July 7, 2021 | Iran International

The US Must Punish Iran’s Regime For Its Lethal Homophobia

July 7, 2021 | Iran International

The US Must Punish Iran’s Regime For Its Lethal Homophobia

As LGBTQ Pride Month concludes in the free and democratic world, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s totalitarian regime continues to violently oppress and eliminate sexual minorities.

The existence of the Iranian regime’s death penalty targeting gays and lesbians should prompt democracies to impose economic and human rights sanctions on the clerical regime for its failure to decriminalize homosexuality. The Biden administration can take the lead.

Writing last month on the website of the National Union for Democracy in Iran, the attorney Ally Bolour said: “As a gay Iranian American, I implore my fellow queer and progressive community not to compartmentalize human rights based on fictional distinctions of borders and national origin.  There is nothing ‘woke’ about justifying persecution based on culture.  Please join me in demanding that our respective governments seek justice and dignity for our community in Iran, because the LGBT community is not free anywhere until we are free everywhere.”

America’s former ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, was the first U.S. official to launch a global campaign to decriminalize same-sex relations in 2019 after the Islamic Republic of Iran executed a man based on its anti-gay law.

Yet Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s recent tweet underscored the disconnect between US rhetoric on human rights and the reality on the ground for the LGBTQ community: “I was honored to speak today as the progress flag was raised over @StateDept headquarters for the first time-demonstrating to people everywhere that the United States is committed to fighting for LGBTQI+ rights at home and abroad. #PrideMonth2021.”

Regrettably, Sherman’s tweet represents the kind of empty foreign policy virtue signaling that fails to influence any change in the behavior of Iran’s regime—arguably the world’s worst state-sponsor of lethal homophobia and LGBTQ persecution.

To Biden’s credit, he appointed on Friday Jessica Stern as the State Department’s special envoy for LGBTQ rights. The White House said the special envoy’s role will be to “play a vital role in leading the implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQ+ Persons Around the World.”

One place to start is the Islamic Republic of Iran. In May, three men murdered 20-year-old Alireza “Ali” Fazeli-Monfared in the Iranian city of Ahvaz, allegedly because they learned the military had exempted him from service due to “moral and sexual depravities such as transsexualism.” Family members were involved in the killing. The Islamic Republic of Iran has executed between 4,000 and 6,000 gays and lesbians since the nation’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, according to a 2008 British WikiLeaks cable.

In January 2019, I brought to the attention of the English-speaking world the Iranian regime’s public hanging of a man based on its anti-gay law. In a response to a gay German reporter’s question in Tehran in June of the same year about why the clerical regime proscribes the death penalty for gays, its so-called moderate Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defended the policy.

“Our society has moral principles, and according to these principles we live,” Zarif said, adding, “These are moral principles regarding the behavior of people in general. And that’s because the law is upheld and you abide by laws.”

Sadly, when Zarif appears for Western media interviews, journalists (with the exception of the German BILD reporter in 2019) never asks him about his support for the execution of gays. Zarif, after all, is a self-described “human rights professor.” Surely, an interviewer can pose a question along these lines to him: “How can you be a professor of human rights when your policy is to wipe out the human rights of gays by execution?”

While the US does not have an embassy in Iran, America could have requested that the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests in the Islamic Republic, hoist the Pride flag. Regrettably, Switzerland’s President Guy Parmelin delivered a congratulatory message to the Iranian regime’s new President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner  cleric accused of mass murder.

In addition, the US could have used its diplomatic muscle to get other Western embassies in Tehran to raise the Pride flag in Tehran.

Another example of the West delivering a free pass to a country that codifies the death penalty for gays is Qatar’s monarchy, which has supported Tehran’s rulers over the years, including the Iranian regime’s chief proxy, Hezbollah. The International Federation of Association Football awarded the tiny oil-rich Gulf country the right to host the prestigious 2022 FIFA World Cup without any human rights strings attached.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in March 2021 that, “President Biden has committed to putting human rights back at the center of American foreign policy, and that’s a commitment that I and the entire Department of State take very seriously.”

Sadly, that commitment remains an empty pledge as far as Iran’s LGBTQ community is concerned, because the Biden administration has not taken the battle to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nothing short of economic and human rights sanctions targeting Iran’s regime, which oppresses and obliterates its LGBTQ community, can send a signal that the US. is in the business of protecting LGBTQ persons.

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International. 

Benjamin Weinthal is a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthalFDD is a nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues.


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