If you can make it to Turkey, you’re set.
That’s the mindset of the many LGBT Iranians who flee their home country seeking a brighter future free from constant government harassment and persecution. They call it the gay underground railroad.
The decision to leave your home — family, friends and all familiarity — for an uncertain fate is never easy. Iran’s anti-gay laws are harsh — being convicted of a same-sex kiss will get you a flogging, and sodomy is punishable by death. For those who do decide to take a leap off the proverbial cliff, the choice can be a necessary last resort.
News website Vocative recently profiled an adorable couple who made the journey to Turkey, where they now both live in limbo awaiting their asylum paperwork to be processed.
Sepehr Rajaei and Ata Leysi met online, fell in love and began living together in Tehran.
They were living a lie, forced to hide the nature of their relationship from family, unable to show any kind of affection in public. The stress was too much, and they knew they stood a good chance of relocating to the West by traveling the gay underground railroad.
Turkey doesn’t require a visa, so for Rajaei who has an Iranian passport, the journey was a relatively simple one. Leysi paid a smuggler $1,000 to transport him to the mountainous border where he found a spot to slide under a barbed wire fence.
Life as a refugee isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Though not legally permitted to work, the two have found odd jobs to tide them over. And while free from government persecution, they’ve had their fair share of run-ins with homophobia in their temporary home.
But their outlook remains positive. Leysi was recently approved for asylum in the U.S., though Rajaei is still waiting for his status. “I know we’ll end up being together,” Leysi says.
Read the full story here.