behind the scenes to bring about change in Iran; and that gay rights groups should conserve their resources for domestic battles.

The strategic rationales are not especially compelling, but it is the moral argument that is particularly troubling, because it suggests that some gay and lesbian leaders feel more allegiance to the relativism of the contemporary left than they do to the universality of their own cause. Activists are more than willing to condemn the homophobic leaders of the Christian right for campaigning against gay marriage; but they are wary of condemning Islamist regimes that execute citizens for being gay. Something has gone terribly awry.

My first reaction to the article was outrage. Not outrage at the Iranian government for its actions, but at The New Republic for suggesting that my activism is tainted by Ameri-centric prejudice. Sure, I condemn the religious right in this country for its bigotry ... not because I despise America's version of the Taliban more than the Islamic version, but because it's in my country. And you bet I'm loathe to lecture another country about human rights when the abuse of Muslim prisoners at the hands of American captors in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo make American protests more than a bit disingenuous.

Now, riding to the rescue like a Mountie, comes Canada. Canada's Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew announced that his country will introduce a resolution at the UN condemning Iran's record on human rights. According to DIRELAND:

Canada's decision to introduce this new UN resolution condemning Iran's deplorable human rights records gives the global gay community the perfect opportunity to capture world attention for the unfolding, lethal anti-gay pogrom in Iran. It's about time that U.S. gay groups -- who have done almost nothing to protest the widespread, snowballing "moral crusade" of newly-elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government against gay people -- finally end their silence and mobilize in support of Canada's UN resolution by specifically denouncing the enormous gay tragedy taking place in Iran today. If you're a member of or contributor to HRC, the NGLTF, or IGLRC, now is the time to let the leaders of these groups know that you expect a full-throated, activist campaign by them to protest and mobilize against the campaign of arrests, Internet entrapment, beatings, torture and hangings on trumped-up charges of gays, lesbians, and the transgendered by the Ahmadinejad regime. And that campaign must include expressing outrage at the regime's continued execution of minors, as well as of its treatment of women. ...

Misogyny and homophobia are the twin evils of religious primitivism, and the struggle against both is inextricably linked. All the more reason for gay groups here in the U.S. and in the West in general to link arms with the women's movement to jointly mobilize against Iran's sexual apartheid. And Canada has just provided the perfect opportunity to do so.

I wholeheartedly agree and I encourage others to take up the challenge of pushing our national organizations to speak out and endorse Canada's U.N. resolution.

It's easy to speak out when abuses happen in our own backyard to people who share our culture, our values, and our way of seeing the world. But we must be willing to look beyond the blinders of our borders and be willing to extend our hands to others as well.