Germany Sends Lesbian Refugee Back To Iran With a Little Advice: Pretend To Be Straight

Samira Ghorbani Danesh has one month left in Germany. The 24-year-old Iranian refugee hopes that this last month will finally bring good news from the courts, which so far have denied her plea for asylum.

Ghorbani Danesh left Iran in 2009, fleeing first to Turkey before making her way to Bavaria, a state in southern Germany. She says it was a party that finally convinced her to leave; “I was at the party and needed to grab some fresh air; I went onto the balcony.” That’s when she saw the men — members of Basji, the secret police. She remembers running inside to warn her friends but couldn’t get anyone’s attention; the music was too loud. Samira hid at a neighbor’s house while her friends were arrested next door.

Things quickly escalated. Ghorbani Danesh was interrogated by the police. Her parents, who had no idea she was gay, received a visit from the Basji. “I was so afraid of my family. I had to leave before they tried to take revenge on me for bringing shame to the family name.”

And so, for the past three years, she’s been living in a German asylum, waiting for the decision on whether or not she’ll be allowed to stay. If forced to return to Iran, Ghorbani Danesh faces brutal punishment. The punishment for homosexual acts between women is 100 lashes for each of the first three offenses, followed by execution.

Even so, the German courts have rejected her asylum application. Asylum laws in Germany are vague; while the country acknowledges the UN’s Convention on the Status of Refugees (which doesn’t explicitly list sexual orientation as a protected class), it allows those who don’t meet the typical conditions of a refugee to apply for a suspension of deportation if they face a danger or torture, capital punishment, a risk to their life for freedom or any violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

A spokesperson for the court says that there are doubts about whether or not she really did experience persecution in Iran. As Samira points out, it’s an absurd accusation–“Why should I make something up and leave my family and friends?” — and at this point, completely moot. If deported, there’s no question; with all the public attention she’s drawn, Ghorbani Danesh will be be immediately imprisioned.

The judge who presided over the case has taken to a highly selectively interpretation of asylum legislation, recommending that, upon returning to Iran, Samira hide her identity to protect her herself. What the judge fails to acknowledge is that pretending to be straight is a compromise to her freedom. The decision is confusing because it betrays such a profound ignorance of Iranian law and, in many people’s minds, egregious lack of morality. Saba Farzan, a German-Iranian human rights expert believes that it’s Germany’s responsibility to support people who escape oppressive regimes. “We need to do everything to welcome her in this country and ultimately choose to be on the right side in defending the legitimate rights of homosexuals.”

Samira Ghorbani Danesh’s fight for asylum reminds us that’s there’s more we’re fighting for than marriage equality and an end to bullying. One of the most striking things about her case is that it brings to light deeply engrained ideas about the very validity of gay rights. In upcoming weeks, appellate courts will consider further details before carrying out Ghorbani Danesh’s deportation. Well over 2,000 people, including prominent members of political parties, have signed an open letter to the Minister of the Interior asking for Samira and all other gay Iranian refugees to be granted asylum. According to activist Katayun Pirdwari, they’re not asking for much; she estimates that this would only apply to 3 or 4 people per year.

With the possibility of a safe life in Iran shrinking as each day goes by, Samira continues to reach out to advocacy organizations and individuals. Her lawyer has submitted a new application for stay and hopes that the courts will finally recognize that the only way they can undo the damaged they’ve done is to grant her asylum. “Samira hopes that you will not let her down,” it reads, “And that Germany is the country where she may live and love how she wants.”

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  1. Hopefully the German courts will decide the same way as the UK Supreme Court did in 2010 when faced with the same issue [but with male applicants].. I reckon they should, what with the ECHR and all.
    I dunno if anyone saw, but this is what Lord Rodger [heh] had to say back in 2010:
    “What is protected is the applicant’s right to live freely and openly as a gay man. To illustrate the point with trivial stereotypical examples from British society: just as male heterosexuals are free to enjoy themselves playing rugby, drinking beer and talking about girls with their mates, so male homosexuals are to be free to enjoy themselves going to Kylie concerts, drinking exotically coloured cocktails and talking about boys with their straight female mates.”

    Law lords can be so lolzy.

