Posts tagged ‘equality’

December 21, 2011

Arsham Parsi’s Speech at the World LGBTQ Youth Leadership Summit in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Via Sizedoesntmatter.com and IRQR

From his Bio page on his website

My name is Arsham Parsi. I am the founder and Executive Director of the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR), an international queer human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Toronto, Canada. The primary mission of IRQR is to aid and assist to the best of our abilities Iranian Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered refugees in countries all over the world, and who now face the threat of deportation back to Iran, in obtaining asylum status in safe countries. IRQR helps those refugees through their complicated asylum processes and provides funding for safe houses through donations wherever possible, as most of our queer refugee clients are in physical danger in their countries of transit as well.

Today, IRQR is the only active NGO that works on behalf of the global population of Iranian queers, i.e. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgendered Persons. We document human rights violations against Iranian LGBTs on the basis of sexual orientation; provide letters of support for Iranian queer asylum seekers and refugees; and vigorously support anti-homophobia and anti-persecution efforts in Iran. Our documentation is widely respected for its accuracy and credibility.

Arshad Parsi and his NGO are doing extraordinary work to help LGBT Iranians escape  to safe destinations. He also tells the tale of what it was like to confront his orientation in the overwhelmingly hostile environment in the land of this birth. Here is the text of his speech at the summit that took place in Tel Aviv from December 4-9, 2011.

I am very pleased to be in Jerusalem or in Farsi, Urshalim. Although I am not a nationalist, there is an historical story associated with Jerusalem for me as an Iranian. Around 540 BC Cyrus the Great claimed the city of Babylonia as his own, and in short order repatriated displaced peoples, restored temples and cult sanctuaries. Indeed his infamous “Cyrus cylinder” is thought by some to have been the first declaration of human rights. As one who has dedicated my life’s work to the cause of equal and human rights for my fellow man, I am humbled to visit this place where my ancestral countryman first envisioned a world of equality for all.

I believe is the issues we face today are as important or more so than what we dealt with a few thousand years ago, but for academic purposes I learned the history. Studying these stories at school raised significant questions for me that I am still struggling with. Who am I and what are my responsibilities towards other people? What should I do, not only for my wellbeing but also for others? What must my priorities be?

As you can see from your program, my name is Arsham Parsi; I am an Iranian queer activist. But what you might not know is that I have two birthdays. One is my date of birth, September 20th. I was born into a middle class family but as a full citizen of Iran. However, my rights and freedom were denied in my country of birth due to my sexual orientation. My second birthday is on May 10th, 2006 the day I arrived in Canada as an Iranian homosexual, finally complete with the right to freedom and ability to pursue my goals and dreams and ultimately contribute my efforts on behalf of my fellow Iranian queers.

I went through many difficulties and challenges in between my two birthdays but I think all of these obstacles helped me to become stronger and ready to face other challenges especially as an activist.

I lived most of my childhood and adolescent years in silence and fear. Like many gay men, I felt from a very young age that I was different from my peers. As a teenager I began to associate this sense of difference with my attraction to men. I had limited access to information about homosexuality but soon I realized that in order to survive I would have to hide my true feelings and conform to the social norms of my culture.

A friend of mine loaned me a book that had a short chapter about homosexuality, it was the first material I had ever read regarding homosexuality. It described the sin of sodomy and stated that it was punishable within major religions.

I tried to become a so called “good person”. I prayed and practiced a lot more than other religious people. I felt that I was the only person in the world with these feelings and God hated me. I placed many restrictions on my daily life in order to punish myself whenever I felt guilty or that I was a sinner. After a while, I started to challenge my God. Why did you create me like this if it is wrong since it is known by believers that God is a just God and never makes mistakes? I could not see any justice when some people are legal and free, while others are condemned to death or other punishments and discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender, nationality, political opinion, religion or any other personal attribute or belief

In Iran, homosexuality is illegal. Punishment for engaging in sexual behaviour with a person of the same sex includes imprisonment, flogging and execution. Socially, the stigma attached to homosexuality carries the consequences of isolation, forced heterosexual marriages and exclusion from one’s family. It means a life lived in fear.

As my circle of friends grew, however, I became increasingly concerned about the stories I was hearing. People forced into loveless marriages to preserve their family’s honour; gay men entrapped through the Internet or in person. When two of my friends committed suicide out of desperation, I felt I had no choice but to act. I started by tackling the social isolation felt by many queer Iranians and then began to challenge the culturally and legally sanctioned homophobia impacting their lives.

