"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it." - M. Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, 2007.
Does this statement offend Americans? Apparently so... even those who oppose gay marriages, domestic partnerships, and even the right to have a domestic partner covered by insurance.
Yes, what Ahmadinejad is displaying is obviously a case of backwards thinking, but how backwards?
(Answer: Not backwards enough.)
Consider, if you will, the following denials:
The White House
"There are no gays in the military," the Army officer said.
White House staffer Allison Thomas thought he was kidding and that he would start laughing in a moment. but it dawned on Allison that the man was serious.
"C'mon, are you crazy?" Thomas replied.
From the book "Conduct Unbecoming: Gay and Lesbians in the U.S. Military" by Randy Schilts.
Korean law does not mention homosexuality because it is considered so bizarre and unnatural that it is unmentionable in public. Many older Koreans insist that there are no gays in Korea. Recent attempts by the gay and lesbians to come out of the closet have been met with hostility, even in Seoul.
From the book "Seoul" by Martin Robinson
It is not unusual to hear Buddhist teachers who have come form Asia to the U.S.A. claim that there are no gays in their country of origin.
From the book "Engaged Buddhism in the West" by Christopher S. Queen
Academic analysis of gays' actual standing in the military culture is difficult to ascertain because, as Moore explains, "Officially, there are no gays in the military."
From the article "Military sociology is Moore's specialty" by Steve Cox, Feb. '96.
Meanwhile, the primate of Nigeria’s church, Peter Akinola, who is leading the fight against the American Episcopal Church over our consecration of a gay bishop, famously declared, “There are no gays in Nigeria.” His church issued a public statement saying that MacIyalla “is not a member of any church in Nigeria,” and that a group of 1,000 gay Nigerians, which MacIyalla gathered in 2005, “doesn’t exist."
From the sermon "Don't just sit there..." preached by the Rev. Elizabeth Garnsey, June 24, 2007.
The portrayal of Krishna on the cover of Genre, a popular gay magazine, has sparked anonymous death threats against the magazine's editor and publisher.
"They said, 'There are no gays in India,' they called us foul names, and they made threats against our company and our lives," Genre publisher Doug Shingleton told India-West from the magazine's New York office.
From the article "Krishna Image in Gay Magazine Sparks Death Threats" originally printed in the April 28, 2000 issue of India-West.
Questioned about everyday life or politics, our escorts invariably gave responses that hewed closely to the government line. When I asked about official policy on gays, for example, one of them responded: "There are no homosexuals in (North) Korea. We don't like them."
From the article "Curiouser and Curiouser" May 22, 2007, Newsweek.
"Suddenly, the curtain separating us from the rest of the bar was pulled open and two Chinese men in suits burst in. In clipped English, one said to me sharply: "Can I be of assistance? I speak English." My notepad slipped between my legs to the floor. The informers had been busy. I explained a little helplessly how I wanted to find homosexuals. "There are no homosexuals in Tibet…" he said brusquely, his comrade flicking through a copy of Out. "It is a western disease."
From the article "Tibet: Forbidden Fruit in the Forbidden Land" Jan. 1996.
"During the twenty years I lived in Africa, I constantly heard the party line
There are no gays in Africa and Where ever there may be a
homosexual relationship, it is because foreigners have brought it to
Africa; it was never a part of African identity or customs. That was the
From the article "Father Doherty, after 20 years of ministry in East
Africa, receives Kenyan visitor in his Bronx home" Apr./Jun. 2007.
"On one of (the) talks I had with my friend who is originally from Egypt. He starts with the standard nostalgia stuff: food tasted better back home, people are warmer and kinder back home … etc. Then he graduates to “Canadian society is a sick and depraved because of all the homosexuals”. . . I mention that probably there are just as many homosexuals in his home country of Egypt. My friend gets deeply offended and tells me that he has lived in Egypt of over 20 years and that in all that time he hasn’t encountered a homosexual not even once. My friend is certain that there are no homosexuals in Egypt, not even one . . . I tell him about all the famous Arab people in our history who were probably gay. My friend shakes his head. He tells me that there is no way there are any homosexuals in the middle east and certainly not in Egypt because of our superior religion of Islam."
