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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Iran's Gay Underground Railroad

Posted by on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 8:19 AM

Sepehr Rajaei and Ata Leysi fell in love and wanted to build a life together. But they're Iranian and homosexual acts are punishable by death in Islamic Republic of Iran. So the couple fled Iran for Turkey:

The two men tried to make the arrangement work, concealing their increasingly intertwined private lives behind a thick screen of fabrications—Rajaei, for instance, told his parents he was in Tehran to study and work. But after four years, Leysi snapped from the burden of hiding and self-censoring at the risk of becoming a social pariah or a target for police. “We can’t live like this,” Leysi said. “We have to get out of the country.” They both knew they’d have a good shot of escaping along a well-traveled “underground railroad” leading to freedom in the West....

Though Rajaei and Leysi never suffered the arrests, beatings and blackmail that plagued others they had known, they didn’t want to test their luck. After consulting with Arsham Parsi, the founder of IRQR, they finalized arrangements to leave. Leysi left first, taking a riskier route because he didn’t have a passport. (In Iran, those who do not complete mandatory military service or receive an exemption card cannot apply for a passport.) Instead of flying, he paid a smuggler $1,000 to bring him to the mountainous border where he slipped under a barbed wire fence into Turkey.

The couple reunited in Turkey, where together they applied for asylum in Canada and the United States. Gay life in Turkey is better than gay life in Iran, the men say, but it's no paradise either:

Periodically, however, homophobic harassment reminds them that they’re still in a conservative country and not entirely safe just yet. They say they were followed on a recent Saturday night by a group of drunk Turkish men who they believe were targeting them because they were gay. “It’s the exact opposite of Iran,” says their roommate Yasser, who fled to Turkey after a harrowing arrest. “There, it was the state that bothered us, not the people. And here, the state leaves us alone, but the people are harassing us.”

Rajaei and Leysi made it out of Iran together and they've managed to stick together in Turkey despite the pressures and the deprivations they've experienced. But it looks like the asylum process may accomplish something the authorities in Iran and drunk thugs in Turkey weren't able to: it may split the them up. Go read the whole thing. (Via Queerty.)


Comments (4) RSS

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Pope Peabrain 1
This really is a case of what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Their story is touching and harrowing. I didn't know people can't leave Iran. I suppose if they could, there would be serious brain drain.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on March 12, 2014 at 9:34 AM · Report this
I know this is a serious story, but I find myself wondering about how a gay railroad would be appointed.
Posted by butterw on March 12, 2014 at 10:00 AM · Report this
brandon 3
Could we take up a collection to pay for them to get over here at least on temporary visitor visas?

And start one of those We The People petitions to grant them both asylum?

I know they are just two of many, but it would be something.
Posted by brandon on March 12, 2014 at 10:53 AM · Report this
butterw: I do hope you meant organized, not decorated.

how did the slaves in the US get to free states and Canada in the 19thc.? how did Jews, Gypsies, and Queers get out of Europe in WWII? nobody appoints anything, it's word of mouth and all fraught with peril, struggle and heartbreak.

if you meant the latter, then kindly keep your flippant 'observations' to yourself.
Posted by buster on March 13, 2014 at 9:31 AM · Report this

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