Activist’s ‘railroad’ helps gay Iranians
Posted on January 21, 2009
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Not quite three years ago, Arsham Parsi was an Iranian refugee in Turkey. Today, he is executive director of the Iranian Queer Railroad, trying to help 200 people down the same road he took to Toronto.
“Every day, people escape, people come here,” he said yesterday in his downtown apartment. “It’s constant, like a railroad, always moving.”
On a recent trip to Turkey, he secured refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 45 Iranian gays, but they are awaiting interviews at the Canadian and U.S. embassies. Parsi, 28, is lobbying on to get them out of Turkey where temporary residents must pay a $200 fee every six months.
“People in Turkey say they’re not homophobic and I say, `You’ve living in Istanbul. When you leave Istanbul, it’s different.’ Gays have been beaten on the streets in Turkey and the police do nothing.”
Canada, the U.S. and Australia are the likely destinations for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people on his “railroad,” because those countries recognize the kind of persecution they face in Iran, where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said there are no gays.
Iran is one of 86 countries around the world that still declare homosexuality a crime and punish it with prison or death.
Parsi was still in Iran when he became an activist in 2001, first starting a clandestine online chat group for fellow gays, then an organization. He left when he heard government officials were hunting him.
Since arriving in Toronto in 2006, Parsi has been a guest speaker at the UN Human Rights Council and his activism earned him awards last year from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and Pride Toronto.
See Activist’s ‘railroad’ helps gay Iranians
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