Currently 38 years old and living in exile in Canada, Arsham Parsi is an Iranian queer refugee activist working to help his community in Iran. Parsi says that he came to terms with his sexuality early on and after a transgender friend ended her life, he decided he must begin to discreetly help the situation for Iranian queers. This work included helping a local doctor carry out research on HIV among gay and bisexual men in their city, before he turned his efforts to covertly advancing queer civil rights. In 2003 he started a Yahoo group chat called “Voice Celebration” which gained a total of 50 participants who could establish connections and lean on each other for support; all operated under a false identity (including Parsi) due to the dire legal situation for LGBTQ+ people in Iran, which still operates the death penalty. Unfortunately, in 2005, he found out that the Islamic authorities had begun to unravel his identity and were looking for “a gay activist named Arsham,” so he was forced to flee to Turkey where he registered as a refugee and lived for three months before being relocated to Canada.
Whilst in Turkey, Parsi recalls walking the streets with his friend Amir, another refugee who was tortured and flogged back in Iran, when they were chased and beaten by homophobic crowds. Now that he is in a safer country, Parsi still considers himself to be Iranian first and believes it’s his duty to make life better for LGBTQ+ people still living there and to help those seeking asylum, particularly if they are doing so in a hostile country with no personal security for any period of time, like he was in Turkey. As a result, he began grassroots efforts to speed up the processing of queer refugees in gay-unfriendly countries which have evolved into the International Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR), a registered charity that helps LGBTQ+ refugees.
“Every LGBTQ+ refugee has a unique situation—but the fear and pain they endured before coming to Canada is universal. I believe it is important that we, Canadians, know that we take a lot for granted living here” (Parsi). Parsi has promised himself and his people that he will one day return to a free and democratic Iran, where no one has to fear for their lives because of their sexuality. His story and the work he does is just one example of all the heartbreaking and inspirational efforts happening globally to change the situation for queer people everywhere. Whilst it is infinitely valuable to celebrate those who created change for us in the past, it is also crucial to recognise the struggles and changes happening all around us. We have a duty to continue the fight, even once Pride is over.
Read More: About Arsham Parsi https://arshamparsi.net (Quote Source)