Relying on the relative anonymity of the Internet, I started Iran’s first underground queer organization, Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization or PGLO. Starting with the email addresses of my queer friends, I began to send positive information about homosexuality.

It started small. Mostly it was me sending encouraging emails and information to my friends and subscribers. As I learned more and I saw how important it was for these people to find a connection with others, I expanded my work. We developed a website and finally, with the help of a friend in Norway we registered the organization there. I started to give interviews with international media to share our stories. I tried to accept as many invitations to speak on behalf of those who were unable to as I could. I wanted others to know that we existed and that we were struggling. However with limited access to resources, I began my work through the Internet in order to reach all Iranians worldwide. I decided to create a new form of organization and activism online. Even with no funding and the risk of being caught, I was able to establish large network for my cause. I believe it is proven that we can accomplish many things without funding and with limited resources, sometimes with a much greater effect on people’s lives than through large, well-funded organizations.

The organization continued to expand, providing support and opportunities for connection for the Iranian queer community. My international media profile increased as I strove to educate those outside of the country about the Iranian situation. I understood the risk I was taking, but my fear was outweighed by the sense of responsibility I felt to my community.

It wasn’t long, however, before the risks became too great to ignore and my life and the future of my activities were in danger.

In 2004, Iran’s secret police raided a party attended by members of Shiraz’s queer community. Several of my friends were arrested, tortured and “outed” to shamed family members. Capitalizing on the detainees’ fear, officials collected additional information that led to a series of raids over the next several months. The police harassment and intimidation drove the community further into silence and isolation. I was able to learn from those arrested that I was a target and that my organization was a topic of many interrogations. As the days and weeks went by I could feel them getting closer. I knew that if I was to protect myself and my family I had no choice but to flee.

I was an asylum seeker in an unjust situation and poor conditions but my activism was the first priority for me. I remember my Iranian queer roommates and I struggled to eat a meal once a day but I never gave up and instead became more active in my cause. According to a psychologist, sometimes this level of activity can be a sign of displacement and depression. . I never felt that I was depressed but if that was the case, I used my depression to bring change to my community. I felt I was a survivor and as such I wanted to fight back.

My newly established organization was my companion during my long journey from Iran to Canada via Turkey. I did not have an academic degree or acquire abundant experiences. I was very young to take leadership of my organization and deal with serious life threatening issues. However, I had something that I felt would compensate for my lack of formal training and experience I had hope and I already decided to act. I knew that nothing could stop me and moreover, I knew myself. I knew I could do whatever I decided and I felt strong about it. So, I was able to meet the challenges that lay before me.

In Canada, with the help of a few supporters, we established the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees which is actively working on behalf of more than 480 Iranian refugee claimants living in limbo throughout the world as well as those who live in Iran. We created Neda Magazine. Neda means “Voice” in Persian and it is an online monthly magazine for Iranian queers. We also launched an online radio station with help of a number of Iranian queers called Raha, which means “Liberation”, where queer individuals have the opportunity to share their stories to others in order to raise awareness and also as a way to be heard. Our organization not only aids refugees but has expanded to help parents, families and friends of queer individuals through an Iran PFLAG project. Furthermore, we have recently launched the NIQHA project which provides information about HIV/AIDS and Sexual Transmitted Infections in the Persian language to raise awareness about different STIs and prevention methods. This work has been very important and it is what I feel I am meant to do with my life but our work is still not finished and we continue on our mission

We have been quite successful in helping Iranian queers who needed support. However, we have limited resources and are restricted to helping only Iranians. This does not stop me from thinking about other countries and communities. In the last few years IRQR has managed to provide support and help to three Afghans, two Palestinians and one Iraqi queer refugee who escaped their homes and sought asylum in Turkey through the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.

Speaking of the UNHCR, one of my challenges was to establish a professional relationship with international organizations as well as individual activists from all around the world in order to use their experiences and have their support. In the last eleven years, I learned that through dialog and communication with other allies or even those who are in disagreement, we can find solutions for common interests.

I was able to meet the prominent international officials including senators, ministers and members of various parliaments worldwide. It was stressful for me to speak publicly at the 2nd session of the United Nations Human Right Council in Geneva, or meet the UN Human Rights Commissioner, and others, but I knew that I had to do it regardless of any fears I had. I was there to learn and move the Iranian queer human rights cause forward.

