Every day there are gay men around the world that – because of the geography of their birth – are being blackmailed, assaulted, or killed. They’re persecuted for being who they are, for being gay.
Remember Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni - two teenagers from Iran. The age of these boys is unclear, but most sources seem to confirm that they were aged fourteen and sixteen at the time of their arrest, and that they were executed two years after their arrest . Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were arrested at their homes in the province of Khorasan. They were publicly hanged in Edalat Square in Mashhad – a city in northeast Iran - on 19 July 2005. Prior to their execution, it’s reported that they were each given 228 lashes. There is a lot that is unclear about this case, and a number of key facts that seem to be disputed, but it is generally accepted that Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were gay.
Remember also Jamal Nassir al-Oujan - a 15-year-old boy who lived in Syria. Jamal Nassir al-Oujan lived in the city of Mayadin in the eastern Deir ez-Zor province. At that time, this was territory that was controlled by the Islamic State. On 22 May 2016, he was arrested by the local police, tried by a Sharia court, and convicted of Sodomy. He was sentenced to be stoned to death. According to the ARA News service, he was executed on the afternoon of 23 May 2016. He was stoned to death in Jaradiq Square in Mayadin.
It’s worth repeating, just to let the horror of this really sink in - a 15-year-old boy was publicly killed by having stones thrown at him. He was killed as his community looked on. He was killed for being gay.
The geographic lottery
Depending on how you interpret the relevant laws, there are currently about 70 countries around the world where gay sex is illegal. Of those, there are about six where the punishment for being found guilty of having gay sex could be death by execution.
It seems extraordinary that we live in a world where the geography of your birth determines whether your sexuality is accepted as just part of what makes you who you are, or seen as something that’s such a threat to the natural order of things that you should be killed.
What we do know is that killing gay men won’t wipe us out.
The lessons of history
There’s still a lot we don’t know about human sexuality, but all of the available science we have confirms that being gay – or conversely, being straight – is not a choice. We know that throughout human history, and in whatever part of the world that you’re in, a minority percentage of our population will genetically be gay.
Every day, in every country around the world, a small percentage of the babies being born will grow up to realise that they’re gay.
Homophobia doesn’t change that. Discrimination doesn’t change that. Killing gay men doesn’t change that.
It Gets Better?
It’s an over-simplification, but if you take at face-value the optimistic message of the It Gets Better project – founded by Dan Savage and Terry Miller – we’re on a linear journey from anti-LGBTQ homophobia towards equality, acceptance, and a freedom from discrimination. Obviously, different parts of the world are at different stages of that linear journey.
If you live in a country that's relatively advanced in terms of LGBTQ equality, it’s easy to think that much of the struggle for recognition of the reality of human sexuality, and a general acceptance that there is no basis for discriminating against LGBTQ people, has been safely achieved. Legislative and social change has been quickly building momentum – when a country embraces marriage equality there's generally a palpable sense of relief across the LGBTQ community that: “We’ve done it!” “We’ve got there!” “Finally, we can stop fighting for acceptance.”
But let’s not forget the lessons of our history. During the Weimar Republic years in Germany (1919–1933), Berlin was an open and accepting society where diversity of lifestyle, thought, and sexuality was allowed to flourish and was celebrated. A few years later, gay men were being branded with pink triangles and transported to concentration camps where many of them died.
Things change. Public opinion shifts. What was once assumed to be an established state-of-affairs can quickly transform into a different reality.
Take, for example, Russia. The history of Russia is fascinating and brutal - from the wealth and extravagance of the Tsars, through revolution, cold war, and violent political and social upheavals. It makes you wonder what’s going on in a country, in a community, that it has to start looking for scapegoats. Laws banning ‘gay propaganda’ seem to be signs of a leadership and of a community looking for excuses or distractions from deeper problems that they’re not ready to face up to.
But it’s not just Russia – there’s countless examples around the world where not only does it not seem to be getting better for the gay men who live there, it actually seems to be getting worse.
Building a queer future
It’s easy to become fixated on our own experiences, or the stories that fill our daily media and news feeds. Around the world, gay men, and people that identify within the LGBTQ umbrella, are struggling against systemic discrimination, criminalisation, and threats to their personal safety. None of that will make any less of us.
Every day, in every country around the world, a small percentage of the babies born will grow up to realise that they’re gay.
Let’s try and make sure that the world is a safer place for the LGBTQ people of the future.