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‘I don’t want to die’ in Kabul

Gay person desperate to leave Afghanistan with family

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Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim)

KABUL, Afghanistan — A gay person in Afghanistan says the Taliban will kill them if they and their family don’t leave the country.

“I don’t want to die,” they told the Los Angeles Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from Kabul, the Afghan capital. “I have a lot of dreams in my life.”

The person, 25, said their mother and sister are currently living with a relative after they fled their home when the Taliban came into their neighborhood. The Blade is withholding their name and gender identity in order to protect their identity.

“I’m 100 percent sure that my life is not safe any more … they will definitely kill me,” they said. “Being gay is not a good thing in Afghanistan.”

The Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15 and toppled then-President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, in an op-ed the Blade published last month wrote the Taliban hanged men in soccer fields who had been accused of having same-sex relationships when they controlled the country from 1996-2001. A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

“People were going to work, people were going to school,” said the person when the Blade asked them what Kabul was like before the Taliban regained control. “We were living in freedom. We never thought we would be under pressure.”

“I’m scared,” they added. “I can’t go outside … everything has totally changed. Nobody is happy here.”

They told the Blade that men have repeatedly raped them and threatened to kill them. They said the perpetrators have also told them they would report them to the Taliban.

“They are still doing this because they think we have another pervert,” they told the Blade. “They will kill you. They will cut off your hand, your nose.”

Taliban ‘will definitely kill me’

The U.S. evacuated more than 123,000 people — including upwards of 6,000 American citizens — from Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country until American military operations ended on Aug. 30. Dozens of members of Congress have urged the U.S. to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans from the country, but it remains unclear how many of them have been able to leave.

Canada thus far is the only country that has specifically said it would offer refuge to LGBTQ Afghans. Immigration Equality, the Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad, ILGA Asia and other groups continue to try to assist LGBTQ people who remain in Afghanistan.

The person with whom the Blade spoke said Immigration Equality has contacted them. They also said they have reached out to American and European politicians, but they said “we can’t help you.”

“I texted everywhere,” they said. “I called everywhere.”

“I’m just trying … to leave as soon as possible Afghanistan because of the situation I’m facing,” they added. “I’m getting death threats from people and now it’s especially hard for me … I’m suffering. My mom is suffering. My sister is suffering.”

They added the current situation in Afghanistan is “very difficult, not just for me, but for everyone who is facing these kinds of issues.”

“I’m 100 percent sure that my life is not safe any more … they will definitely kill me,” they said. “Being gay is not a good thing in Afghanistan.”

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Southern-Central Asia

Gay man recounts escape from Afghanistan

Group regained control of country on Aug. 15, 2021

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Imran Khan is a gay man from Afghanistan. A German group evacuated him from the country in March. (Photo courtesy of Imran Khan)

KORBACH, Germany — Imran Khan is a gay man from Afghanistan.

An American soldier who texted him on Aug. 26, 2021, 11 days after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, told him to go to Kabul International AirportKhan, along with a group of other LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans and members of the country’s special forces, were able to pass through Taliban checkpoints after a mullah with whom they were traveling said they were going to their cousin’s house for a child’s funeral. The group of LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans were able to enter the airport, but Khan and several soldiers who were members of the country’s special forces were outside the perimeter when a suicide bomber killed more than 180 people at a gate the U.S. Marines controlled. They returned after the attack, but were then forced to leave.

Khan was still in Kabul on Aug. 30, 2021, when the last American forces withdrew from the country. 

Kabul Luftbrücke, a German group, on March 18, 2022, evacuated Khan from Kabul to Pakistan. Khan arrived in Germany less than a month later and now lives in Korbach, a city in the country’s Hesse state.

Khan’s partner and many other LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans he knows remain in Afghanistan. 

“I’m still hoping that an angel will come and will save their lives before the Taliban finds them,” Khan told the Washington Blade on Monday.

Imran Khan in Germany. (Photo courtesy of Imran Khan)

Khan is among the LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans who have been able to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the country. 

Dane Bland, the director of development and communications for Rainbow Railroad, on Monday told the Blade the Toronto-based organization has been able to evacuate 247 LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans to the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Ireland.

A group of 29 LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans who Rainbow Railroad helped evacuate from Afghanistan with the help of the British government and two LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in the country — Stonewall and Micro Rainbow — arrived in the U.K. on Oct. 29, 2021. A second group of LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans reached the country a few days later.

Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also the Hearst Foundation scholar, said he has helped upwards of 70 LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans and their families leave the country.

“I know that there are some people who are still fighting to get people out, but now it has come down to a trickle,” Hirschberg told the Blade on Monday.

Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

A Taliban judge in July 2021 said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country. 

report that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released earlier this year notes a Taliban official said his group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people” in Afghanistan. The report also documents human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans, including an incident in which the Taliban beat a Transgender woman and “shaved her eyebrows with a razor” before they “dumped her on the street in men’s clothes and without a cellphone.” 

OutRight Action International on Monday told the Blade that it has had “at least one confirmed report of the killing of an LGBTQ+ activist, police searching for another and several more reports of extrajudicial killing and other forms of persecution that are difficult to confirm given the danger to political witnesses.”

“The U.S. and other governments that profess support for human rights need to do more to ensure the Afghan regime respects fundamental rights of all Afghans and help those in danger to reach safety,” said OutRight Action International.

Bland said Rainbow Railroad “absolutely” feels “governments, including the governments of the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, should be doing more to help LGBTQI+ Afghans fleeing the current crisis.” 

Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim)

Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford on Monday noted her organization’s LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghan clients who “survived unspeakable trauma, both as a consequence of sharia law and existing brutal homophobic practices” are “now safely resettled in Canada.” Crawford nevertheless added that Immigration Equality recognizes that “many more queer people are still at grave risk in Afghanistan.”

“The Biden administration must prioritize these LGBTQ Afghans as refugees in the United States,” said Crawford. “President Biden himself has expressed that the U.S. has the good will and capacity to take in vulnerable refugees, but he must back up those words with action.”

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday told reporters during a briefing that nearly 90,000 Afghans have been “evacuated or otherwise transported to the” U.S. since Aug. 15, 2021. Price also noted the U.S. has “facilitated the departure of some” 13,000 Afghans from Afghanistan since the last American troops withdrew from the country.

“There are a number of priorities, a number of enduring commitments we have to the people of Afghanistan,” said Price. “At the top of that list is to use every tool that we have appropriate to see to it that the Taliban lives up to the commitments that it has made publicly, that it has made privately, but most importantly, the commitments that the Taliban has made to its own people, to all of the Afghan people. And when we say all of the Afghan people, we mean all. We mean Afghanistan’s women, its girls, its religious minorities, its ethnic minorities. The Taliban has made these commitments; the Taliban, of course, has not lived up to these commitments.”

Price, who is openly gay, did not specifically refer to LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans during Monday’s briefing. 

Hirschberg said Canada, France, Germany and the U.K. have “come to bat” and “are really supporting getting LGBTQI Afghans out, along with others.” He told the Blade the U.S. has not done enough.

“We’re not seeing quite the eagerness from the United States, unfortunately,” said Hirschberg.

The Blade has reached out to the White House for comment on the first anniversary of the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and efforts to help LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans leave the country. 

Ukraine overshadows plight of LGBTQ+ and intersex Afghans

Russia on Feb. 24 invaded Ukraine.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees notes more than 6 million Ukrainians have registered as refugees in Europe. 

The European Union allows Ukrainians to travel to member states without a visa.

Germany currently provides those who have registered for residency a “basic income” that helps them pay for housing and other basic needs. Ukrainian refugees can also receive access to German language classes, job training programs and childcare.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, an assistant professor of global studies at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia who is originally from Afghanistan, has helped three groups of Afghans leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it.

Munhazim on Monday noted to the Blade his family has lived in a Toronto hotel room for three months. Munhazim also pointed out the treatment that Ukrainian refugees once they reach the EU, the U.K., Canada or the U.S.

“Countries of course would claim they were not prepared, but we can see that it was a very racialized response,” said Munhazim. “The way they responded to Ukraine, they weren’t prepared for that either, but we know that these borders immediately started opening up, assistance was offered in a very, very humanitarian way to Ukrainians just because they had blond hair and blue eyes, which was not offered to Afghans or Syrians earlier when they were fleeing Syria.”

A banner at Keflavík International Airport in Iceland on July 27, 2022, welcomes Ukrainians to the country. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Maydaa told the Blade that countries had “this huge concern about LGBT people coming from Afghanistan.”

