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Southern-Central Asia

Countries urged to offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban has said it will execute gay men

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(Bigstock photo)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Advocacy groups have urged the U.S. and other countries to offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans after the Taliban regained control of the country.

“As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, members of the LGBTIQ community are among those at greatest risk of suffering under Taliban rule,” tweeted the Organization for Migration, Refuge and Asylum on Tuesday. “The international community must act quickly and decisively to aid all those fleeing persecution.”

Stonewall, a British LGBTQ rights group, echoed ORAM’s call.

“LGBTQ+ Afghans have endured routine discrimination, abuse and persecution, including by the state,” said Stonewall CEO Nancy Kelley on Tuesday. “With the Taliban in power we expect this situation to deteriorate further, including the potential for a return to active enforcement of the laws that prohibit same sex relationships.”

President Biden last month announced U.S. military operations in Afghanistan would end on Aug. 31. The previous White House in 2020 brokered a peace deal with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal.

The Taliban on Sunday entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and toppled President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Evacuation flights resumed at the city’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Tuesday, a day after thousands of Afghans who were desperate to leave the country swarmed it.

Media reports indicate a Taliban judge last month said the group would execute gay people if it once again governed Afghanistan.

“Afghanistan already is not a safe place to be LGBTQI+ people,” said Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, a Toronto-based organization that assists LGBTQ refugees around the world. “According to the U.S. State Department, public attitudes across the diversity of Afghan society towards LGBTQI+ people are extremely negative, which leads members of the LGBTQ+ community to keep their gender identity and sexual orientation a secret in fear of harassment, intimidation, persecution and death. Now, with the return of the Taliban, there is understandable fear that the situation will worsen.”

“Rainbow Railroad is concerned that the return to power of the Taliban will lead to instances of extreme violence directed at members of the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan,” added Powell. “And although it remains to be seen how the Taliban will respond to international pressure to uphold human rights, early signs are not encouraging. Just last month, a Taliban judge threatened that gay men will be crushed to death by toppling walls onto them should the group regain control of Afghanistan.”

Powell said Rainbow Railroad has received 50 “requests for help originating in Afghanistan” so far this year, “and we anticipate an uptick in requests due to the deteriorating security situation that threatens the safety of LGBTQI+ people.”

“Moreover there is very limited human rights defenders and civil society engagement to support LGBTQI+ persons at risk,” said Powell. “However, we are currently relying on our deep international network and contacts within the country in order to reach people at risk. “

‘We don’t know what’s happening’

Charbel Maydaa is the founder and general director of MOSAIC, a Lebanon-based advocacy group that works throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Maydaa is also the first alternate co-chair of ILGA Asia.

Maydaa on Tuesday noted to the Washington Blade that the Taliban use Sharia law to target LGBTQ people. Maydaa noted the Taliban wants “to look good in front of the international community,” but added LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country are terrified.

“We lost contact with many people there,” said Maydaa. “We don’t know what’s happening. They’re not online or they are really afraid to talk on Facebook.”

Maydaa said three female academics with whom he has worked “disappeared” five days ago. Maydaa told the Blade an LGBTQ person in Kabul with whom he spoke on Monday “didn’t mention anything.”

“He was really afraid to communicate, so he was just like I’m alive. I’m fine,” said Maydaa.

Maydaa said ILGA Asia is currently working to find shelters for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan before they are able to leave the country. Maydaa added ILGA Asia is also “trying to advocate for some governments” to “literally rescue them.”

The Canadian government on Friday announced it will allow up to 20,000 Afghans — including members of the LGBTQ community — to resettle in the country.

“Canada will continue to implement the special immigration program for Afghans who contributed to Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan,” a Canadian government spokesperson told the Blade on Monday. “In addition, we will introduce a special program to focus on particularly vulnerable groups that are already welcomed to Canada through existing resettlement streams, including women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI individuals and family members of previously resettled interpreters.”

“The program will welcome government-supported and privately sponsored refugees, along with those sponsored by family already in Canada,” added the spokesperson. “In the coming weeks and months, we will be engaging with our international and domestic partners to develop a plan for moving forward.”

