Considering how Iran is a deeply conservative society where homosexuality is illegal, it’s hard to believe the Iranian government has laws in place to protect transgender Iranians.
Citing a recent wedding between two transsexual people in a report, the Middle East Eye — an online news portal covering events in Mid-West Asia — highlights how Iran is actually a world leader when it comes to gender reassignment surgeries.
“The law has its roots in the 1970s, when Maryam Mulkara, a transgender woman willing to undergo a surgery, started inquiring about Islam’s stance on transsexuality,” the feature states.
After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Mulkara stood up for transsexual rights as the new regime began targeting the transgender community as part of its plans for the “moral purification of the society.” With the help of thousands of other transgender individuals, she ultimately won the legal right to change gender in Iran.
As per 2007 stats reported by The Guardian, Iran has between 15,000 and 20,000 transsexuals; unofficial figures, though, are believed to be much higher — up to 150,000.
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But is Iran’s legal protection of transsexuality really an indicator of progress?
The Iranian government encourages sex-change operations as a “cure” to homosexuality — which is punishable by death. Human rights activists estimate Iran executed 4,000-6,000 gay people since 1979.
Earlier this year in May, Iran advanced a bill in parliament to strengthen legal protections for transgender people in the country.
“To better protect transsexuals, a draft bill on all aspects, judicial and religious, has been prepared and sent to parliament’s research center, which is examining it,” Farid Habibollah Masoudi, the deputy head of Iran’s social affairs assistance department, was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. “To prevent any problems because of their appearance, they are given a letter confirming their transsexuality so the police do not take action against them.” He added 1,800 people applied the “service” since 2002, including 330 over the past year.
Although homosexual people are not forced to go through these surgeries, they are often pressured to either go through with it or leave the country.
"I think a human rights violation is taking place," a psychologist in Iran told BBC last year about the government’s policy for transgender and homosexual people. "What makes me sad is that organizations that are supposed to have a humanitarian and therapeutic purpose can take the side of the government, instead of taking care of people."