Report Finds Human Rights Violations Occur in All Areas of Life for Iranian Lesbians

For Immediate Release

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Human Rights Report: Being Lesbian in Iran

OutRight Action International new report reveals Iranian Lesbians face dire conditions and a double jeopardy

October 2016. OutRight Action International, the global LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer) human rights organization, today released Human Rights Report: Being Lesbian in Iran.

The report finds human rights violations occurring in all areas of life for Iranian lesbians. The report reveals that state propaganda, censorship, and lack of access to information on sexuality and gender all contribute to severe legal and societal intolerance of lesbians.

Kevin Schumacher, OutRight’s Regional Program Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

Lesbians in Iran live in very difficult circumstances. To begin, in Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, women do not have the same rights as men; they are inferior in the law. This inequality is even worse for Iranian lesbians, whose sexual orientation is criminalized by the anti-sodomy law. Society does not accept relationships between two women, exposing them to many dangers from their family and from the public.

The story of Maryam A., a lesbian from Tehran, reveals some of these struggles.

Maryam was forced to marry her first cousin when she was 14 years old. He was 22 years older. She faced abuse, violence, and marital rape from him before successfully convincing her husband to divorce her. She moved back in with her family, where she fell in love with a woman named Sara. Maryam’s family eventually stopped her from seeing Sara, causing them to run away together. Both women were soon arrested and charged with homosexuality. Maryam was whipped by the police more than 100 times, eventually causing her to pass out. After 10 months of physical and verbal torture, fear of being put to death, and physical assaults by other women who were incarcerated, Maryam was released. Out of fear for her life, she left Iran and applied for asylum in Turkey.

“OutRight’s report shows that lesbians are often forced into heterosexual marriages by their families. They face marital rape, domestic violence, and psychological harm in these situations. The law does not recognize marital rape as illegal and criminalizes homosexual acts, while the police are known to harass and arbitrarily arrest lesbians,” says Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

Despite harmful laws, widespread homophobia, and the risks involved, many lesbians defy family and societal pressure and show enormous strength and courage by challenging the status quo through independence and activism. They hope that there will soon be a change in the right direction.


The report offers twenty-one recommendations in five thematic areas to improve the lives of lesbians in Iran and bring Iran in line with its international human rights obligations.

Stern and Schumacher note that three key recommendations are imperative to ending abuse and human rights violations directed against Iranian lesbians.


For the Iranian government

  • Abolish all laws criminalizing homosexuality and regulations banning public discussion about sexual orientation.
  • Enact and implement laws to fully protect lesbians against harassment, sexual violence, social discrimination, bullying, and physical threats or violence, enabling them to seek protection and justice if they face discrimination or abuse due to their sexual orientation or gender expression.

For the United Nations

  • Consider Iranian lesbians registering as refugees at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as potential survivors of severe human rights violations and expedite their cases.