“It was related to, I believe, terrorism and all this prejudgment of Afghan people,” said Maydaa. “I also think this is playing a huge role when it comes to resettlement and international action.”

Maydaa, like Munhazim, also noted the different reception that Ukrainian refugees have received once they reached the EU or the U.K.

“They, especially in Europe and the U.K., feel they have more responsibility towards Ukraine,” said Maydaa. “[There was] all this racism on the news. ‘They look like us. They are blonde, green eyes, white skin, Christians.'”

Hafen, a gay bar in Berlin’s Schöneberg neighborhood, shows its solidarity with LGBTQ and intersex Ukrainians on July 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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Southern-Central Asia

Pakistan’s LGBTQ & intersex communities forge ahead

“Practicing construction of systems of protection for LGBTQ+ allied people requires a culturally sensitive & community-informed approach”

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LGBTQ and intersex activists in Pakistan (Photo courtesy of Hussain Zaidi)

KARACHI – Pakistan is a country that is notorious for its human rights violations, and the LGBTQ and intersex community is one of the most vulnerable groups in the country. Despite the challenges, the community is fighting for their rights and slowly making progress.

Since homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan, the LGBTQ and intersex community is often forced into hiding. This makes it difficult to estimate the size of the community, but it is thought that there are tens of thousands of LGBTQ and intersex people living in Pakistan. Many of them live in wealthy areas of Karachi, the country’s largest city, without fear, as do community members in similar parts of Pakistan.

The community, however, continues to face many challenges in Pakistan. They experience discrimination and violence both from individuals and the government. 

In 2018, for example, the Pakistani government passed a law under Section 377 of the country’s colonial-era penal code that made same-sex marriage punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Homosexuality remains criminalized in Pakistan.

In addition to the criminalization of LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis, the community also continues to face discrimination and violence that family members often perpetuate.

Many LGBTQ and intersex people face verbal, emotional and even physical abuse from their families due to societal and religious pressures. This can lead to them dropping out of school or foregoing higher education altogether. 

Discrimination in the workplace and education system forces many LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis to remain in the closet, and those who are out often cannot find work or continue their education. Access to health care — including testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and infection — is an ongoing challenge.

A law that permits transgender people to legally change the gender on their national ID cards and other official documents, allows them to vote and bans discrimination based on gender identity in employment, health care, education and on public transportation took effect last year. Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2009 ruled in favor of recognizing trans people as a third gender on identity cards. Discrimination against trans Pakistanis remains pervasive in spite of these advances.

Pakistan’s LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations fight for change

Some of the country’s LGBTQ and intersex advocacy groups organizations are based in Lahore, but most of them are in Karachi. 

Pakistan’s first gay rights organization was founded in Lahore in 1994. There are now more than 20 groups that are working to spread awareness and understanding about the LGBTQ and intersex community.

O, also known as O Collective, was founded in Lahore in March 2009 by activists dedicated to the protection of the rights of sexual minorities, specifically LGBTQ and intersex people. They are committed to the education and support of queer communities, sexual minorities, and their families and friends. O provides a safe space for the community to meet and discuss issues such as sexual health and legal rights.

The Naz Health Alliance is a public health NGO that works with the government and other stakeholders to provide technical assistance to public health programs, conduct research, provide capacity building, advocate for policy changes and social inclusion, and create awareness regarding the sexual health and human rights of MSM (men who have sex with men) and transgender communities. 

The group also works towards building a healthy and inclusive society by addressing social exclusion faced by the MSM and transgender community. Qasim Iqbal founded the Naz Health Alliance in 2011.

Uzma Yaqood founded the Forum for Dignity Initiatives in 2013.

FDI is a research and advocacy organization that aims to improve the lives of sexual and gender minorities in Pakistan through education, health and other social services that are sensitive to their respective identities. The organization works to ensure women, young people and trans individuals are able to live their lives without fear.

Jannat Ali — who describes herself as an “artivist” — is the executive director of Track T, a trans rights organization that is based in Lahore.

Her organization in 2018 organized Pakistan’s first-ever trans Pride parade that nearly 500 people attended. The country’s first-ever Pride parade — which violence marred — took place in Karachi the year before.

Ali in March 2021 launched a program with episodes on Instagram and YouTube. She is the first openly trans person to host her own show in Pakistan.

