Today is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, permitting homosexual acts between two consenting adults over the age of twenty-one, and, although only a first step in the full legalization of homosexuality, clearly a milestone in British history.
But homosexuality remains illegal in 72 countries, carrying the Death Penalty in several, and many years imprisonment and torture in others, most of them theocracies, where religion has tightened its yoke around the neck of a country's general populace, making such prejudicial thuggery easier to enforce, through brainwashing and fear.
I first became aware of the Iranian writer Payam Feili in 2013. A keen reader of his poetry, I was appalled to read of his treatment at the hands of the Iranian authorities. An openly gay poet in a country which punishes homosexual acts with execution, Feili was for years blacklisted by the state authorities, his works censored or banned, and his life in danger. Four years ago, Index on Censorship reported:
Iranian poet Payam Feili ... is the victim of a brutal
system. He was fired from his job, his translator’s house was
ransacked, and the censors have shunned him.
Isolated in Iran, Feili has dedicated himself to writing. He says he
lives among his ideas, a citizen of his mind: “I’m writing on the edge
of crisis but I think I am doing fine. I’ve gotten used to life being
full of tension, horror, disruption and crisis”.
The poetry of Payam Feili covers multitudes of subjects, but his sexuality is present, un-hidden, and forms an important part of his poetic consciousness:
This dark Yalda night, upon a high wall
I delve into your solitude, I delve into you
Beneath the moonlight
Through that distant forest
Deep in that listless lake
I catch a glimpse of you in the stars
Leaving brings sorrow
Staying brings sorrow
Loitering in these abandoned streets brings sorrow
I grieve for my morning paper, vilified
I grieve for my books, bowdlerised
I mourn my Uncle Ali’s beautiful son
I mourn those somber sparrows soaked to the skin
I blossom, and I grow tall
O! Boy, tender is my torso
Out of spite for the beauty of my uncle’s only son, I will one day,
In the streets of the village, to the wits of my despair fall prey.
“Because I come from a country where the government is always talking
about wars and hatred," said Feili to the online journal Slate, "as an author I want my message to other countries
and readers to be a message of peace." And yet, purely for expressing his personal identity, this peaceful, dignified poet was arrested, detained, and held for 44 days without charge.
Payam Feili is now living in Israel, having successfully claimed asylum in that country, but the treatment of Iran's remaining gays is barbaric and obscene - men hanged in public or thrown to their deaths from crates. It is far from alone in dishing out such murderous treatment. It is easy to jump to anti-Islamist conclusions on this issue,
given the high number of Muslim countries where homosexuality is
illegal, but these terrible laws also apply in many constitutionally Christian
countries, and here in the UK we have recently seen our government enter
into collaboration with an openly homophobic party, while the leader of the Opposition has spoken highly of homophobic movements such as Hizbollah, and taken money from the Iranian state to present television programmes. He claimed to have been doing so in order to raise "human rights issues," but the evidence for this is not forthcoming. All in all, I personally feel there is little to celebrate on this momentous anniversary.