From the weblog Ihath, March 2004.
So basically, the existance of homosexuals has been widely denied inside Africa, the Middle East, China, India, Korea -- in an area that comprises well over half the world's population -- in most cases, as recently as a few years ago.
And indeed, homosexuals have been abused, imprisoned, and even executed by their governments elsewhere in the world, in some cases quite recently...
"Recently, Shaba said, (Iraqi) police commandos spotted his hair as he was riding in a taxi through a checkpoint in central Baghdad. Suspecting he was gay, the four commandos dragged him out of the taxi by his hair and forced him into an armored car. They demanded his cellphone, cash, and sex. When he refused, they beat him with a baton and gang-raped him."
From the article "Iraqi gays say militias and police target them for abuse and execution", Boston Globe, Aug. 10, 2007.
In Saudi Arabia on April 16, 2001, five homosexuals were sentenced to 2,600 lashes and 6 years in prison, and four others to 2,400 lashes and 5 years’ imprisonment for “deviant sexual behavior.” Amnesty International subsequently reported that six men were executed on charges of deviant sexual behavior, some of which were related to their sexual orientation, but it was uncertain whether the six men who were executed were among the nine who were sentenced to flogging and imprisonment in April.
From the article "Islam's Love-Hate Relationship with Homosexuality" by Serge Trifkovic, Feb. '96.
"Homosexuality went underground after the formation of the People's Republic of China. The Communist regime persecuted homosexuals, especially during the Cultural Revolution, when many homosexuals were punished with long prison terms and sometimes execution. . . Since the policy of Reform and Opening Up in 1979, the communist party has been loosening its control over this kind of behavior. But the practice of homosexuality is still labeled as a "moldering life style of capitalism". A notable change occurred during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when sodomy was decriminalized in 1997, and the new Chinese Classification and Diagnostic Criteria of Mental Disorders removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses on April 20, 2001."
From Wikipedia's entry for homosexuality in China.
And yet, as bad as all of this is, things are changing dramatically, in many cases quite recently...
"But, in some Saudi cities, the authorities have started to look the other way. In part, the government has realized that the thousands of Saudis who have recently returned from the United States because of stricter visa policies, and who are relatively liberal-minded, are unwilling to countenance such harsh anti-gay policies. "I don't feel oppressed at all," said one gay man. . Saudi Arabia's domestic reform initiative and the government's eagerness to shed its international reputation for intolerance also have contributed to acceptance of gays and lesbians. . . the kingdom's Internet Services Unit, which is responsible for blocking sites deemed "un-Islamic" or politically sensitive, recently unblocked access to one website's homepage for gay Saudi surfers after being bombarded with critical e-mails from the United States. Saudi Arabia seemed concerned about the bad publicity blocking the site would bring, said A. S. Getenio, manager of GayMiddleEast.com, a website devoted to homosexual issues in the Arab world."
So, why are some countries rapidly coming to accept and grant rights to homosexuals, while in other countries, violence is still committed against them? The common link appears to be that country's level of access and interaction with Western culture. Where there is cooperation, free trade, and a free exchange of ideas, discrimination vanishes... but where there are Western sanctions, aggressive behavior, provocations (followed by inevitable counter-provocations), closed cultural borders, and conflict, discrimination flourishes.
Iran is the only Middle Eastern country that has been consistantly under U.S. sanctions for the last 30 years. So, when we hear Iranian President Ahmadinejad say that there are no homosexuals in his country -- one which still executes homosexuals to this day -- one has to think... how much of that horror and cruelty is because our country has done the best it can to isolate Iran from the rest of the world all this time?