Queer people in Afghanistan are in deadly danger. After the Taliban swiftly took control in August following 20 years of US-led occupation, more than 120,000 people had been evacuated by late September. But today, tens of thousands of LGBTQ Afghans remain there, fearing for their lives, say agencies trying to rescue them.
Same-sex activity was already criminalized in Afghanistan. The Taliban, however, has vowed to institute strict Sharia law. A Taliban judge stated in July that gay men would be subject to death by stoning or being crushed by a wall toppled on them.
With heightened discrimination and violence, many queer Afghans have gone into hiding while they desperately hope to be rescued or to find successful ways out of Afghanistan on their own – ways that won’t lead to their own deaths or the death of loved ones.
LGBTQI+ activists are especially threatened and are “actively being pursued by the Taliban,” says Dane Bland of Rainbow Railroad. “It’s the equivalent of having an arrest warrant out, except it’s essentially an execution warrant.”
We bring you an important and disturbing conversation with representatives of two non-profits trying to get queer Afghans to safety — Rainbow Railroad and the Human Rights Campaign — and a gay Afghan American who is helping resettle refugees in the San Francisco Bay Area. They spoke with Out in the Bay about the challenges queer people in Afghanistan face and what the U.S. and Canadian governments should be doing to help people out of their dangerous situations.
Our expert guests are Jean Freedberg, Director of Global Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign, based in Washington, D.C.; Dane Bland, Director of Development & Communications at Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian and U.S. non-profit that helps persecuted LGBTQI+ people around the globe get to safety; and Harris Mojadedi, an activist with the Afghan Coalition in Fremont, CA, which is helping Afghan refugees resettle.
How to help: Click links in above paragraph to learn more about Bay Area and national organizations. Action items: See the Ten-Point Plan to Protect LGBTQI Afghan Refugees. Sign urgent appeal to the Biden administration to protect LGBTQI Afghan refugees. Your signature can help save lives. Find other ways to help at Welcome.US.
UPDATE: This conversation first aired in November 2021. We bring it to you again as the situation is still dire. As of Jan. 19, 2022, Rainbow Railroad says it had helped close to 80 LGBTQIA Afghans resettle in the U.K. and is “working on pathways into North America.“ Many thousands remain stuck while “general concerns, like famine, etc., are more rampant than before,” Dane Bland wrote to us. On the U.S. policy front, “the Biden administration has been making some efforts, but has not specifically addressed” items in the 10-point plan to help LGBTQI Afghans flee to the U.S., the HRC’s Jean Freedberg wrote to us Jan. 17.
Photo courtesy of Rainbow Railroad: LGBTQI+ Afghans show their passports before boarding a flight to the U.K.
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This week’s program was produced by Kendra Klang and edited by Christopher Beale.