Deborah Faudoa Rodriguez

My name is Deborah Faudoa (or Debbie), I am 26 years old, and I am from the city of Chihuahua, Chihuahua. I have lived in Mexico City since 2016 and I have a degree in Anthropology, a career I studied at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Since I began my degree, I have sought to obtain work experience, which is why I have already participated in various research projects, especially linked to the LGBT+ community. However, I have also participated in research on the migrant population, and I contributed to the creation of a documentary about Mexican mothers migrating to Canada. Due to my experience in these research projects, the invitation to participate in a research stay at the University of Sussex, in England, came to me.

My stay took place within the framework of the International Junior Research Associate program, which works in collaboration with some universities associated with the University of Sussex. Its objective is to develop future research leaders through short stays, where university students can carry out supervised research during the summer. The invitation lasts eight weeks during which we have the opportunity to interact with distinguished researchers to develop academic networks. The project I worked on is entitled “Negotiating Queer Identities Following Forced Migration” and I worked under the supervision of Professor Nuno Ferreira and Doctor Kamran Matin.

The research focuses on the experiences of LGBT refugees leaving Iran in search of a safer place for themselves. Currently, there are several human rights violations in that country, from the lack of freedom of expression to extremely harsh LGBT policies. According to the Iran Centre for Human Rights (2021), this community faces severe legal and social discrimination. Same-sex sexual acts are punishable by flogging and death; therefore, LGBT people are forced to remain hidden. Iran’s Parliamentary Research Centre conducted a study that showed that 17% of 142,000 students identified themselves as homosexual. In a survey of Iranian LGBT people, 77% reported violence, including at work, from immediate family, in public spaces, in the education system, etc. Ali Larijani, who was speaker of parliament in 2011, said the death penalty for same-sex sexual conduct is “effective in keeping society safe from perversion.” Activists can also face national security charges for their defence of the LGBT population.

Regarding the rights of transgender people, there is a limited degree of official recognition of their identities by the government, under the condition that they undergo sex reassignment surgery. Those who do not go under surgery do not have legal recognition, and those who do must first go through a very invasive process that includes virginity testing, parental approval, and psychological counselling that often reinforces feelings of shame in the person. Iran regards transgender identities as a disease and has no laws to protect this population from hate crimes. “The Iranian trans community faces pressure from state and non-state actors, ranging from hostile public attitudes to acts of extreme violence, risk of arrest, detention, and prosecution. The majority of trans people interviewed for this report highlighted their personal experiences with harassment, domestic violence, social discrimination, and legal persecution as a result of their gender identity” (OutRight Action International, nd).

Iranian LGBT people can apply for refugee status in foreign countries to escape discrimination. They often go to European countries, but there are many cases where they also go to Canada and Turkey. “It was only in 2013 that the Court of Justice of the European Union declared that sexual orientation was a ground for seeking asylum in accordance with the ‘Guidance Note on Refugee Claims Related to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’ of the EU issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2008” (Ahmady, 2020). However, their immigration journey “exemplifies a dramatic and often brutal experience” (Ahmady, 2019). The process itself causes these people to suffer various forms of discrimination, such as brutal treatment, contempt for their mere existence, sexual assault and the presence of anxiety and fear. Ahmady (2019) mentions that seeking asylum is difficult as migrants are leaving friends, family, culture, and employment for a better life, which can be alienating in itself. However, they also face a hostile environment. Obtaining asylum can be a long and painful process, filled with stereotypes about LGBT people.

Having contextualized my research, I can say that it was extremely important for me to have participated in this project, not only academically, but also personally. On the social side, it was also very gratifying to have participated in this stay, since I had the experience of living at the University, where I shared many experiences alongside my colleagues from the IJRA program, but also with the summer school students–all foreigners, mostly from the United States, and a few Asian countries, such as Vietnam, India, and Thailand. We had very pleasant moments, especially on the trips organized by the school, in which we got to know a large part of the south of England.

Finally, I want to strongly thank my supervisors for all their support, as well as UNAM (especially Roberto Escorcia and Dr Emanuel Rodríguez Domínguez) and the UNAM office in England for this incredible opportunity. I hope it can be repeated with many more Mexican students.