    • I was just about to respond to this post with “it’s not just Germany, UK does the same” — thanks for reminding me of this ruling. Still though, far too many asylum seekers are sent home and told to be “discreet.”

      Based on what I know about the UK situation, aside from having to prove persecution (which was the issue highlighted here), many LGBT asylum seekers are also often asked to prove their sexuality. It’s especially difficult for women — there’s the whole lesbian invisibility issue, of course, plus many asylum seekers are also married to men or even have children, which, to the many old straight white male judges out there, means they can’t possibly be anything but straight.

  2. This decision seems bizarre to me. While sexual orientation isn’t specifically a protected class, it does come under ‘membership of a particular social group’ which is a protected class. Where I live gay men from Iran have been granted asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation. Also, the whole pretending to be straight thing is bullshit. I’ve read decisions where asylum has been granted to christians from Iran where they discussed the possibility of the refugee hiding their religious belief but decided that would be completely unfair/intolerable.

  3. It’s not irrelevant, that her application was rejected in Bavaria. It is by far the most conservative state. And it’s quite interesting that the original news report was issued by Die Welt which is a very conservative newspaper oriented towards the Christian Democratic Party (more conservative of the big two). Several important members of parliament and from all parties have pledged to the minister of inner affairs to take action. So there’s some hope for the case.

    And while they’re at it, they could totally give me tax benefits and stop sending child service to our house to check if I’m really able to take care of our daughter.

    • Spot on, IMO.
      And I am feeling you on the tax benefits..and just thinking about the Jugendamt deciding if I might be a fit parent for our future child makes me want to punch them.

  4. This is fucked up! I live in Germany with my girlfriend, who is half German half Iranian. I found out about this case here on Autostraddle. Only very few German newspapers/websites were covering it.
    The sentence about her deportation is beyond ignorant. They are completely ignoring the Iranian regime and culture. Even if Samira will not be arrested by the police at the airport, this will end in an honor killing by her family.
    I just emailed Samira’s attorney to find out, if the new application for stay passed. Because if it didn’t, she would have to leave the country today :(

    • Kudos to AS team for keeping us in the loop when all others ‘choose’ what to broadcast.

    • I hate to be that person, but dude, no. Honor killings are not that common in Iran, and when they do happen it’s mostly in highly traditional/religious small town contexts. I’m Iranian and tbh I find it a bit insulting that you think that’s a likely possibility.

      • I can’t pretend to know anything about Iran but she does say that she left because she was afraid of her family taking revenge on her for shaming them…so them hurting her does not seem out of the question.

  5. Time and time again when we see these kinds of cases the world over, it just proves that gay rights are seen as a luxury of living in the west, like ipads, something you could do without at home. Its disgusting. People talk and talk about how much things have changed, but its still ok to condemn people to death, which is effectively whats happening here.

  6. “Germany has a gay foreign minister and its capital city has a gay mayor and , as a result, Germany should be sensitive for such topics, but, unfortunately, is not.” (pinknews)

    so true … they come out once and after that maybe a CSD here and a pride there. also very unfortunate is the fact that the foreign minister is an idiot from one of the conservative parties who messed up our asylum act in the first place.

  7. Why would anyone want send any human being into a country (Iran) where they would be subjected to any punishment based on their sexuality? Every human being has the right to live as they want so long as they are not doing any harm to others. It is sad to acknowledge how outdated the beliefs, knowledge etc is.

  8. I wish she could come to the U.S. I would gladly take her in. We live in a sick world, where degenerates have followers that believe in forcing their hateful and twisted beliefs with violence. This world would be truely boring if everyone was heterosexual. I pray that she is granted asylum and doesn’t have to return home.

  9. I just read in German news dated June 29 that the deportation will be suspended and Samira’s asylum application will be checked again. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

    • My greatest fear is the Iranians acquire a nuclear weapon and give it to a terrorist organization. And there is a real threat of them doing that.

  10. I’m ashamed about our ignorant german/bavarian justice. hopefully they’ll think over the cruel consequences before they send her back to iran and change their mind.

  11. I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become.

  12. The month has passed and her deportation was cancelled. Apparently it helped that many politicians got involved. They are going to investigate her case again and decide whether or not she’ll get permanent asylum.

    Probably the chances now are rather good, since they already cancelled her deportation.

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