Payam Ghassemlou was born in 1966 in Tehran, Iran. From a young age, Payam realized he was different from his peers, identifying as gay in an environment where he was treated as though he were straight. This caused confusion and a sense of isolation from a very young age.
Growing up in an oppressive society with limited freedom of speech, Payam began expressing his discontent during his school years by writing anti-establishment texts. His opposition to the government in the time of the Iranian Revolution eventually forced him to flee his homeland in order to save his life.
In the midst of the AIDS crisis, Payam migrated to the United States as a teenager. Initially in denial about his own sexuality, he believed he was experiencing temporary bisexuality, influenced by Freudian theory. However, in his early twenties, Payam stumbled upon an advertisement for West Hollywood clubs in LA Weekly. Intrigued by the predominantly male atmosphere, he mustered the courage to explore his own identity and finally accepted that he was gay.
At the same time, Payam pursued a master’s program to become a therapist and began interning at the Gay and Lesbian Center. This experience helped him to accept himself further and eventually come out to friends and family, aided by the literature and guidance he encountered during his internship.
Wanting to find and foster a sense of belonging within the LGBTQ+ community, Payam and a group of friends established an LGBTQ+ Iranian advocacy group called Homan Los Angeles. Through activism, attending marches, and fostering connections, Payam and Homan strived to combat isolation and provide support and visibility to the wider LGBTQ+ Iranian community.
During this period, Payam also volunteered for AIDS Project Los Angeles, an experience that enlightened him about the devastating impact of AIDS on the LGBTQ+ community. This exposure motivated him to contribute to the community further.
Throughout his career as a psychotherapist, Payam has immersed himself in the life stories of many LGBTQ+ individuals. This involvement has provided him with profound insights and deepened his understanding of the community’s struggles and triumphs. Over the course of nearly three decades, he has been dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ people and helping them navigate their lives. Payam is also an accomplished author; in 2015, he published Fruit Basket: A Gay Man’s Journey, and has written numerous essays on LGBTQ+ issues.
While his activism initially focused primarily on the LGBTQ+ community, Payam’s concerns have expanded to include the fate of our planet. Recognizing the urgency of environmental issues, he believes it is crucial to prioritize the preservation of the Earth, as it underpins the freedoms and rights we fight for.
Payam Ghassemlou’s life journey exemplifies the struggle for self-acceptance and the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Through his activism, writing, and therapeutic work, he continues to make an indelible mark on the LGBTQ+ community, striving to create a world where everyone can live authentically and be embraced for who they are.