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The PaykanArtCar is putting LGBTQ+ rights for Iranians on the map

Shojaian’s art is becoming a symbol for Iranian LGBTQ+ rights around the world, even though it made its world debut in only October

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Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC

MIAMI – To many Americans, the word Paykan probably doesn’t mean much, even if they know what it is. But to Iranians, the Paykan car is iconic. 

The first Iranian-produced car, colloquially referred to as the “Iranian chariot,” was the pride of Iran while the country was still producing them. Production of the car ended in 2005, but it has forever left its mark on Iranian culture, even if it is mostly nostalgic at this point. 

Paykan advert circa 1970’s

But – as the founder of LGBTQ+ nonprofit PaykanArtCar, a group dedicated to the rights of queer Iranians, Dr. Hiva Feizi told the Blade – the culture it represented was one of the oppression and persecution of LGBTQ+ Iranians. A culture that still exists to this day. 

“Iran is a country where there are still honor killings of gays and systematic oppression by the government,” Feizi said.

Equaldex, an LGBTQ+ resource that tracks queer rights and laws, gave Iran a 6 out of 100 equality index score. In the country, homosexuality is punishable by death, and gay marriage is illegal. LGBTQ+ people have virtually no protections in Iran and, according to World Values Survey, live in a society where 90.2% of people do not believe homosexuality is justifable, according to World Values Survey

Worse is how little attention the rest of the world, especially the English-speaking world, gives to LGBTQ+ rights in Iran. “The media doesn’t pay attention to this issue of human rights when it comes to Iran,” Feizi said. 

She said that it’s not that she doesn’t think Americans don’t care about human rights, but “when it comes to a country like Iran, it’s not in the media, so the average American doesn’t know about it – they don’t hear about it.”

That’s why Feizi has made it her mission to give the LGBTQ+ community in Iran a voice with her nonprofit PaykanArtCar.

Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC

The organization started after acquiring a 1974 Paykan Hillman Hunter limousine, the same car that was gifted to the authoritarian Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu by the former Shah (king) of Iran Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

“It adds another layer of importance that we had a car that was once driven by a dictator,” Feizi said. “And what better way to use that car than as a vehicle for freedom.”

Under the rule of Pahlavi, the last monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty, homosexuality was criminalized, but conditions for LGBTQ+ people got exponentially worse after the 1979 revolution

Paykan notes the significance of the revolution on their website, saying: “Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has systematically oppressed, persecuted, and executed thousands of members of the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC

After the acquisition of the car, it was turned over to Iranian painter and visual activist Alireza Shojaian, an artist in exile who now lives in Paris, as a blank canvas. He would be the one tasked with transforming the car into the “vehicle for human rights and human dignity in Iran.”

Shojaian left Iran in 2017 due to the dangers of being a queer person in the country. He found refuge in Paris and has been making LGBTQ-themed art ever since. He is the first artist to collaborate with PaykanArtCar.

“The aim of this edition of the PaykanArtCar is to shed light on the deadly abuse of LGBTQIA+ people in Iran, a problem that has been repeatedly denied by the regime and neglected by Iranian society, including in the diaspora,” Shojaian said. 

Alireza Shojaian (Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC)

According to the organization’s website, Shojaian borrowed images from Hossein Qollar-Aghasi’s, a 20th century Iranian painter, paintings titled “Sohrab and Shaban” – inspired by “The Persian book of Kings,” which was written over 1,000 years ago and tells the story of Iran from the dawn of time to the 7th century. 

“I use these images to narrate the contemporary story of Alireza Fazeli’s death and the brutal repression of the LGBTQIA+ community in Iran,” Shojaian said. 

He explains: “On the front of the car, I have turned the battle between these two national characters, Sohrab and Shaban, into a romantic moment taking place in a garden under the starry night sky of Shiraz. On the sides of the car are scenes of their deaths as the result of their forbidden love. On the left, the scene of Sohrab’s death refers to Articles 233-234 of the penal code of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which makes sexual relations between men punishable by death. On the right, the scene of Shaban’s death refers to the killing of Alireza Fazeli, and to hundreds of similar murders that no one hears about.”

Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC

Fazeli, a gay Iranian man, was reportedly kidnapped and beheaded in Iran earlier this, drawing outrage from world. According to the BBC, it is believed that he was killed by male family members after they discovered evidence that he was gay. 

After news of his death broke, celebrities from popstar Demi Lavato to RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Jackie Cox took to social media to spread awareness about Fazeli’s tragic death. 

Now, Shojaian’s art is becoming a symbol for Iranian LGBTQ+ rights around the world, even though it made its world debut in only October.

Recently, in partnership with Toronto-based art nonprofit 3.19.27(2), the car made a stop in Toronto, Canada, receiving a spotlight in Canada’s largest newspaper the Toronto Star. It has also been featured in publications like the New York Times and Time Magazine

Still, the organization’s bold message hasn’t been celebrated everywhere. 

In October, Shojaian was invited by organizers of AsiaNow, a Parisian art fair showcasing the diversity of Asia’s contemporary art scene. But, according to PaykanArtCar, the organizers revoked their invitation just days before the art fair was set to start. 

After several attempts to convince AsiaNow to reconsider, the group was told that their “political criticism of the Iranian’s regime was too extreme.”

“It is a tragic result that the AsiaNow fair refuses to rise above the political pressure and instead resorted to excluding Alireza from the fair,” said PaykanArtCar Co-Founder and Ambassador Mark Wallace in a press release at the time. “Simply put AsiaNow made the wrong choice. Choosing to display galleries in a French Art fair, either approved by Iran’s regime or censored by Iran’s regime to the exclusion of Alireza was the wrong choice. Alireza speaks powerfully for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community inside Iran and out. We will continue to stand in support of Alireza.”

Feizi added: “I’m shocked that the Iranian regime that drove him from his home country has now found another way to silence him and his pro-LGBTQ art in France, supposedly a bastion of free speech and liberalism. The PaykanArtCar will not stop advocating for the rights of those oppressed inside Iran and we will continue to display this car.”

Feizi knows she cannot let moments like these take away from what the group has accomplished thus far. 

“It’s been very eye opening and touching the support we’ve gotten,” she said. “And also the negative comments, which I also see as a positive because I think that any discourse is good. Let’s talk about it. Let’s put the LGBTQ community topic on the map for Iranians.”

Of course, Feizi hasn’t been able to push her message without help from others. In addition to Shojaian and Wallace, Feizi has also had the unwavering support of Matt Forouzandy, the Artistic Director and Curator for both 3.19.27(2) and Paykan. 

“Matt has been a big supporter who has been putting his own time and his own energy into this,” she said. 

Forouzandy, a gay man from Iran, told the Blade that he and his organization 3.19.27(2) were very interested in the PaykanArtCar from the beginning. 

“[3.19.27(2)] looks for artists being censored, artists speaking out about homophobia, women rights, stuff like that,” he said. “So, we were very interested from the beginning of what PaykanArtCar was doing.”

Photo Credit: PaykanArtCar, LLC

He added that Shojaian’s “work is going to be in art history.”

However, both Feizi and Forouzandy know that the PaykanArtCar will not stop here. “The concept of Paykan is going like beyond one artist because they want to focus on Iranian queer rights,” Forouzandy said. “They’re gonna pass the peg on to so many different artists and each piece of artwork will be a piece of a puzzle to show the bigger picture.”

Specifically, Feizi wants to continue to tour the car around the world to bring “Iran human rights issues to the eyes of the public.” From the Canadian parliament and the U.S. Congress to Oslo and the rest of Europe, she has big dreams for the car and what it could mean for Iranians. 

“I want a change in Iran,” she said. “I want a better Iran in the future where everybody is equal and human rights and human dignity is respected.”

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Target & vendor remove T-shirt from webstore after ACT-UP NY objects

Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle symbol was created by artisans with The Silence=Death Project

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

MINNEAPOLIS – Retail giant Target and its vendor partner, New York City-based retailer The Phluid Project, removed a T-shirt which used the iconic slogan Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle symbol from availability on the Target web store Friday.

