Homosexuality does exist in Iran. Although there's no popular "gay culture" as in the west, there's a small degree of openness in parts of Iran's upper classes, but in the general population acceptance is low and state persecution is chronic.
The authorities are pretty serious about this one. The punishment for sodomy is death. Lesser crimes such as kissing someone of the same sex in public are punishable by lashing. However, it's up to the judgment of the local court but men and women have been executed for being homosexual.
Being transgender is not illegal. It's recognized by the state and gender reassignment is endorsed. The government partially pays for the operation however there are still conservative attitudes within Iranian society towards transgender people and LGBTQ in general. There have also been reports of the Guidance Patrol (religious police) harassing transgender people.
Homosexual backpackers exploring Iran together reported no problems checking into their accommodation, saying that they were friends traveling together however LGBTQ travelers are advised to remain discreet and respectful of the local laws and culture at all times. Want to know more about how to stay safe while traveling in Iran? Check these tips from Nomadic Boys.
In 2010, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went on state TV to tell men to stop harassing women and despite some attitude changes towards women, there are still challenges.
The Guidance Patrol (religious police) no longer arrests people for violating Islamic values, however those who have neglected their faith (including compulsory hijab wearing) will need to attend re-education programs. There have been reports of women not wearing the hijab still being harassed by the Guidance Patrol.
Women are unable to watch sports in stadiums or ride a bicycle. Married women are unable to leave the country without their husband's permission and divorce is often a no-no even if a woman is being abused in a marriage. Many local women who have spoken out against the oppression have ended up being punished severely and put in jail. Be mindful when you are in public and avoid making political, anti-government or feminist comments.
Despite many restrictions, local women are pushing their hijabs back a bit more (despite it being compulsory under Iranian law), and showing a lot of color in their clothing. There's even hand-holding in public between young couples.
Women can and do travel alone in Iran. Most report an enjoyable and trouble-free experience and there is a strong tradition of hospitality in Iran. Locals will welcome you and generally treat you like an honored guest.
Sometimes women travelers have experienced unwanted attention or harassment. While unexpectedly awkward and uncomfortable, they never felt physically unsafe or threatened. Violence against travelers is rare.
If you are traveling around, sit with other women. Sometimes, the bus driver will ask passengers to move seats so a woman is not sitting next to a male stranger.
Women in Iran wear a hijab from the age of seven and a manteau (trench-style coat) over trousers. Showing your hair from under the scarf is acceptable.
Many Iranian women are well-dressed and very stylish. Showing a lot of skin and wearing tight clothing isn't acceptable. Dress modestly and pop a headscarf on (make sure you have a scarf or shawl with you prior to arrival into Iran). Want to know more about what to wear in Iran? Check out these tips from Alexandra Reynolds from Lost with Purpose.
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It's not on the average traveller's wish list, but Iran is no average destination. Where ancient Persian culture meets modern world. Check out these 5 tips to get you on your way from World Nomads.