Confessions Of A Lesbian Refugee From Iran

Iran FlagOn Nov 11, 2016 The Huffington Post reported: Jannat says her life was in danger.

If the authorities in Iran were to have found out she’s a lesbian, she could’ve been killed.

Meanwhile, her father kept pressing her to get married. Every day it was, “Jannat, you’re so beautiful with your long, dark hair and fair skin. Why don’t you marry this man?” or “Jannat, how about your brother’s friend?”

She couldn’t take it. She was 25, done with her BA in Statistics from Shiraz University, done with the rigor of trying not to be gay, with the seemingly interminable cycle of dating and sleeping with men, cringing at their breath on her neck, their hands traveling blandly up the inside of her thighs, their too-eager dicks.

She had to leave.

So Jannat moved to Turkey.

Ankara, to be precise — where the culture was a bit more tolerant insofar as her gender was concerned; she wasn’t required to wear a hijab in public; she could drink if she wanted; she could flirt openly.

But she was still afraid.

“Oh, there were gay people in Ankara. It’s more progressive.” Jannat says. “But it’s not hard to be more progressive than Iran.”

Still, she explains, she didn’t feel entirely safe. It was too close to Iran, to the threat of her family, the potentiality of corporal punishment or imprisonment for her sexuality — or worse.

Plus, there was political unrest everywhere; the city was perpetually on the brink of collapsing into violent civic unrest. It was 2012 — two years before President Erdoğan was elected, a man notorious for his intolerance of dissent in any manifestation.

“So I had to leave that country too,” Jannat says. “And I had to go far.”

She set about making an appointment to apply for “refugee status” in a new foreign country at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ankara. The authorities there were happy to assist her, so long as she could prove to them she was in danger.

“That was simple,” Jannat says. “I just showed them that I was born in Iran and explained that I could never return because I am a lesbian and my father might kill me.”


Jannat was placed on a waitlist and told to standby in Ankara.

Eventually, her “refugee status” (which — for a primer on the fly — is different from “asylum status,” which would have simply given Jannat permission to stay in Turkey temporarily) was granted because she met at least one of five “grounds for persecution” standards in her home country of Iran:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • “Membership in a particular social group”
  • Political affiliation

It’s not terribly difficult to guess which of the criterium above Jannat fell under.

Ilona Bray, J.D., author of U.S. Immigration Made Easy, writes regularly for on the five “persecution standards.” On the “membership in a particular social group” category in particular she writes:

“[It] is the most difficult of the five to define, and is the subject of many legal arguments. A social group is sometimes said to mean an identifiable group of people whose government views it as a threat. Or it is described as a group sharing a common characteristic that is so fundamental to their individual identities that the members cannot—or should not be expected to—change it. The group must be recognized within society as a distinct entity.”

Bray goes on to provide examples of these aforementioned “particular social groups”:

  • Ethnic tribes or factions
  • Social classes (such as what Bray refers to as “the educated elite”)
  • Family members of political/religious dissidents
  • Occupational groups
  • Homosexuals
  • Members or former members of the police or military (who may be targeted for assassination)

“And, in some cases,” Bray writes, “women.”

As in, sometimes, women are granted “refugee status” to other countries just… for being women.

As far as Jannat was concerned, though her gender was indeed a problem (for her) in Iran — again she was required to wear a hijab at all times in public, she could not go out alone or with a man, though she was allowed to go to university (in fact, 60 percent of women attending higher education Iranian institutions are women these days) — her sexual orientation was the major concern.

“But you can’t trust what those Iranian laws claim,” Jannat warns. “Women have been stoned to death for being lesbians. Gay men are always being hanged.”

Not only is lesbianism intensely stigmatized in Iran, but all homosexual acts are considered illegal under Sharia law. The punishment for lesbian sexual acts, which are called “Musaheqeh,” are as follows according to the Islamic Republic of Iran:

Article 239 – The hadd punishment for musaheqeh shall be one hundred lashes.

Article 240 – Regarding the hadd punishment for musaheqeh, there is no difference between the active or passive parties or between Muslims and non-Muslims, or between a person that meets the conditions for ihsan and a person who does not, and also whether or not [the offender] has resorted to coercion.

Jannat’s decision to move as far away as possible from the threat of such retribution was finally realized when she was granted “refugee status” to America in April, 2013.

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