President Biden on Monday said the U.S. will expand “refuge access to cover other vulnerable Afghans who worked for our embassy; U.S. non-government agencies — or the U.S. non-governmental organizations and Afghans who otherwise are at great risk; and U.S. news agencies.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday also said the State Department will “continue to pursue all options to relocate interested and qualified Afghan SIV (Special Immigration Visas) applicants and their immediate families, as well as other vulnerable Afghans.”

Price and Biden in their remarks did not specifically mention LGBTQ Afghans. Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet did not either on Tuesday.

“We call on the international community to extend all possible support to those who may be at imminent risk, and we call on the Taliban to demonstrate through their actions, not just their words, that the fears for the safety of so many people from so many different walks of life are addressed,” said Colville.

Log Cabin Republicans Managing Director Charles Moran on Monday sharply criticized the Biden administration.

“Make no mistake, the reinstatement of the Taliban is a literal death sentence for LGBT Afghans,” said Moran. “Human rights abuses will absolutely increase under this radical regime. The Biden administration talks a tough game about supporting the LGBT community, but that support evidently doesn’t extend to our allies in Kabul.”

“We hope the administration will be held accountable by both parties for this unprecedented disaster, but right now the priority must be to evacuate as many proven U.S. partners and allies from Kabul as possible, including LGBT Afghans,” added Moran.

Powell stressed “now is time for governments to step up and support LGBTQI+ Afghan refugees.” He specifically noted the Canadian government’s announcement.

“Rainbow Railroad is looking forward to engaging with the Canadian government to identify and refer LGBTQI+ Afghans in need of emergency assistance,” said Powell. “We strongly encourage other governments to do the same.” 

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Southern-Central Asia

First gender-neutral university in India garners praise

National Academy of Legal Studies and Research made announcement on March 26

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(Photo courtesy of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research's Twitter page)

HYDERABAD, India — India’s National Academy of Legal Studies and Research will become the first gender-neutral university.

The National Academy of Legal Studies and Research in Hyderabad on March 26 announced on its official Twitter page that it has decided to create a gender-neutral safe space for LGBTQ+ students and designated the ground floor of a dorm for them. The university also said rooms will be allotted to students who identify themselves as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The university has announced the bathroom on the dorm’s ground floor is now gender-neutral. While the university is drafting its final policy, LGBTQ+ students’ concerns will be addressed using the interim policy.

Vice Chancellor Faizan Mustafa told the Washington Blade that since he joined the university in 2012, he has followed the “liberty model” of administration rather than the “control.” According to Mustafa, his model of administration allowed him to let students participate in policymaking, which led to a gender-neutral campus.

“I feel that the knowledge creation happens in liberal spaces,” said Mustafa. “And the knowledge creation requires that the university spaces should be liberated because knowledge creation requires creativity, and creativity does not come if you have control.”

A student in June 2015 requested the university not include gender in its diplomas. The university swiftly accepted this request and used the neutral prefix “Mx.” This led to the idea of inclusivity at the university campus.

“When some students reached out to me that while the liberty model is good for everyone, we are not doing enough for the gender and Transgender people. So, I constituted a committee,” said Mustafa. “I included some students in the committee, some teachers, and then I said let’s make a new beginning. Accordingly, the policy was approved by me, and now we are inviting suggestions for the policy before we go to the statutory bodies of the university. We will not follow the gender-binary at the campus.”

The university’s Trans Policy Committee drafted the “Policy on Inclusive Education for Gender and Sexual Minority.”

Under the self-identification policy, students need to write a self-attested declaration, which will be the basis of gender identity recognition. The policy also suggests that gender in official records should be independent of the student’s honorific titles in the legal documents.

The policy states no documents will assign any gender to a student. Even after the declaration of gender identity, students will be able to change their names and pronouns. The policy also highlights self-identified gender will form the basis for all entitlements that result from the policy, for instance, dorm accommodation, scholarships and the right to file discrimination claims.

