I’m A Queer Iranian Refugee In America, And This Is Why I Don’t Feel Safe Here, Either

On Feb 7, 2017 Bustle reported: My name is Mia* and I’m a refugee living in the U.S. But before I tell my story, let me quickly explain to you that, OK, my name is not really “Mia.” That’s my pen name. You’re about to find out why I have one.

I came here in December 2013, after fleeing my home country of Iran. It was in Ankara, Turkey that I was first granted “refugee status” by the UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency). This is because I met at least one of five “grounds for persecution” standards in Iran — “membership in a particular social group” — my “social group” being “homosexuals.” I’m a lesbian.

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.

Again, these corporal punishments are the “written law” in Iran — but I’ve seen and heard about what Iranian authorities really do to gay people there. Women have been stoned to death for being lesbians. Gay men are often hanged.

When I finally fled five years ago — at the age of 25 — my family didn’t know about my sexual orientation. To this day, my father still has no idea. I hope he never finds out.
My family had always been incredibly strict with me — I couldn’t go out with friends as a child (I’d never even been to a birthday party until I got to the U.S.); I could only study when I was at home, even on the weekends; I wasn’t allowed to be out after dark once I grew a little older; and by no means was I ever permitted to be alone with a boy. I was totally trapped. On top of all that, I came to realize I was gay. When I finally fled to Turkey five years ago — at the age of 25 — my family didn’t know about my sexual orientation. To this day, my father still has no idea. I hope he never finds out.

For a year after I went away, my mother was the only one in my family who would speak with me on the phone, because I left — my father wouldn’t, nor would my brother; not even one of my many cousins. No one. But my mom felt guilty for having always been so strict with me. We cried on the phone together a lot. She still didn’t know I was a lesbian, though.

I did tell the UNHCR in Ankara I was a lesbian. That’s what helped me attain “refugee status” there — explaining how I would undoubtedly be persecuted back home in Iran for my sexual orientation, from both the government and from my family. I told the agency that my father, being the strict and old-fashioned Iranian that he was, could potentially kill me if he found out. It would by no means be an unprecedented reaction back home.

So the agency decided that I would go to Philadelphia to live, and that I would fly into New York City first. I was happy to be granted “refugee status,” but I knew very little about America at the time. I didn’t really care where the UNHCR placed me, so long as it was away from Iran and far from my family, who I could not be a out lesbian with. To a lot of Iranians, America is either one of two concepts: an enemy of our country (as a schoolgirl, I proclaimed “Death to America!” every morning like children here recite the “Pledge of Allegiance”) — or it’s some dream-like nation filled with constant opportunities for fame and wealth. I didn’t believe in either one of those ideas. I just wanted to get away.

Read more at I’m A Queer Iranian Refugee In America, And This Is Why I Don’t Feel Safe Here, Either

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