Iran is one of several countries that allows the execution of individuals for homosexual conduct. As a result, some LGBT citizens choose to leave with help from an “underground railroad” spanning from Iran to Turkey and then across the globe, from Canada and the United States to Europe and Australia. Turkey, the first stop for many on this underground railroad, is a strange limbo for refugees. Refugees don’t know how long it will be until they’re assigned a new country by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and they don’t know where they’ll go next. After an initial interview that grants them refugee status, they wait for a second interview. After the second they wait for a third. Finally, if all goes well, they’re assigned a new country and a date of departure. The average waiting time is 18 months.
DENIZLI, Turkey — Growing up in Iran, AliReza hid the fact he was homosexual from almost everyone. At one point, his sisters confronted him.
“‘What’s wrong with you? If there’s a problem, we can fix it,’” he recalls one of them saying. Finally he broke down. “I shouted, ‘I’m gay! What should I do?’”
His sisters cried and said they would do anything to fix him — bring him to any doctor to help him change. “I told them, ‘If you really want to know me, go and search: find out what gay means. It’s not sick, it’s not a disease.’”