Long story short, I learned that I could meet the challenges and have no fear of them. I believe that when we become united and work together, we can overcome all challenges and take the next steps.

Because of the choices I’ve made, I know that I can never return to Iran. Although I suffered many hardships there, it is still my beloved home country where I was born and raised. I would like to share this with you because I believe in your future of activism and leadership in the global queer cause, although you will certainly encounter dilemmas where you must make difficult decisions. Most times, decision making is not an easy task. You are responsible for your choices and you should be ready to respond to those with opposing views. But the best decision is made when you know the situation and the circumstances and choose what the least harmful decision to all is. And it is a big challenge.

I remind myself of the promise I made to myself eleven years ago when I decided to do something for my community just after the tragic incidents of my two friends’ suicides. I decided to speak on behalf of those who cannot, and where ever and whenever possible to break the silence. I left all my belongings in Iran including my family, my job, my school and everything I had ever known just to do what I felt I had to.

Speaking here today, I chose to continue my mission to support my Iranian queer fellows and to speak on their behalf.

I am here today to talk about peace, love and human rights. I want to speak on behalf of all groups who are unable to be here with us today. We all know that there are many things going on in this world that we do not agree with or are not happy about. Discrimination still remains around the world especially towards queer communities. We all know that homophobia exists in almost all countries, even in my new home Canada, known as a land of human rights. In many countries being a queer individual can lead to some sort of criminal punishment. But I am optimistic. I continue to believe that, we can start a new approach for our global queer family’s future toward diversity, respect, tolerance and freedom.

I would like to suggest a one minute of silence with the peace “V” sign to wish for a day of peace, freedom, equality and justice for all citizens of the globe regardless of their sexual orientation, nationality, religion, gender, political opinion and other differences.

– one minute silence –

I am looking forward to that day with you and tomorrow’s queer leaders.

Thank you so much.

Arsham Parsi

December 16, 2011

On the Road with the Human Rights Campaign

Nicely done video by the folks at the HRC.

 

December 12, 2011

I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus

So my favorite family in the  world Depfox  has uploaded another video.  Seriously, this is an indictment of all the traditional ideas of family. Two amazing guys and their amazing kids proceeding with their lives. Except – Prop 8 says they are 2nd class citizens.

I think not.

November 25, 2011

Watch “It’s time.” on YouTube

Via Randy Roberts Potts

November 22, 2011

Wonderful LGBT campaign from Argentina.

Thanks to Blabbeando as usual.

A year ago, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to grant same-sex couples full marriage rights. Before this year is over, the Argentinean congress might very well pass a groundbreaking transgender-rights law extending health care protections to transgender individuals and making it easier for trans folk to change their ID’s to better reflect their gender identity without requiring proof of gender reassignment surgery.

Getting to this point has certainly taken years of work by Argentinean LGBT organizations, activists, advocates and allies.  It has also inspired some pretty amazing television and online video ads.

Read the rest and see the series of videos  from Blabbeando here.

In case the  Argentine situation confuses anyone here is a link.

 

February 23, 2011

Ministerial conference on same sex marriage postponed.

The press conference on same sex marriage scheduled by Trinidad & Tobago’s Minister of Planning, Social & Economic Restructuring and Gender Affairs has been postponed as “further research” is needed.  Might have something to do with putting the cart before the horse as  T&T still has ( seldom enforced) anti-sodomy laws.

 

Release from the ministry today.

 

 

February 23, 2011

Trinidad Express – Where does government stand on equality?

 

The Trinidad Express, which has been providing daily coverage of LGBT issues in T&T for the past week,has now devoted an entire editorial to equality. It should be noted that of the three national dailies it is the only one that has taken this issue on board and made it a priority.

“For failure to admit sexual orientation as a ground of discrimination, T&T has been lagging behind the rest of the progressive world which has long been taking this development in stride. Some clarification is due on where this government stands: whether with the scripture-quoting homophobia identified with big names in reggae culture, or with the enlightened consensus holding that all human beings should be treated equally. The clarification is especially necessary in light of the fact that gay rights appeared to be immediately opposed by a Government Senator-Minister invoking, not only religion, but not even his own religion.

Read the rest here.

