‘Negotiating Queer Identities Following Forced Migration’ (NQIfFM) is a project that explores the experiences of people who have left Iran to escape persecution or discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI).
In particular, NQIfFM investigates the processes of identity transition of Iranian diasporic queers seeking international protection in countries generally seen as being of transition, destination or resettlement. This work helps develop concepts of postcolonial sexual identity, augment life histories of exile, explore trauma-based cultural politics, consider more carefully creative methods, and make a nuanced contribution to emerging queer studies of migration, transnationalism and exile.
Globally, LGBTQ+ rights are under increasing threat as nations criminally punish forms of consensual adult same-sex relations. Iran is one of the nations where ‘sodomy’ is punishable by death even though the Qur’an is silent on the exact punishment. Most Muslim theologians from the medieval period to recent times have denounced same-sex sexual practices.
Post-revolutionary Iran adopted a restrictive interpretation of Shi’a Islam, which persecutes non-normative sexual and gender roles. There is a growing body of literature on Iranian queers but scholars have problematized seeing Iranian same-sex relationships through the lens of modern Western categories such as ‘LGBT’. With some notable exceptions, Iranian queer realities are still seriously under-researched and replete with Western stereotypes of Islamic sexualities whose unitary concept of Islam elides significant shifts in the opinion of reformist Muslim theologians who have developed more tolerant approaches to same-sex relations.
More importantly, the legalism of Western-centric perspectives on Muslim queers fails to register creative ways in which Muslim queers articulate, negotiate and practice their sexual identities. NQIfFM addresses this gap.
NQIfFM thus explores how rigid Western categories of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and others) are imposed by immigration structures (immigration offices, UNHCR, UK Home Office, NGOs) on those seeking asylum, to show how migrant subjects may be misrecognised, retraumatised, or silenced by the constraints of such classification.
We explore the lived experiences of Iranian Queers in Exile (IQIEs):
- How migration affects IQIEs’ negotiation of sexual and gender identity from Iran to ‘the West’;
- How culturally specific categories such as ‘LGBTQ+’ are negotiated;
- How poetry or other creative practices help IQIEs express or construct such journeys for ‘sexual liberty’; and
- How poetic forms might help articulate the ‘hidden experiences’ of IQIEs.
We compare IQIEs in three countries:
Turkey is generally the first destination and popularly seen mainly as a transitional country where asylum claims are lodged with UNHCR officers, even if, in recent years, Turkey has also increasingly become a country of settlement for IQIEs.
Canada is a primary destination for Iranian queer refugees due to its perceived hospitality/liberalism.
In the UK, many queer Iranian nationals struggle being recognised as queer refugees and are re-traumatised by this process. Such differing scenarios make these countries highly appropriate for a comparative analysis.
We thus explore three countries where communities of exiled Iranian queers have settled, and investigate the differential discourses of queer identities found (encompassing sexual orientation, gender identity and gender performativity), pre and post-exile.
We rely on the UNHCR’s definition of refugee as anyone entitled to, or eligible for, refugee status, and focus on those who have relocated from Iran because of fear of persecution relating to their queer minority status.
Thus, the project includes those persons who have fled Iran because of hegemonic heteronormative/prejudicial attitudes toward queer individuals; but their presentation to State authorities in host countries may not necessarily disclose sexual orientation or gender identity as a prime justification for international protection.
The Research Team
Professor Nuno Ferreira
Professor Nuno Ferreira is the project’s principal investigator. Nuno joined the University of Sussex as a Professor of Law in 2016.
Previously, he was a Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool (2012-2016) and Lecturer at the University of Manchester (2006-2012). Nuno has been a Horizon 2020 ERC Starting Grant recipient, leading the project SOGICA - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum (2016-2020), and is a co-director of the Sussex Centre for Human Rights Research.
Dr Moira Dustin
Dr Moira Dustin is a co-investigator on the project and a lecturer in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology where she also leads on Knowledge Exchange and Engagement for the School.
