Read, Debate: Engage.

How the world can help LGBT+ Afghans

December 31, 2021
topic:LGBT Rights
tags:#Afghanistan, #Taliban, #LGBTQ Rights, #human rights
by:Louis Shankar
Since the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in August, the country has been an increasingly dangerous place for LGBT+ people. Now, international advocacy groups and activists are trying to help save their lives and raise awareness to their growing plight.

Members of the LGBT+ community in Afghanistan reported that they are at risk of being hunted down and murdered. They are threatened both by the authorities and, often, their own families.

While LGBT+ Afghans had already suffered "discrimination, assault and rape" at the hands of the previous government, according to a 2020 report by the US Department of State, the situation has deteriorated under the Taliban.

"The situation gets worse every day [...] fear of arrest is part of life now and I have such stress that I can't even sleep," Balkhi (an alias), a 20-year-old university student and queer activist told CNN back in September. She further said that a gay man in her neighborhood being raped after being found by the Taliban (such reports came from several other LGBT+ Afghans who spoke to CNN). 

Many have tried to leave the country during the brief period of withdrawal in order to seek asylum elsewhere; this is still the preferred option for much of the community, but it is an arduous and drawn-out process

Emergency campaign launched

Since August, many LGBT+ Afghans have had to flee their homes and are now in hiding; they are in desperate need of basic resources: food, shelter, and necessary medications. 

In an attempt to tackle this crisis, AllOut, an international LGBT+ rights nonprofit organisation, working in partnership with ILGA Asia, stepped in. Together, the NGOs have been raising money and awareness through an emergency program to provide essential help and resources to LGBT+ Afghans.

ILGA Asia, the Asian Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, claims it has the means to help those at risk stay safe while they await long term solutions (primarily relocation). 

The campaign's target is to help a minimum of 29 LGBT+ people that have been identified as most at risk.

“Ever since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, life has become like a prison for LGBT+ Afghans," explained Sarah Mitchell, Director of Supporter Engagement at All Out. "They live in constant fear and their life is in jeopardy: under the Taliban rule, homosexuality is punished by death and ‘honor killings’ are often practiced."

"When we learned about ILGA Asia’s emergency program we clearly saw that this could possibly be the only hope for many LGBT+ people in Afghanistan and jumped into action,” Mitchell added.

ILGA are an umbrella organisation that works with grassroots networks to provide for local communities. Unlike many charities, they have the means and ability to get resources into the country and help those who need it most. It is, understandably, very difficult to reach out and identify who is most at risk, given the risk of identifying oneself to the authorities in the process. Communities do exist, however, facilitated in large part by social media and online networking. 

Spreading the word

"The LGBT+ people I am  in contact with in Afghanistan are living extremely isolated lives, many fearful to even leave their homes," says Henry Koh, Executive Director at ILGA Asia. “Some are on the run, some are hiding, and some have attempted to take their own lives. But the thing that unites everyone who we are in contact with is pure, raw fear of being killed under this regime because they are LGBT+," he added. "Our mission to assist LGBT+ Afghans cannot be done alone, we need everyone’s help to find the necessary resources."

Yuri Guaiana, Senior Campaigns Manager at All Out, shared that this has been one of the largest, if not the largest, campaign that All Out had worked on. They had previously coordinated a similar campaign in Chechnya, providing emergency supplies to LGBT+ people, particularly gay men, at risk of being imprisoned or killed by the authorities.

"The Chechen campaign was pretty big and pretty successful," Guaiana told FairPlanet, "and I hope this can be even larger, because the need is monumental. We do need all the help possible, we need to get the word out."

"It took a bit longer to get up and running," Guaiana explained, "because the borders were closed and it was really hard for anyone to get inside or to get out of Afghanistan after that. But when ILGA Asia managed to get a program up and running we immediately realised this could be the only hope for some people to survive."

Various international partner organisations are working on long term goals, particularly relocation and asylum, but this campaign is focussed on the more immediate necessities: food and water and shelter. 

ILGA Asia have three core priorities: to “promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” including eventually eliminating of all forms of discrimination, including stigmatisation; to “work for the equality of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression and sex characteristics”; and to “empower and support LGBTI communities, organisations and individuals,” across Asia, while also encouraging local community building and nationwide networking. 

In September, they partnered with Stonewall to publish an open letter to governments and humanitarian agencies in relation to the Afghanistan crisis: “Experience shows that LGBTQI+ people are not adequately accounted for in humanitarian crises and when in flight,” it read. “Some organisations openly discriminate against LGBTQI+ people and do not hold their staff to account for violating their rights […] Urgent coordinated efforts are needed to support the safe passage, ensure in-country protection and ideally, the resettlement of our LGBTQI+ Afghan siblings."

Supporting LGBT+ people globally

AllOut doesn't usually run such large fundraising campaigns; the organisation's work also encompasses advocacy, awareness raising and developing international solidarity. “Basically, what we do is to give people the tools to take action, whenever it is needed, because there is a risk, or because there is an opportunity that comes along," said Guaiana, who has been working at AllOut since 2016. "Applying pressure is at the core of what we do [...] we want to give people the opportunity to change things, to change the world and, potentially, to build a world where nobody has to sacrifice their dignity or freedom to be who they are."

Other recent and ongoing AllOut campaigns include: supporting and promoting transgender rights in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, which started with local activists but now has global outreach, in part due to AllOut events that coincided with Transgender Day of Remembrance 2021; campaigning for free movement for rainbow families across the EU, as several member states still don’t recognise same-sex parents; and providing LGBT+ Brazilians with vital and sometimes lifesaving mental health help. 

The NGO's global reach and online presence meant that the Covid-19 pandemic presented multiple opportunities to help smaller activist groups around the world that were badly affected over the past 18 months. Over 50 groups worldwide were given grants from an emergency Covid fund that was set up. 

Image by Raphael Renter

Article written by:
Louis Shankar
Embed from Getty Images
Dozens of people (women's empowerment, LGBT+ and lesbians organisations) and members of the Afghan community of Toulouse organised a protest in Toulouse to raise awareness about the human rights crisis in Afghanistan.
© Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Call to Action
Here's how you can support vulnerable Afghans trapped under Taliban rule
Support now