In a story first reported by longtime Rolling Stone editor Daniel Kreps, a series of tweets this week called out both Target and The Phluid Project for not clarifying if proceeds of sales of the item would be channeled to ACT-UP NY,  the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), a non-profit.

ACT-UP NY also sells t-shirts and other apparel with the iconic imagery to generate funds for its efforts to raise awareness and contribute to HIV/AIDS campaigns including funding for Housing Works, New York’s largest AIDS service organization and Health GAP, which fights to expand treatment for people with AIDS throughout the world, which are direct outgrowths of ACT-UP.

Silence = Death and its accompanying reversed pink triangle graphic symbol was created by artisans and graphic designers from The Silence=Death Project. The six-person collective in New York City was comprised of Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston, Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Soccarás.

The Silence=Death poster was also used by ACT-UP as a central image in their activist campaign against the AIDS epidemic. Because of ACT-UP’s advocacy, the slogan and pink triangle remains synonymous with AIDS activism.

A spokesperson for Target, Brian Harper-Tibaldo told the Blade that “This shirt was designed by our vendor partner, The Phluid Project, who is working directly with ACT-UP to address their concerns. The item is only available on Target.com and we’ve temporarily pulled it from our assortment until the concern is resolved.”

The Phluid Project’s Chief Executive Officer, Robert Garett Smith, told the Blade in a phone call Friday afternoon that once he had learned about the social media exchange he communicated with Target to suspend sales of the T-Shirt. Smith said that he was in communication with ACT-UP NY and that steps were being undertaken to mitigate the issue.

Smith emphasized that his company is queer owned and operated, he himself is a gay man who is also HIV positive and his goal is for fulfillment and empowerment for LGBTQ+ people. He reiterated his mission statement posted to the firm’s website which reads; “We strive to amplify the rising voice of today’s youth, which rejects binary gender norms, and favors an inclusive world that allows individuals to wear what makes them feel good—that is, what best reflects who they really are inside.”

A Federal records check by the Blade showed that there was no registered Copyright or Trademark for the slogan and its image, and that technically it is in the public domain, a fact that ACT-UP NY noted in their tweet Friday. At issue for the collective was what it defined as ‘corporatization’ of the iconic imagery.

The Phluid Project’s Smith said that he believes in monies and profits being part of a reinvestment into the LGBTQ+ community especially given the political attacks on the community, mainly Trans and queer non-binary people currently.

ACT-UP NY in a June 2018 tweet after a similar controversy with global footwear giant Nike after a compromise earlier with clothing company Levi Strauss & Co noted that their position is that companies should not profit off queer people’s lives without sharing those profits.

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Lambda Legal & Black & Pink: Legal system anti-LGBTQ+ bias survey

“Everyone who interacts with the criminal system, whether a victim or are suspected of a crime has legal rights & must be treated fairly”

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Courtesy of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department NC

NEW YORK – Lambda Legal, in partnership with Black & Pink National, launched the new Protected & Served? community survey Thursday, a study that will explore discrimination and bias against LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV in the criminal legal system.

The findings of the Protected & Served? survey, will inform and support new research, advocacy, litigation, and policy efforts to address the discrimination and abuse experienced by LGBTQ+ people and living with HIV in the criminal legal system, and hold them accountable.

“Everyone who interacts with the criminal legal system, whether they are a victim of a crime or are suspected, accused, or convicted of committing a crime, has legal rights and must be treated fairly,” said Senior Attorney and Criminal Justice and Police Misconduct Strategist for Lambda Legal, Richard Saenz. “However, we know that is not the case for many people, especially LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV. If people in our communities have had an experience with the criminal legal system or another government entity such as child protective services, we need to hear from them so that together we can make change.”

“The idea that we are supposed to compartmentalize the harm we experience from systems of police while engaging with these systems for our care and safety is a recipe for disaster,” said Executive Director for Black and Pink National, Dominique Morgan. “And if these systems truly desire to be our core system of care and justice, they should welcome feedback that allows them to see their true impact. The Protected and Served? report is a much needed mirror to police, jails, prisons, and school security.”

