LGBT+ activist and journalist at Iran International TV, Aram Bolandpaz

Iran International TV has reported that a prolific Iranian regime cleric has issued a homophobic rant against people vaccinated for Covid-19, claiming that they become gay after receiving the vaccine.

Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian wrote on his Telegram social media platform: “Don’t go near those who have had the Covid-19 vaccine. They have become homosexuals.”

Tabrizian has a large following in Iran, with nearly 210,000 followers on his Telegram channel.

Telegram is an important platform for the LGBT+ community inside Iran, with LGBT+ activist and journalist at Iran International TV, Aram Bolandpaz explaining that: “In Tehran, the LGBT+ community frequently use Telegram groups or Instagram, meet at house parties and have found spaces for socialising.”

She added: “These spaces provide the community with a feeling of acceptance, belonging and self-esteem in a society which shames us as abnormal.”

This is not the first time that an Iranian politician has espoused homophobic views after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was asked by openly gay German journalist Paul Ronzheimer, “Why are homosexuals executed in Iran because of their sexual orientation?”, to which Zarif defended the execution of gay people on ‘moral principles’ in 2019.

Additionally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Basij morality militia, Brigadier General Nagdi, said, “The European Union is worse than grazing livestock. They demand that we recognise homosexuality, which is something even the beasts in the wilderness refuse to do to each other. ”

LGBT+ people in Iran often face violence and discrimination, and sex between people of the same gender is illegal and can be punishable by death or imprisonment.

Although there is an LGBT+ population inside Iran, many are afraid to disclose their sexual orientation through fear of execution or corporal punishment.

A report published last year, titled Hidden Wounds: A Research Report on Violence Against LGBTI in Iran, outlined the ongoing harassment and abuse that the LGBT+ community in Iran face.

63 per cent of queer people said they were subjected to violence by their immediate family, while 49 per cent said they had experienced such treatment from friends or classmates.

20 per cent of queer people who completed an online survey for the organisation said they had experienced violence in the legal system, while 46 per cent said they had experienced similar discrimination in the education system.

The homophobia espoused by Iranian politicians has also influenced the policing system in Iran, with Bolandpaz explaining that police in the country routinely attack anyone with “behaviour, mannerisms, interests, appearance, or expression” that is “different”.

She continued: “The police frequently mount raids on these (queer) spaces. The result is often prosecutions and penalties ranging from lashes to public hangings. Everyday LGBT+ Iranians live in daily fear of punishment simply for being who they are.”

Iran had initially rejected Western vaccines, imposing a ban on all US and British vaccines including publicly criticising the Oxford vaccine for being unreliable and untrustworthy.

However, an investigation by Iran International TV found that the government has been importing the Oxford vaccine via India to offer citizens as the country prepares for the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections.