Updated 4 June 2019.
We have never been to Iran and in all honesty know very little about it. Speaking to friends, they would say the same.
Iran is ruled under Sharia Law which to say the least is very anti LGBT and as a gay couple, this often deters us from visiting a country like Iran. Safety comes first after all and news stories like this one (regarding a man being hung) are not to be taken lightly.
As such, we were very intrigued when speaking with one of our followers on Instagram, Pouya and his boyfriend Sobhan, who are a gay couple living in Iran.
With such little information out there about the day to day life of a gay Iranian we wanted to ask some questions to learn more about gay Iran, give these guys a platform and share their responses with you.
If anything, perhaps someone reading this from Iran or a similar country may take comfort in this interview and know they have people in their country that support them!
Anyway, over to Sobhan and Pouya to learn about being gay in Iran:
Hi guys, thank you so much for speaking with us! Please introduce yourself to our readers!
Pouya: Hi Sion, Ben and everyone reading this!
We are so glad to know you both and wish to see you one day here in Iran or somewhere else.
My name is Pouya, I am 30 years old and M.S. at Energy Engineering. I am working at an energy management company and still live at my parent’s home.
Me and Sobhan have been in a relationship for 1.5 years and we are planning to live together soon.
Sobhan: My name is Sobhan and I am 21 years old. I am studying IT and work as a web designer.
Thank you! First things first, can you tell us about the stereotypical view of a local from Iran towards someone who is an LGBT local and to an LGBT tourist – is there a difference?
Pouya: As you know, Iran is an Islamic country and the people have ‘traditional’ thinking about the LGBT community.
However, for the younger generation the situation is better.
My parents know that I am gay. I came out to them 8 years ago. They accepted me and I can act freely with no fear at home.
I have some close straight friends and they also know that I am gay. However, at work, university or other public places, I am more cautious.
Generally Iranians are hospitable especially towards foreigners. It’s better that homosexual behaviors are not shown in public places, even from foreigners. But a gay couple can travel, go to their hotels or wherever they want whilst appearing as friends and no one will disturb them.
Sobhan: generally you should not expect the same treatment you may get from European or American people but it is worth noting Persians are so kind to you as a tourists.
How does this view vary from region to region? (and age groups?)
Pouya: In metropolises like Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz and also Mashhad it is easier for homosexual people.
However, in small cities and towns we have more problems. People are more ‘traditional’ and also religious.
However for gay people that are stereotypically ‘straight’ in appearance and manner, there are less problems as no one notices them. In short, a gay person or couple in Iran will not have a problem until they are publicly showing that they are gay.
Sobhan: it depends on many factors. But I think that you won’t feel anything negative as a tourist.
Have you seen this view change over time – for better or for worse?
Pouya: Yes, in past 10 years the view towards LGBT people is changing a lot.
It is not acceptable from the governments standpoint, but the negative view in society has declined.
Here we know lots of gay couples that live together. We participate in many private gay get togethers at each others houses. This is also true for transsexual people and on a smaller scale the lesbian community.
I think social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have played an important role in this regard.
Sobhan: Yes, with each changing generation our situation is improving!
Nowadays the younger generations, who will eventually be running our society, are kinder to LGBT people. Sometimes we have problems with people that born and grow up in traditional families because they still think like the older generation and can be verbally abusive, but it’s ok and we try to avoid them!
With all of these problems if you act ‘straight’ everything is ok!
Its a shame you have to feel the need to act ‘straight’ but we do appreciate the need to protect yourself. We understand that the laws regarding LGBT people are not good and can include the death penalty? Is there anything you can see happening in the future to change this or is it not spoken about?
Pouya: Yes we have death penalty for gays in Iran as an Islamic rule.
Whenever the religious government is in power they would not even think about changing the laws. But it’s important to note that this rule is mostly not enforced and it’s just on papers.
For example, here military service is forced for boys but you can become exempt if the doctors recognize that you are gay!
Sobhan: To actually be sentenced to death there are some very specific conditions which means that in 99% of cases the authorities will not perform death sentence.
Sometimes you can use ‘homosexuality points’, as Pouya said.
That is still fundamentally a scary thing to have in law whether its enforced or not. Perhaps like you say, there is hope in the new generations to come.
So tell us, what do locals do in terms of a ‘gay scene’ at all, how do they connect? Even if its secretive?
Pouya: Here we don’t have any public places for gay gatherings like cafés, gay bars or clubs etc in Iran. However lots of parties will be at peoples homes. The gay community will find each others from social media or apps like Hornet and Grindr and gain access to these private parties.
Sobhan: as an Islamic country we have no clubs even for straights but many parties are held at homes or personal gardens.
What advice would you give an LGBT traveller coming to Iran? (what to do and what not to do)
Pouya: at first I advise gay travelers to connect with Iranian gay guys. It will help them to learn about Iranians and their cultural and religious believes before they travel.
After that it’s better to appear ‘straight’ and avoid makeup in public places. Don’t discuss LGBT topics with religious people.
Sobhan: as Pouya said, find some friends before your travel and don’t act like a gay couple, pretend that you are two close friends.
It is a shame to have to act differently but from what you have described, we are not too surprised. As we will always come back to, right or wrong, you have to be safe. Is there anything else you wish to add?
Pouya: it’s my pleasure to meet you or other gay couples here and I am sure traveling to Iran is not as dangerous as it seems.
Here we have kind people, ancient places, beaches, forests, deserts and mountains. Stay in touch with us and hope to see you soon.
Sobhan: If you travel here one day, it’s our pleasure to be your host with the best wishes.
Thank you so much to Pouya and Sobhan for sharing their story. We found it incredibly insightful, surprising and hope that it helps anyone else living in countries like Iran.
You can follow and connect with Sobhan and Pouya on Instagram @sobhan.sh98 and @pouya.mrz.
As ever, its always worth remembering that Iran is a huge country and this is one couples personal experience – Iran can be dangerous for LGBTQ+ people. Please always do your own further research and make sure that you travel safely.
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