Powerful Human Rights Story About Two Iranian Gay Men Struggling for Acceptance Launches Today

For Immediate Release

Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150strimel@outrightinternational.org

(New York) – Starting Thursday, August 12, on Facebook [ http://www.facebook.com/yousef.farhad.story ], the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) launches the first episode of a commissioned graphic novel, Yousef and Farhad, a story about the struggles for acceptance by two fictional gay men in Iran. This weekly publication will be the start of the digital campaign: #LoveForAll. The campaign kickoff on Facebook includes weekly episodes in both English and Farsi with additional posts about the real life struggles of LGBTIQ people in Iran and across the world.

The novel was created in partnership with the Algerian-American political cartoonist Khalil Bendib, and the award-winning Iranian-American author Amir Soltani, creator of the best-selling graphic novel, “Zahra’s Paradise.”

The full 20-page novel will be available to download at www.outrightinternational.org at a date to be announced in the fall. The novel will include introductions by Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi; the Iranian-Norweigan singer and TV star Tooji; and Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Iran, each offering their perspective on the human rights concerns at the core of the project.

[ Advanced review copies of the novel are available, journalists should contact strimel@iglhrc.org ]

The story of Yousef and Farhad will be familiar to anyone aware of the injustice and suffering experienced by lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Iran as they try to assert their basic right to love or are exposed in a same-sex relationship. Too often, they are rejected and ostracized by family or worse, arrested and subject to criminal penalties by the government, based on their sexual orientation.

The two characters in the story, cast out and ostracized by their families and community, struggle to find support and acceptance.

“For too long, the lives of Iranian lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have been kept in the dark. Our goal is to hold up a mirror to Iranian society that shows the persecution of a homosexual couple and suggests a new response,” said Hossein Alizadeh, IGLHRC’s program coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa. “By reaching Iranians in the human and familiar setting of family, our ultimate hope is to encourage greater acceptance as the starting place for a change in attitudes in the wider society.”

Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi offered her praise for the novel, describing it as a step toward achieving “honesty and truth,” when it comes to the lived experience of LGBT people in Iran.

She writes: “Even under the best circumstances, LGBT individuals are advised to conceal their emotions and live a hypocritical life by marrying someone of the opposite sex to deceive society. What people don’t realize are the horrible consequences that result when LGBT people are forced to live such a double-life. We must teach ourselves that others are and can be different and they have the right to be who they are. This graphic novel is an effort to portray the [prejudice and] pain of those among us whose fellow country men and women refuse to accept their existence. I long for the day when we all accept that all human beings have the right to be diverse and live their lives differently from others.”

Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, writes of the novel: “As in many countries, lesbians, gays and bisexuals [in Iran] are stigmatized by society and castigated — or worse — by family, friends, and social institutions. I look forward to the day when this tale will remind us of a cruel and unjust bygone era, when we will shake our heads and breathe a sigh of relief because we have left this dark blot on our human story far behind. For now, though, I invite you to treat this sad but touching and ultimately redemptive story as a poignant reminder that we have much work to do before we reach that point.”

Touraj Keshtkar, known under his stage name Tooji, who represented Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest 2012, encouraged his fans to follow Yousef and Fahrad on social media, offering a message that speaks to the characters’ struggle for acceptance: “What if my family had not moved from Iran? How would my life turn out? Me, as a young creative and passionate spirit? What would have happened to me? Would I have been one of the brave ones that would speak up for my rights, or would I hide in the shadows keeping such a beautiful part of me secret? Would I survive?”

The choice of the names Yousef and Farhad for the characters was intentional, as both are timeless names from Persian literature. By bringing them together in a same-sex love story, the novel reminds readers that homosexuality has existed for centuries in every society and culture.