Since the Taliban took power of Afghanistan, many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people have been desperately seeking aid, safety, hiding, and trying to flee the country. Life in Afghanistan for LGBT people increasingly becomes more desperate, threatening their safety and their lives.
I have been communicating directly with LGBT people and aiding in getting them out of the situations they are in and into safe in other countries. In conjunction with the White House, the State Department, Freedom House, Dignity for All, and the Rainbow Railroad, we are aiming to assist and save these people in need.
Most of those people I have been in touch with report being attacked, threatened, sexually assaulted, bullied, and blackmailed by members of the Taliban because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Others also report abuse from their own family members, neighbors, and community leaders. Most of those people are still in Afghanistan, yet there are those who managed to flee to nearby countries, where they remain in danger, including of being forcibly returned. Those who have been resettled in countries where they feel safe are the lucky ones.
A backlog of over 1,600 LGBT people are still seeking to be evacuated. As they wait, most are in hiding, some have fled their homes from attacks by Taliban members or supporters pursuing them. Others watch as the lives they had built disappeared, now finding themselves at risk of being targeted at any time because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Afghanistan was a dangerous place for LGBT people even before the Taliban took over the country again. Same-sex relations were explicitly criminalized. They would face abuses, including rape, forced marriage, physical violence, expulsion from schools, firing from workplaces, blackmail, and having to hide their identities.
When the Taliban recaptured the country and gained control in 2021, the situation for LGBT people worsened under the even more extreme Taliban fundamentalist Islamic law. The danger now facing LGBT people in Afghanistan, is a life completely devoid of legal protections, and ruled by authorities that explicitly pledged not to tolerate or accept LGBT people.
Most of those I have spoken with believe the only path to safest is to relocate to a country with greater protections for the rights of LGBT people. But, to date, few LGBT Afghans escaping Afghanistan are known to have reached a safe country. LGBT people face unique barriers to fleeing and relocating. Gender nonconforming individuals are afraid to go to the country’s passport offices or pass through checkpoints on public roads for fear of being spotted by Taliban. Women are prohibited from traveling without male relatives, so lesbian and bisexual women cannot escape on their own. The LGBT Afghans who have conformed or were forced to social expectations to marry a different-sex partner have children, and they do not want to abandon or uproot their families. And, many who have some family support are unwilling to leave their families behind for fear of retribution from the Taliban and their supporters.
The nearest countries to flee to are Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan — all of these countries criminalize same-sex relations, and according to Sharia Law, the crime of being LGBT is punishable by death.
Evacuation will not be an option for most LGBT Afghans. The risk of facing persecution is too horrid on any grounds to obtain the documentation and financial resources needed to leave the country. How do we help those who want to leave the country and how do we help those who are unable to leave?
We must take action, continue to help evacuate them and sneak them out. We must also use our might against the Taliban and sharia law that abuses LGBT people. Our actions might ensure the rights of those who are facing human rights atrocities. We must urge the United Nations and concerned governments to use their leverage with the Taliban to revise laws and regulations, and at least to let the victims out of Afghanistan.
The priority of organizations and individuals to help LGBT Afghans must be focused and refocused to ensure we can help those in need. International donors and aid agencies should make delivering services that assist and protect LGBT people a priority, even when Taliban abuses complicate doing so.