She joined the University of Sussex as a Research Fellow in 2016 working with Nuno on the SOGICA project. In 2021, Moira launched Women in Refugee Law (WiRL) with Christel Querton (University of the West of England). The network brings together asylum seeking and refugee women, senior and early career scholars, practitioners, policymakers and activists from around the globe to re-centre the study of refugee women within refugee law, policy and practice.
Moira is also a tutor and module convenor on the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies programme at the School of Advanced Studies, University of London. Before joining the University of Sussex, Moira was Director of Research and Communications at the Equality and Diversity Forum, a network of equality and human rights organisations, where she coordinated the Equality and Diversity Forum Research Network.
Dr Mehran Rezaei-Toroghi is a research fellow in the project, as well as a fellow in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology of the University of Sussex.
His main field of research is Intellectual history with a focus on sexuality in modern and contemporary Iran. Dr Rezaei was a research fellow in the Centre of Gender Studies at SOAS (The School of Oriental and African Studies) in 2014-2016, where he worked on critical research about a Foucauldian approach to writing the History of Sexuality in Iran. Among several articles, he published in Persian and English.
His most recent work is ‘The politics of un-truth and the assemblage of sexuality: Revisiting the Foucauldian methodology in studying sexuality in post-revolutionary Iran’ (Sexuality, Gender & Policy, May 2020). Besides academic activities, he is also a documentary producer and he has produced some short and long documentaries about Iranian society and history for Iranian TVs.
Isabel Soloaga is a documentary filmmaker and research fellow at the University of Sussex School of Law, Politics and Sociology.
She holds an MA in Migration and Global Development from the University of Sussex and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. She previously worked in immigration law in the United States and for nonprofit organizations including the Washington Immigrant Defense Network, the International Rescue Committee and Freedom House.
She is currently directing her first feature, Growing Up in America: Life After the Taliban.
Professor Sally Munt & Professor Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip
Professor Sally Munt, Emeritus Professor at the University of Sussex, and Professor Andrew Kam-Tuck Yip, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nottingham, were also involved with the inception and design of the project, as well as its initial launch. Professor Yip has also been a co-investigator in the project until the end of September 2022.
Deborah Faudoa Rodríguez
Deborah Faudoa Rodríguez, from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), joined the NQIfFM project through the International Junior Research Associate (IJRA) scheme at the University of Sussex. During her placement in the project, Deborah supported the project's bibliographic research and literature review. Deborah also produced a blog piece exploring 'An intersectional approach to LGBTIQ+ Iranian refugees in the United Kingdom'. You can read about her experiences at Sussex here.
The Advisory Board
The NQIfFM project has the privilege of having the support of an Advisory Group constituted of illustrious academics, Iranian community representatives, and mental health and voluntary personnel, all drawn in particular from countries where fieldwork takes place.
The Advisory Board includes:
- Mehrdad Alipour received his second PhD from the University of Exeter (UK) in 2021. He is a scholar of Islam and Iranian studies. His research focuses on Islamic law, legal theory, Shi'i studies, and Iranian intellectual traditions. He is in particular interested in the transformation of Islamic legal and ethical traditions concerning gender, sex and sexuality diversity in the premodern and modern eras. In September 2022, Mehrdad started his Veni Talent project (awarded by the Dutch Research Council [NWO]) titled "Beyond Binaries: Intersex in Islamic Legal Tradition" at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht. This study will examine intersex identity as a third sex and/or gender in (Shi'i) Islamic legal tradition between the 16th and early 20th centuries. Before joining Utrecht, Mehrdad was a postdoctoral researcher at the Goethe University of Frankfurt (September 2020-July 2022), participating in a two-year project entitled "Wege zu einer Ethik" which studied classical Islamic thoughts and how they might be employed to tackle modern issues concerning gender and sexuality in Muslim communities.