“Certainly what the university did is great but the entire discourse and activism around creating gender-neutral spaces were led by students and informal student collectives like NALSAR Queer Collective, Savitribai Intersectional Study Circle, NALSAR Minorities Forum, etc.,” said Kranthi, a fourth-year student who co-founded the NALSAR Queer Collective.

Kranthi is a member of the committee that drafted the new policy.

“I must add, LGBTQ+ students in NALSAR would not have achieved the recognition of their basic rights without the support and solidarity of Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim and Bahujan students,” said Kranthi. “The support and solidarity of other marginalized groups in the university is an important part of our struggle for gender-neutral spaces.”

Kranthi said the creation of gender-neutral spaces sends a strong message to the world that anyone who doesn’t fit or refuses to fit in the gender binary system is welcome and recognized.

“What has happened so far in our university is only little, and so much more needs to be done if we want to shift the whole institutional culture towards real inclusion of gender and sexual minorities,” said Kranthi. “Until economic and social support is provided for Trans and queer students from lower socio-economic backgrounds these changes brought by the university would mean nothing to them and would only serve the interests of upper caste, upper-caste queer students. Hopefully, we will be able to focus more on substantial aspects like capacity and skill development, financial aid and scholarships, internship-aid for queer and Trans students than on formal procedures and piecemeal changes.”

A spokesperson for Queer Nilayum, a support group for LGBTQ+ people in Hyderabad, praised the new policy.

“We think providing gender-neutral washrooms and hostels is a great step towards creating a safer and more affirming campus for Transgender (trans), non-binary (nb), and gender-nonconforming people (GNC),” they said. “However, creating gender-neutral infrastructure and just saying that ‘there will be no discrimination based on gender’ isn’t enough to protect the rights of gender marginalized people. There needs to be a lot more awareness and education about gender so that people who are gender-marginalized recognize their biases and preconceived notions about Trans, nb (non-binary), and GNC (gender non-conforming) people. There also need to be policies in place to prevent instances of discrimination and to ensure fairness and justice for those who face discrimination.”

A study that UNESCO conducted in 2019 found 60 percent of LGBTQ+ of middle and high school students in India faced bullying or harassment. Forty-three percent of respondents said they faced sexual harassment in elementary school, while 70 percent of LGBTQ+ students who were bullied said they suffer from anxiety and depression and 33 percent dropped out.

Ankush Kumar (Mohit) is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Southern-Central Asia

Indian Defense Ministry denies clearance to film about gay former soldier

Onir wrote the ‘We Are’ script

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Onir, an Indian filmmaker, has criticized the Indian Defense Ministry's decision not to approve his film about a former soldier who came out as gay. (Photo courtesy of Onir)

NEW DELHI — An Indian filmmaker has criticized the country’s Defense Ministry’s decision to not approve his film about a former soldier who left the military after he came out as gay.

Onir, who wrote the script “We Are,” which is based on the real-life story of former Maj. J Suresh, filed an official request with the Defense Ministry last year for clearance. The Defense Ministry denied his request after reviewing the script.

According to Onir, Defense Ministry’s officials in a phone call with him said that a main character is a soldier who is gay, which is illegal in the Indian Army. That makes his film ineligible for clearance.

The Defense Ministry in 2020 wrote a letter to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. It stated that producers must obtain permission from the Defense Ministry before broadcasting a movie or a Web series about the Indian armed forces. While justifying the decision on clearance for any film that shows Army personnel, the Defense Ministry said the morale of Army personnel falls when film producers show an Army man in a derogatory manner.

“There are 56 countries across the world where the LGBTQI community is accepted as part of the military,” Onir told the Washington Blade.

“After the Supreme Court’s verdict of 2018, organically different institutions should have followed the Supreme Court ruling and empowered the community while celebrating the diversity and inclusion, but this is unfortunate that even after Supreme Court’s verdict, the Indian Army does not accept the community as fit enough to serve in the armed forces,” he added further.

The law governing the Indian military makes homosexuality a punishable offense. According to Section 46(a) of the Army Act 1950, any person guilty of any disgraceful conduct of a “cruel, indecent or unnatural kind” will, on conviction by court-martial, face up to seven years in jail.

