In Iran, where being gay is a capital offence, a disturbing trend has emerged: individual members of the LGBTIQ+ community are opting for gender-change surgery as a legal means of survival.
Despite the risks and challenges they face, including unqualified medical practitioners and public humiliation, many more people are undergoing this life-altering procedure each year, including minors.
The recent arrest of a provincial "morality police" chief, caught on video engaging in 'homosexual acts', has reignited global attention on Iran's LGBTIQ+ community. This incident is just one of several involving high-ranking members of the religious ruling class, all facing public execution by hanging under Sharia Law.
While the exact number of LGBTQ+ individuals executed in Iran remains uncertain, human rights organizations report hundreds of official public executions annually, with many more likely going unrecorded. Vague charges such as "warring against God" or "corruption on Earth" can lead to the death penalty, further endangering LGBTQ+ individuals.
Despite the government's vehement condemnation of homosexuality as "Western barbarism," a theological loophole allows for a degree of acceptance of gender dysphoria.
Ayatollah Khomeini's sympathetic writings on the subject in 1964, followed by a fatwa in 1982, have created a limited avenue for gender-change surgery.
However, homosexuality itself remains punishable by death, leaving LGBTQ+ individuals vulnerable to persecution by lynch mobs, morality police, and the Revolutionary Guard. For some, undergoing gender-change surgery represents a desperate attempt to escape this grim reality.
Alarmingly for thousands of "in the closet," Iranian queer people, this dangerous, unwanted and unnecessary surgical procedure may save their lives.