To this day, it is illegal to be gay in Iran. As recently as 2019, an Iranian man was hanged after being found guilty of having sexual relations with another man. Many LGBTQIA+ Iranians live in fear of their identities and the potential repercussions of living authentically. Activist and gay man Arsham Parsi refused to accept that fate, and he has made immense strides towards the advancement and safety of LGBTQIA+ Iranians.
Born in 1980 in Shiraz, Iran, Parsi came to terms with his sexual orientation at a young age. While forced to stay quiet about his identity in order to stay safe, Parsi quickly became involved in numerous underground civil justice operations. His work began in 1999, when he assisted a local doctor in researching HIV in gay and bisexual men in Shiraz. In 2001, Parsi joined covert efforts towards the advancement of queer civil rights, even organising the Voice Celebration chat group in 2003, where queer Iranians could mutually offer support and seek advice.
Local authorities became aware of Parsi’s activities in 2005. As a result of the Islamic legal code of Lavat, which calls for gay men to be sentenced to death, Parsi was forced to flee the country. He initially decided to register as a refugee and flee to Turkey, where he was brutally beaten and harassed by locals. In 2006, Parsi had the opportunity to relocate to Canada, where he has been living as a free man ever since.
In Canada, Parsi started the International Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR) to provide resources to refugees in Turkey and aid in their resettlement. Since 2008, IRQR has helped process over 1900 refugee claims and provided counseling and support to hundreds of refugees fleeing anti-LGBTQIA+ laws and social stigma in their home countries.
When asked about his dream for LGBTQIA+ people in Iran, Parsi said that “[his] dream is that one day we will have no discrimination, persecution and torture on the basis of sexual orientation and queer people can easily live in Iran or elsewhere”. Sculpt wants to help achieve that goal through increasing education about the unique struggles faced by LGBTQIA+ migrants with the Queer Migrants project. We also offer a training programme which aims to address the issue of training deficiency by building the capacity of professionals who work in the employment and social sectors to better support and fulfill the needs of LGBTQIA+ migrants.
For more information or to sign up, click here.
Written by Kayla Goodman-Weinbaum
Byrnes, H. (2019, June 14). 13 countries where being gay is legally punishable by death. USA TODAY. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/06/14/countries-where-being-gay-is-legally-punishable-by-death/39574685/
Eichenmüller, C. (2010). Iranian LGBT-Activist: “Sexual discrimination and homophobia doesn’t have any geographical boundaries” | Gunda-Werner-Institut. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Gunda Werner Institute. https://www.gwi-boell.de/en/navigation/ehrungen-4086.html
Our Mission. (2021). International Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR). https://irqr.net/our-mission/
Parsi, A. (2019). Arsham Parsi Foundation – Inspire and Empower LGBTs. https://arshamparsi.net/