Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet and author living in the Czech Republic. After speaking in favour of the pro-democracy movement in the aftermath of the 2009 re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, her work was banned inside Iran. Nonetheless, the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani has seen the relaxation of certain cultural restrictions, including those related to publishing and the written word. Although the Ministry of Islamic Guidance continues to vet every book before publication, there is no official ‘black list’ of authors whose work is permanently banned inside Iran.
Due to the change in the political climate, Ms. Jodeyri was able to publish ‘And Etc.’, a short book of poetry, through an independent publisher in Iran. All was going well until the publisher announced it was holding a book party to celebrate Ms. Jodeyri’s poetry and the conservative media exploded in condemnation. Because not only is Sepideh Jodeyri a pro-democracy activist, but she is also the Iranian translator of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Blue is the Warmest Colour tells of the romance between two young women in 1990s France. Ms. Jodeyri translated the book into Farsi, and it was published in Paris. Those in Iran can only buy a digital version of the book. There is no chance of Blue is the Warmest Colour being published in Iran in the near future, where homosexual behaviour can lead to the death penalty. Lavat (anal sex between men) was until recently always punishable by death. Under new changes to the penal code, those taking the ‘active’ role will be flogged 100 times whilst those taking the ‘passive’ role will be put to death. Women engaging in same-sex acts will also be flogged 100 times.
Citing her connections of Blue is the Warmest Colour, controversial website Raja News ran an article strongly protesting the launch of Ms. Jodeyri’s new book in a party at a museum. The article quoted Ms. Jodeyri’s pro-LGBT views at length, hoping to instil further outrage.
And it succeeded. The story was picked up by several other news sources, causing the Intelligent Services to swiftly intervene and cancel the event. Further, the director of the museum where the party was going to be held was fired from his job and Ms. Jodeyri’s Iranian publisher was threatened to have his licence suspended. Ms. Jodeyri has been the victim of increased vitriol and the chances of publishing her future work in her home country are now extremely low.
So what can we do? First of all, we must raise awareness on this issue. As Julie Maroh herself says in her website:
It is unbearable to me that such events go uncommented on. This is one more infringement to our liberty of writing, reading, communicating and above all: loving. We’re going to need much m.u.c.h. love this year. If you are against this kind of witch-hunting, please spread the word about Sepideh Jodeyri, she came to me to have her story told. In Iran and elsewhere, many homosexuals are deeply shocked by this media lynching, touched in their flesh, such as all who detect the gravity of such events. A blast of solidarity would be very welcome.
So please spread the word on Sepideh and help raise awareness of her story.
But we also need to do more. State-sanctioned homophobia is outrageous, but so is homophobia in general. Homophobia is not confined to countries with extreme levels of oppression. It is all around us. And it is on the comics we read.
So spread the word on Sepideh, but also stand up for all the intolerance around us. Criticise the negative depictions of LGBTQIA still present in comic books and support those books that are doing a good job when it comes to LGBTQIA representation.
Homophobia is a world-wide issue that will only end when we all stand together against it. As Julie Maroh said, we’re going to need much love this year.
So let’s begin here.
Maria Werdine Norris is a final year PhD candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research is on the British Counterterrorism strategy and legislation, with a focus on nationalism, security and human rights. You can find her on Twitter as @MariaWNorris