Jannat Ali at WorldPride 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo courtesy of Jannat Ali)

Hussain Zaidi is a recent Swarthmore College graduate who has worked tirelessly to ensure trans people can access public health care in Pakistan. Zaidi spoke with the Washington Blade about how Pakistani’s view LGBTQ and intersex communities and what can be done to ensure their safety.

“LGBTQ+ communities are typically seen as communities adopting a Western framework for sexuality that is incongruent with the cultural norms within Pakistan,” said Zaidi. “There is an indigenous culture in Pakistan where queerness and trans bodies can thrive, but our conception of this cultural praxis and way removed from global narratives of LGBTQ+ freedom and self-autonomy.”

Zaidi added “labels for the LGBTQ+ community are considered illegitimate and propaganda arguing that Pakistani individuals on the queer/trans spectrum are coopting identities oriented towards Western frameworks and lenses.” 

“Even within communities that would be considered LGBTQ+, we see people rejecting the LGBTQ+ framework and instead arguing for the acceptance of local, indigenous praxis of transness and queerness,” added Zaidi. “So overall the social landscape of LGBTQ+ rights is complex and intersectional, with the perception of the label differing based on what class, status, educational level and background the Pakistani acting as the perceiver comes from.”

Zaidi said safety for LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis “starts first by doing the work to understand how communities in Pakistan want to represent themselves in broader Pakistani culture.” 

“Practicing the construction of systems of protection for LGBTQ+ allied people requires a culturally sensitive and community-informed approach,” said Zaidi. “Often foreign organizations providing aid and support expect programming to revolve around terminologies and ideas that are globally accessible and originated from/digestible by the West. Due to this, the important work of understanding how to support existing communities in establishing and advocating for their identities and rights goes ignored or under-prioritized.” 

“By understanding what existing communities want, a community-informed strategy to safely advocate for LGBTQ+ aligned people can be implemented that also doesn’t put the community itself at risk in any way,” added Zaidi. “There are not many organizations doing work of this nature, due to the level of public censorship and policing that is arranged by dissenting opponents to the LGBTQ+ framework. By guaranteeing basic systems of protection and safety, we can expect the number of people and organizations committed to supporting variant sexual and gender identities to increase.” 

U.S., German embassies support LGBTQ, intersex activists

The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan works to raise awareness and understanding of LGBTQ and intersex issues and people in the country. 

It organizes community and educational events to build connections and support among LGBTQ and intersex Pakistanis and works to fight discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The embassy, which is located in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, in 2011 hosted an LGBTQ and intersex event.

“Mission Pakistan works to strengthen and support the LGBTQI+ community,” tweeted the embassy on May 17, which is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. “We strive every day to ensure the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community are respected and protected from oppression. We continue to press for full equality.”

The German Embassy in Karachi in 2021 also hosted an event for queer Pakistanis.

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Southern-Central Asia

Trans community in Pakistan struggles to overcome marginalization

Pakistani society makes little or no distinction between public order, morality, sexual orientation, or gender identity

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Screenshot/YouTube Transgenders: Pakistan's Open Secret (LGBTQ+ Documentary)

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s transgender community remains largely visible, yet marginalized and ostracized. 

Pakistani society makes little or no distinction between public order, morality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. With the introduction of new thoughts, cultures and religions in Pakistan during different periods of time has come a whole new understanding towards lesbians, gay men and trans people who find themselves included in wider terms, such as LGBT and queer.

Trans rights in Pakistan

Pakistan is a country located in southern Asia. The region now straddling the border of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan is one of the most war-torn regions of the world. For trans people, life can be especially difficult in Pakistan. They face challenges with family, friends, co-workers, strangers and the government.

Trans people have a long history in Pakistan. There are references to trans people in ancient Hindu texts, and trans people have been part of Pakistani culture for centuries.

The first public trans beauty pageant was held in Pakistan in January 2017. The event was organized by the Khawaja Sira Society, a support group for trans people. The pageant was a major step forward for trans rights in Pakistan.

Despite some progress, trans people in Pakistan still face many challenges. Family members may reject trans people, leading to homelessness and poverty. They may be ridiculed or humiliated by strangers. They may be denied basic rights and opportunities, such as education and employment. And they may be subject to violence and abuse.

The government of Pakistan has taken some steps to protect the rights of trans people. In 2018, the government passed a law that prohibits discrimination against trans people in employment.

