Comment during visit to Columbia U. sparks laughter, then outrage
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparked laughter and then outrage when he told an audience at Columbia University this week that there are no gay people in his country.
When asked about reports that two gay men were recently executed in Iran, Ahmadinejad responded, “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I do not know who has told you we have it.”
His answer sparked laughter and boos from the crowd of about 700 and quick condemnation from LGBT rights advocates.
Scott Long of Human Rights Watch pointed out that Iran’s penal code prohibits homosexuality under penalty of death, and called Ahmadinejad’s comments “a sick joke.”
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign said the comment would be “simply absurd” if not for the fact that “international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence” against gays in Iran.
The Mr. Gay Competition even managed to use the situation to get some publicity for its Mr. Gay International competition next month by quickly trotting out Mr. Gay Iran 2006, Kia Shirazi, who lives in Vancouver.
But even as the condemnations of Ahmadinejad’s remarks continued to roll in, some have been questioning the accuracy of the translator who translated the president’s remarks from Farsi to English.
According to a report by Kilian Mellow for EDGE Philadelphia, a poster at Queerty.com, who claimed to speak Farsi, what Ahmadinejad actually said was, “We do not have any executions of gays in our country.” Other bloggers suggested the Iranian president was distinguishing between those who have same-sex sexual attractions but do not act on them, and those who do engage in same-sex sexual contact.
Columbia University President Lee Bollinger was widely criticized for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak at the school.
Protesters lined the street outside the university during Ahmadinejad’s speech, and presidential candidates from both sides of the political aisle criticized the decision to allow him to speak at Columbia on Monday, Sept. 24, as did several members of Congress.
Bollinger himself made his feelings obvious when, during his introduction of the Iranian leader, he said Ahmadinejad “exhibit[s] all the signs of a cruel and petty dictator,” adding “I feel the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 28, 2007