Interesting that the great majority of comments thus far are positive.

February 21, 2011

The Trinidad Express continues its coverage

The Trinidad Express is continuing its relentless coverage of  the call for national legislation to be amended so as to provide equal rights and protection for the LGBT community.  This comes on the heels of several other articles and a poll asking readers to vote on the issue.

“THE decriminalisation of homosexuality should have nothing to do with religion, says Dr Gabrielle Hosein, lecturer at the Institute for Gender and Developmental Studies at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine.

Hosein said while religious organisations are ready to hold their own positions based on religious texts, those religious positions should not be applied to persons who do not share those religious views.

“We are living in a multicultural society, so we need to live in a society where the views of different persons are not necessarily imposed on others,” Hosein said in a telephone interview on Thursday.

Her comments came one day after Colin Robinson, spokesman for the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), called on the Government to adopt a policy of equality for all, inclusive of those in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.

Read more here.

February 19, 2011

Interesting result from a disturbing question.

Latest poll results @7pm T&T time

There has been a lot of media discussion in Trinidad & Tobago over the last week on the matter of LGBT rights and even ( rather amazingly)  same-sex marriage. This is a result of  a debate in the senate on an unrelated matter (the Statutory Authorities Amendment Bill)  that took a surprising turn when some  senators brought up the subject saying the discussion could lead to same-sex marriage. Since the debate was specifically about people who are NOT married that was patently ridiculous but Government Senator and Minister of  Planning, Mary King took the matter and ran with it indicating that LGBT matters should be discussed in the future. Local LGBT groups, most notably CAISO, have leveraged the discussion through the media and  are getting a great deal of local and regional mileage.

Having interviewed both Minister King and Colin Robinson of CAISO in the last week I can report that the matter is definitely building up some momentum. The question is what will this momentum lead to?   The current government hinted on the campaign trail that the matter of  equality could be dealt with by a referendum – a suggestion so patently silly it is surprising anyone was misguided enough to bring it up. When human rights are involved it usually requires a government willing to ignore a fear of political fallout and do the moral thing.  No one in their right mind would suggest that a referendum be held to give Catholics or left handed people equal rights.

In any case, the Trinidad Express has noted the debate and is conducting a referendum of their own by posting a poll asking “Do you support calls for the government to grant equal rights to members of the gay community?”  This being the developing world  and part of the highly homophobic English Caribbean one would have expected a bloodbath. While members and friends of the LGBT community might certainly leverage the internet to add to the ‘yes’ votes – the same opportunity is available to those who think that all people should not have equality. Being a loud and  generally boisterous group it would have been likely that the anti-equality forces, buoyed by sheer numbers would have dominated the poll. Strangely, this has not been the case. The current result has been holding at 56% ‘yes’ to 46% ‘no .

There may be mitigating factors given that more educated people may be more likely to take the poll, or that large numbers of anti-equality folks may not have internet access or do not bother to read the online papers. There is also another possibility – maybe a large portion of the population actually really does feel that all citizens are entitled to protection under the law. Yes, it is depressing that so many people have voted ‘no’, but in the context of this part of the world it is still encouraging that they are in the minority.

Will anything come of the current discussion in terms of  changing the current legislation? The government would need balls to make such changes  and in this country no government so far has had anything even close  to that.

For background on Trinidad & Tobago’s current laws that omit protection based on sexual orientation have a gander at Lisa Allen-Agostini’s excellent blog post “About those gay rights” here.

Keep an eye on the poll here.

February 18, 2011

Touching and supportive It Gets Better contributions from Canada.

Canada is far more progressive than most nations on the planet in promoting inclusiveness. As a Canadian I have seen this firsthand and in many ways Canada serves as a beacon of hope to other parts of the world. But having constitutional guarantees of protection and  nationwide marriage equality doesn’t mean that abuses don’t happen.

To their credit many Canadians know that complacency is not a good thing and are reaching out to help young people feel better about themselves and to let them know that communities and powerful people do not think it is okay that they are being bullied for being different.

The beautiful city of London, Ontario has posted an excellent video reaching out to kids using various powerful voices.

And now Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party and judged by the Angus Reid poll as the best-ranked federal leader in Canada also speaks out on the issue.

Well done Canada! Don’t expect the uninspiring ersatz Prime Minister  Stephen Harper to post anything soon but if there is any justice he will not be around for long.

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