“Anyone, irrespective of their sexuality, should be evaluated for their work, skill, patriotism or intelligence,” said Onir.

“Sexuality does not define anyone’s skill in the Army or anywhere else, and so LGBTQ people serving the country are equally heroes,” he added.

Onir told the Blade that he had already sent an appeal to the defense secretary and expressed concerns that rejection of his request is discriminatory, but he rejected the idea that he will go to court if the appeal is not granted. Although he is very optimistic this time, Onir said he will think of other ways to make the film possible if the defense secretary rejects his request.

Former Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat in 2019 said the armed forces will continue to consider homosexuality an offense. Rawat also said that the Indian Army under the Army Act was not “westernized and modernized,” and was “conservative” when it came to dealing with adultery or homosexuality.

Rawat last month died in a helicopter crash.

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, a right-wing Hindu nationalist, in 2013 said that his party (Bharatiya Janata Party) does not support homosexuality. While taking a conservative position on the matter, Singh further said that homosexuality is an “unnatural act” and can not be supported. In 2018, while striking down colonial-era law, that criminalized homosexuality, the India’s chief justice said that the law will not apply to sex between consenting adults, irrespective of their gender.

The Indian government last year argued in the Delhi High Court that the law does not recognize same-sex marriage in India.

While defending Singh’s 2015 statement in 2015, BJP leader, Subramanian Swamy, in a bizarre statement said “homosexuality is a danger to the national security.” Swamy also said that homosexuality is a “genetic disorder.”

Some BJP leaders have a history of taking extreme homophobic stands. Sudhir Mungantiwar, a BJP lawmaker, recently stirred controversy by questioning Maharastra state’s government’s move to appoint representatives of the LGBTQ community as members of universities.

“Are you going to hire lesbians and gays as members? Shouldn’t a joint medical committee be set up on this? It mentions bisexual and asexual relations. However, no one has yet defined these,” said Mungantiwar. “Even someone who has sex with an animal can become a member, as per the government’s proposal. Will the animal certify to their sexual relationship?”

Onir believes the Indian military will soon adopt the policy to allow the LGBTQ people to serve.

“India has good relations with American, French and the British military. All these countries allow LGBTQ personnel for the service,” Onir said. “These militaries practice together sometimes, so sooner or later Indian Army will change the policy and will allow LGBTQ people.”

Onir has won 16 film awards, including two national awards. Talking about his upcoming movies, Onir said he is working on “Sid,” a coming-of-age film, and a lesbian rom-com which is based on the life of writer Raga Olga D’silva.

“Although Bollywood, the Indian film industry, makes over a thousand films every year,” said Onir. “The number of films depicting LGBTQ stories is still negligible,” he added.

Lieutenant Gen. Manoj Pande took over as the new Army chief on Feb. 1.

It remains to be seen if the new Army chief adopts the more liberal policies or follows his predecessors, but a growing number of Indian young people are demanding equal rights for the LGBTQ community.

Mohit Kumar (Ankush) is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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Southern-Central Asia

Report: Iran executes two gay men for sodomy

Advocacy group says execution took place in Maragheh prison

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Iran, gay news, Washington Blade
The national flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran (file)

MARAGHEH, Iran — Iran has reportedly executed two gay men who were convicted of sodomy.

The Associated Press cites a report the Human Rights Activists News Agency released on Sunday that says Mehrdad Karimpour and Farid Mohammadi were sentenced to death six years ago for “forced sexual intercourse between two men.” The Human Rights Activists News Agency notes Karimpour and Mohammadi were hanged at a prison in Maragheh, a city that is 310 miles northwest of the Iranian capital of Tehran.

Iran is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.

The AP notes two men in Maragheh who were convicted of sodomy were executed last July.

The State Department last May condemned the murder of Ali Fazeli Monfared, whose relatives reportedly kidnapped and beheaded him after they learned he was gay. Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a few months later arrested a lesbian woman as she tried to enter Turkey.

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