Major concerns for Pakistan’s trans community

Trans people in Pakistan face many challenges when it comes to their rights. One major concern is the lack of legal recognition of their gender identity. This means that trans people are often unable to get identity documents that match their gender identity, which can make it difficult to access many basic rights and services.

Another concern for the trans community in Pakistan is violence. Trans people are often targets of physical and sexual violence, as well as verbal abuse and harassment. This violence is often perpetrated with impunity, meaning that the perpetrators are rarely held accountable for their actions.

The trans community in Pakistan also faces discrimination when it comes to employment, housing and health care. Many trans people are forced to work in the informal sector because they cannot get formal employment due to their gender identity. This often means they are paid less than their cisgender counterparts and have fewer protections at work. When it comes to housing, trans people often face eviction and discrimination from landlords. And when it comes to health care, trans people often have difficulty accessing quality care that meets their specific needs.

These are just some of the major concerns facing Pakistan’s trans community. While there have been some small steps forward in recent years, much more needs to be done.

What international agencies can and should do for trans Pakistanis

There are a number of things that international agencies can do to support the trans community in Pakistan. This includes but is not limited to: 

1. Providing financial support to organizations that work with and for the trans community in Pakistan. 

2. Lobbying the Pakistani government to ensure that the trans community has legal recognition and protection from discrimination and violence. 

3. Working with Pakistani civil society organizations to increase awareness of trans rights issues and promote social acceptance of the trans community. 

4. Encouraging Pakistani businesses to create inclusive workplaces for trans employees. 

5. Supporting research on the health needs of the trans community in Pakistan. 

6. Providing training and capacity-building assistance to Pakistani police and other law enforcement officials on how to better protect trans people from violence and discrimination.

Resources for more information about Pakistan and transgender interests

There are an estimated 500,000 trans people in Pakistan, and they face a great deal of discrimination. They are often not allowed to use public bathrooms or changing rooms that match their gender identity, and many are denied access to education or employment.

There has been some progress made on trans rights in Pakistan in recent years.

In 2012, the government began issuing national ID cards that included a third gender option. And in 2017, a trans woman was elected to the Provincial Assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In 2022 Sarah Gill became the first trans doctor in Pakistan. But much more needs to be done in order to achieve full equality for trans people in Pakistan.

If you’re looking for more information on trans rights in Pakistan, here are some great resources.

Trans Action Pakistan is a grassroots organization that works to defend the rights of trans people in Pakistan. They offer support and advocacy services, and they also run awareness-raising campaigns.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was introduced in the Pakistani Parliament in 2016. It contains a number of provisions aimed at protecting the rights.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act

The trans community in Pakistan has been fighting for their rights for many years, and finally, in 2018, they achieved a major victory with the passage of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2018. This act provides legal recognition and protection for trans people in Pakistan and includes provisions for things like identity documents, anti-discrimination measures and access to education and employment. While there are still many challenges faced by trans people in Pakistan, this act is a major step forward in the fight for equality.

Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act is a piece of legislation that was enacted in order to protect the rights of trans people in Pakistan. The act prohibits discrimination against trans people in all areas of life, including employment, education, healthcare and housing. It also provides for the recognition of trans people’s gender identity and gives them the right to change their legal gender.

The act has been widely praised by human rights organizations and is seen as a step forward for trans rights in Pakistan.

On the positive side, the act provides trans people with basic rights and protections that they did not have before. For example, it prohibits discrimination against trans people in employment, education, and other areas of life. It also allows them to change their gender on government-issued documents.

On the negative side, some activists feel that the act does not go far enough in protecting trans people’s rights. For example, it does not allow them to marry or adopt children. It also requires them to have surgery before they can change their gender on official documents. This can be a costly and difficult procedure for many trans people.

Overall, the act is a step in the right direction for Pakistan’s trans community. However, more work needs to be done to fully protect their rights and give them equality.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was passed by Pakistan’s National Assembly in May 2018. This act provides basic rights and protections for trans people in Pakistan.

Under the act, trans people are allowed to self-identify their gender. This is a major step forward, as trans people in Pakistan have previously been forced to undergo surgery or hormone therapy in order to change their legal gender.

The act also prohibits discrimination against trans people in employment, education, healthcare and other areas of life. This means that trans people will now have equal access to opportunities and resources.

The passage of this act is a major victory for trans rights in Pakistan. It provides much-needed protections and rights for trans people.

Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret (LGBTQ+ Documentary):

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