- Matt Forouzandy, queer Persian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist, artistic director and curator at the 19.27(2) Foundation
- Saghi Ghahraman, writer, editor, and advocate for the Iranian LGBT community (Canada)
- Hasan Hüseyin Halastar, lawyer, Families of LGBTI+ NGO (Turkey)
- Hayriye Kara, NGO Kaos GL (Turkey)
- Amir Hadi Mohammadi, Iranian asylum claimant (UK)
- Shahrzad Mojab is professor of Adult Education and Community Development and Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto (Canada). Her most recent book is Marxism and Migration (co-edited with Genevie Ritchie and Sara Carpenter).
- Arghavan Shamsara, Freelance Journalist (Canada).
- Paul Statham is Professor of Migration and Director of the Sussex Centre for Migration Research (SCMR) in the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies (JEMS), ranked no1 in “Ethnic Studies” (2020 Impact factor 5.340 score). Paul has written a number of collaborative monographs, edited volumes, and more than 70 articles in refereed journals and as book chapters. His current researches “transnational living” that results from migration, mobility and exchanges between Europe and Thailand with a focus on “marriage”, transgender (Kathoey), wellbeing and life-course. This collaborative research programme focuses on the impacts of “transnationalism” between Thailand and the West on the life-chances of Thai people.
- Transnational Community Federation e.V. (Germany/Turkey).
The Advisory Board meets twice yearly with the research team and met for the first time on 24 February 2022, online. We used this opportunity to introduce Advisory Board members to each other, as well as to discuss the project’s parameters and progress so far. Advisory Board members shared very useful feedback on certain aspects of the project, including on how certain matters could be framed more effectively and ensure the fieldwork is carried out according the highest ethical standards.
Our second Advisory Board meeting took place on 25 October 2022, and we discussed the project's progress with fieldwork in the UK, Turkey and Canada, as well as our website and social media presence. Advisory Board members offered valuable suggestions and shared insights about current developments in the field.
The third Advisory Board meeting took place on 3 May 2023, and offered the team an opportunity to update the Advisory Board on progress with the fieldwork, as well as sharing some of the short videos produced in the meantime and plans to present preliminary findings of the project at public events. We also discussed some themes that are emerging from the fieldwork and that will be analysed in the project's outputs. Finally, Advisory Board members and team members discussed several aspects of the theoretical framework being developed for the thematic analysis of the empirical data, and terminological issues relevant in this field.
The NQIfFM project has an important empirical dimension. The fieldwork includes semi-structured life-history interviews in each location, online and in person. Our participants include anyone who identifies themselves as LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex, queer and other, under any category).
Our methodology uses creative practices because of the strong artistic and folk traditions of poetry in Iran. Poetry in Iran is indeed a communal countercultural discourse for political dissent. Queer romance has a long history in Persian poetry. By employing poetic inquiry, we can gain insight into the emotional and symbolic aspects of identity renegotiation following forced migration. Our fieldwork thus includes poetry workshops to talk with participants about a familiar poem that they feel expresses their refugee journey, exile, and potential sense of (un)belonging in their host country. We also work with each participant on an individual basis, in person or online, to create short poems that express their journeys.
The project also employs other artistic techniques. Interviews will be audio and/or video recorded, and a documentary will be produced on the basis of these recordings. The documentary will thus record the fieldwork process and include some excerpts of interviews with participants. The documentary will thus offer insights into the experiences of IQIEs in all three case study countries, their journeys and identity-building processes, and how the asylum systems and host societies respond to their presence.
The main outputs of the NQIfFM project include a co-authored book, four journal articles, a website, and a documentary.
We will also produce a policy advice leaflet for NGOs and immigration organisations on how to use creative methods to better support their clients, and a poetry booklet to support and guide asylum claimants in their journeys to safer locations.
This section will be updated throughout the life of the project and after its formal end. If you would like to hear about our publications, please follow us on our social media channels.