The first Protected & Served? report, which explored government misconduct by police, prisons, the courts and school security against LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV, has been an important resource for litigators, advocacy groups, scholars, journalists, and government entities, including the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

This year’s updated report will build on the success of the first report by expanding the survey to include questions about the experiences of more marginalized populations within our communities, including incarcerated people, young people, sex workers, and immigrants, and will ask questions about interactions with the U.S. immigration system, government systems focused on youth such as child protective services, and broader law enforcement.

The survey will also ask how these experiences have influenced trust, or distrust, in the criminal legal system.

Strength in Numbers Consulting Group, an LGBTQ+ led research, evaluation, and philanthropic strategy firm, will facilitate the survey and contribute to the report.

The survey, which is anonymous and confidential, will open today, May 5, 2022, and will be open until July 8, 2022. Online participants will have an opportunity to enter a drawing to win 1 of 10 gift cards in the amount of $100. The report will be published in late 2022.

For more information, including the survey, please visit www.ProtectedAndServed.org

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LGBTQ Non-Profit Organizations

Human Rights Campaign uses the word ‘gay’ & Tik Tok suspends them

A comment that included the word ‘gay’ got the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights advocacy non-profit suspended for a couple of days

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HRC/Twitter

CULVER CITY – A Tik-Tok reel-post of the protests against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ on which the Human Rights Campaign left a comment that included the word ‘gay’ got the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights advocacy non-profit suspended for a couple of days.

In a tweet Monday, HRC wrote, “Seriously @tiktok_us? You banned us for using the word gay in a comment. You need to do better!”

 Ty Cobb, senior director of strategic initiatives at HRC, told The Advocate Tuesday in a statement:

“What message does it send to young people when we comment or post LGBTQ+ content and it’s deemed inappropriate and a violation of community guidelines? We’re fighting a battle for our lives. Elected officials are trying to censor our speech and restrict our access to healthcare and equal opportunity. Our need to communicate to our community and allies is more important than ever right now. Having our TikTok account suspended for two days means our ability to post educational, affirming content was restricted, which is nothing short of devastating.”

Tik-Tok has a checkered and problematic history in its engagement with the LGBTQ+ community. TikTok’s “For You” page recommendation algorithm circulated videos promoting hate and violence targeting the LGBTQ community during Pride Month, while the company celebrated the month with its #ForYourPride campaign. 

There are no tailored TikTok policies specifically addressing safety for the LGBTQ community. Instead, the platform’s community guidelines relevant to protecting the LGBTQ community are folded into TikTok’s “organized hate” and “hateful behavior” policies barring users from directing hate toward an individual or groups based on their “sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity,” among other characteristics.

LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD analyzed LGBTQ safety on TikTok in its Social Media Safety Index released in May. In its recommendations, it noted that “TikTok must prioritize improved practices and systems to reduce anti-LGBTQ hate and extremist content.”

Anti-LGBTQ content not only slides under TikTok’s radar but seems to be actively promoted by the company’s algorithm.

Media Matters for America, a Washington D.C.-based media watchdog group noted: “Let’s be clear: No one knows exactly how TikTok’s “For You” page algorithm is formulated. We have a rough idea, as TikTok has explained that recommendations are based on a number of factors like user interactions, video information, and device settings.”

LGBTQ+ individual users on the Tik-Tok platform also find themselves targeted by organized efforts by right-wing homophobes who have discovered how to “game” the platforms to force content guideline strikes or violations algorithms which sometimes result in a complete ban and deplatforming of those users affected.

The Culver City based social media company spokesperson responding in an email to The Advocate explained the company took action immediately after it knew of the issue with HRC.

“We restored the comment as soon as we were made aware of this error and will continue to provide ongoing training to help our moderators make consistent and accurate decisions,” the spokesperson for the company said. “We are proud that LGBTQ+ community members choose to create and share on TikTok, and our policies seek to protect and empower these voices on our platform.” 

Tik-Tok has not responded to the Blade’s request for explanation or comment.

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