In February 1979, the Persian Empire came to an end. After 2,500 years of a continuous monarchy, Iran became an Islamic Republic governed by Sharia Law – making homosexuality a crime subject to the imprisonment, corporal punishment, and execution.
At its core the issue is intercourse. Any activity outside heterosexual marriage is viewed as a violation of religious law. Interestingly, transgender people are considered heterosexual and will not be persecuted if they complete gender confirmation surgery, which may be partially funded by the state. As a result, Iran ranks as second in the world, following Thailand, for gender realignment surgeries. Many gay men have been pressured by their families to become transgender – or are forced to flee the country in order to save themselves.
Many come to Denizli, an industrial city in southwest Turkey that acts as a transit zone, allowing Iranian refugees to live in a state of purgatory while they wait patiently for a visa to live in yet another country. Since the U.S. travel ban was implemented and Canada stopped accepting Iranian refugees, their circumstances are becoming increasingly dire and difficult. While homosexuality is legal in Turkey, homophobia remains an issue that all LGBTQI people must face. Although free from the Kafkaesque struggles of their native land, the Iranians must remain anonymous in order to protect themselves
“In the beginning, I was trying to find people who would agree to show their face. I quickly understood that the reality of the situation wouldn’t allow me to do that” – Laurence Rasti