'We don't have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country,' Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter in response to a question from the audience at Columbia University forum. 'In Iran we do not have this phenomena. I don't know who has told you that we have it.'
The comment was one of many that brought hoots of derision from the audience during the two-hour event on Sept. 24. Executions of gays in Iran have sparked worldwide protests.
University President Lee C. Bollinger had greeted Ahmadinejad with opening remarks in which he said to the Iranian, 'You exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. … You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.'
Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) president Joe Solmonese called Ahmadinejad's comment on homosexuals 'simply absurd were it not for the fact that international human rights watchers have long documented some of the most horrific acts of persecution and violence committed against gay people in Iran… [ His ] denial that there are gay people in Iran shows the extent to which he devalues the lives of the many citizens his government has and continues to violate.'
Gay pundit Andrew Sullivan at first did not comment 'because it seems superfluous.' He then added, 'If there are no gays in his country, why is he hanging so many of them?'
Sullivan also wondered, 'Would Columbia ever invite a right-wing extremist with the sa