I am on the mailing list for the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees, a organisation that supports LGBT Iranians to seek asylum around the world and smuggles those whose lives are at risk to safe houses in Canada. I received this email to mark World AIDS Day and found it so powerful I got permission to republish it in full here. Please consider supporting IRQR.

“It was a big shock when I find out that I am HIV positive. My doctor
asked me if I had safe sex in the past and used condoms. I did not
know that I had to use condoms. I thought condoms are just for birth
prevention. No one told me or I did not even read anywhere that condom
is a method of HIV/AIDS prevention.”
~ Farhad, a 29 year old Iranian refugee ~

Any analysis of HIV/AIDS in Iran inevitably runs into the challenge of
studying a topic that requires discussion of some of the most taboo
subjects in Iranian society; sexual activity, sexual health education,
and illegal drug use. This challenge is infinitely compounded when the
discussion relates to HIV/AIDS in the queer community; a group that,
even without the stigma of HIV, is already marginalized and silenced.
Marginalized might be better expressed as ‘denied’ or ‘erased’ when
its current president can assert that “We do not have homosexuals in
Iran. They do not exist in Iran… we do not have this phenomenon.”

There is a little information available about HIV/AIDS among LGBT
individuals in Iran. What information is available relates primarily
to the high-risk group of men who have sex with men (MSM), and
particularly to the overlap of this group with intravenous drug users
who continue to account for the largest percentage of cases in Iran.

As recently as May 2012, cleric and politician Ayatollah Abdolah
Javadi-Amoli, based in the holy city of Qom, blamed homosexuality for
the existence of AIDS in Iran, and reiterated that the disease is
divine “punishment” for the “sin” of homosexuality. The fear of the
discovery of one’s sexuality, of being – or even the possibility of
being – HIV positive cannot be overstated. In 2012 in Iran, one risks
the loss of family and friends, condemnation and shunning by the
larger community in addition to the very real possibility of arrest
and criminal prosecution by the religious and civil authorities. Is it
any wonder then that a queer Iranian is too fearful to see a doctor
should worrying symptoms begin or with a diagnosis be too fearful to
disclose his medical condition to family?

Unfortunately, the number of Iranian queers with HIV/AIDS who are in
contact with the IRQR continues to grow. In 2011, the IRQR launched
the Network of Iranian Queer HIV/AIDS. Through this network we strive
to increase awareness about sexual transmitted infections and
prevention methods among the Iranian Queer community.

Reacting to the stigma of HIV and the very real threat of violence
because of their sexuality, many queer Iranians with HIV/AIDS flee
Iran to Turkey in order to apply for asylum in countries like Canada
or the United States. Due to the nature of their flight, many are
forced to leave their families and homes with little or no financial
or emotional support. Receiving the basics necessities like medication
and proper nutrition are just the beginning of the challenges they
face. IRQR strives to provide legal and medical support to these
vulnerable individuals but our resources are limited. We need your
support to meet the sadly growing demand. To learn more about the work
that we do or what you can do to help, please visit our website at

Thank you,

Arsham Parsi

Executive Director

Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees