Beneficial here is that families in many European countries as well as in Canada and the USA have counselling centres available to them. Same-sex marriages are either already allowed in many of these countries or they are being discussed, as in Germany, so that the prejudices and fears of anxious parents have been put into perspective by family physicians and psychotherapists and by registrars conducting same-sex weddings.

The families quickly come to see that lesbians are perfectly healthy individuals in keeping with God and nature. Saadat-Lendle stresses however that this applies only to families living outside of Iran. Inside the country, lesbians usually try to protect their families from shame and social repercussions by keeping their private lives a secret.

In "Paradise"

The fate of homosexual Iranian women is being addressed not only by politically active women and dedicated men. Iran-born artists are also taking a stance. The most spectacular statement in recent years was the 2014 video "Behesht" ("Paradise"), sung by the Iranian pop icon Googoosh.

"Behesht" tells the story of a young woman who receives a marriage proposal. But her love for her suitor, who is at first not shown, meets with rejection at home and in society. The young woman withdraws in despair, until she crosses paths with her love again at a Googoosh concert. This is the moment when it becomes clear that the story is about a lesbian couple. The video ends with the message: "Freedom to Love for All".

The director of the video, actor Navid Akhavan, touched the hearts of Iranians worldwide with his taboo-breaking storyline. In an interview with Iran Journal, he reported that he himself had been moved the most by the reactions of LGBTs in Iran: "Many members of the LGBT community in Iran wrote to tell us that the release of the video led to some positive changes in their lives." He realised for the first time "what kind of power art gives you".

The singer Googoosh, whose fame contributed greatly to the popularity of the video, did not take a clear position in "Behesht". But this is the first time an artist of her calibre has addressed the topic of same-sex relationships at all. The powers that be in Iran accused her of "opening the floodgates to moral depravity". Navid Akhavan was not spared negative feedback either: "The comments, some of them equating homosexuals with paedophiles, really shocked me," he recalls.

But it is exactly this kind of resistance that Akhavan sees as a challenge to continue advocating for the acceptance of same-sex partnerships: "We have to show that we are on the side of the people in the LGBT community and accept them as part of our society just like anyone else."

It will take tenacity and commitment on many levels to break sexual taboos. Because addressing the (homo-) sexuality of Iranian women also means shaking the very foundations of a deeply patriarchal system.

Shirin Soltani

© Iran Journal 2016

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