Last edited: April 02, 2005

Returning Home Would Mean Death, Says Iranian Student

Gay People’s Chronicle, February 28, 2003
P.O. Box 5426, Cleveland, Ohio 44101
Fax 216-631-1052, Email

By Eric Resnick

YOUNGSTOWN—A gay Iranian student is seeking asylum in the United States to avoid near certain death in his homeland.

[Name Withheld], 21, came to the United States as a student just over a year ago, and like many gay students from oppressive countries, discovered freedom to be himself. But once his studies end, [he] could be returned by the U.S. to his native Iran, where authorities or his own family would likely kill him.

[He] began studying information technology at Youngstown State University this fall. His visa allows him to stay in the U.S. as long as he is a full-time student and gets good grades.

[He] said he knew he was gay while living in Tehran.

His family began to suspect it, too. When he was 14, his brother, eight years older, beat him badly enough to break a finger, bruise ribs, and an eye because he did not return the affection of a girl with a crush on him. [He] said he has also been raped because he was suspected of being gay.

“I was always in the closet in my country,” [he said]. “I hated myself for being gay, and I couldn’t change it. I just wanted to die or kill myself.”

[He] said he was always depressed in Iran, and attempted to kill himself. He even pretended to be straight by talking to girls in front of his parents.

But he did not come to the U.S. to be gay.

“I came to be a student at Youngstown State. They accepted me,” [he] said.

Once he got to the university, [he] made friends and soon felt comfortable enough to come out.

[He] works for the university as a part-time student assistant in the College of Performing Arts, and he is currently the secretary of the school’s LGBT Alliance. He has a boyfriend, also Iranian, with permanent U.S. residency living in Los Angeles. The two are planning a commitment ceremony in Las Vegas over spring break.

“At first, I was afraid people would not like me because I’m from Iran,” said [he]. Now, his new friends are worried, and brought his situation to the attention of the Gay People’s Chronicle.

[He] said that coming out as a gay man in the U.S. was not difficult once he felt accepted as an Iranian, and his new friends have become protective of him, encouraging him to seek asylum.

[He] hired Chicago immigration attorney William Schiller and will file his petition for asylum next week.

Once the petition is filed, the Immigration and Naturalization Service will schedule an interview in Chicago within 45 days. [He] and Schiller will explain why he can’t return to Iran, and the INS will either grant the asylum or say they intend to deny it.

If granted, [he] could get permanent residency within a year. If the INS intends to deny asylum, [he] and Schiller would then have to make the case that the asylum officer came to the wrong conclusions.

[He] is also aware that any media attention on his case puts his life at greater risk if the INS denies his claims.

Currently, there is no specific designation for asylum in the U.S. based on sexual orientation. But it can be granted for membership in a “particular social group,” persecuted in the home country. In the 1990s, this was interpreted to include sexual orientation.

A 1990 Department of Justice decision in the Matter of Toboso-Alfonso granted asylum to a gay Cuban who demonstrated that his being gay was a criminal offense there.

During her tenure as attorney general, Janet Reno issued opinions supporting inclusion of sexual orientation in the “particular social group.”

In the landmark 1997 Pitcherskaia v. INS case, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court overturned an 1995 INS decision saying Alla Pitcherskaia “failed to demonstrate well-founded fear of persecution” for being a lesbian in her native Russia.

The court was appalled that the INS claimed that the Russian government had “good intentions” when it used torture and electric shock to “force a lesbian to become heterosexual.”

Still, according to Schiller, only about 30 percent of those who apply for asylum protection based on sexual orientation are granted it.

“This is a terrified individual,” said Schiller of [him]. “But the U.S. asylum laws are there to protect him and we will work hard to file the strongest possible petition documenting what his situation would be in Iran.”

According to [him], his family would not wait for the government to execute him. “They would kill me first.”

The Iranian embassy in The Hague wrote in 1987 that “homosexuality in Iran, treated according to the Islamic law, is a sin in the eyes of God and a crime for society. In Islam generally homosexuality is among the worst possible sins you can imagine.”

Male sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari’a judge to decide. Lesbianism is punishable by 100 lashes for the first three offenses, and death for the fourth.

“If you are lucky, they give you the right to choose how you are to die,” [he said].

Methods include stoning, being thrown from a cliff, and cutting one to pieces with a sword and burning the remains.

[He] described the situation in Iran as a witch hunt. “The police are always looking for homosexuals,” he said.

He said he doesn’t want to think about the possibility of losing the case.

“Thinking about it is thinking about being killed,” [he] said, “and I don’t want to get killed.”

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