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Advocacy groups renew calls for U.S. to help LGBTQ+ Afghans

New report details Taliban abuses

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

WASHINGTON — Advocacy groups on Wednesday renewed calls for the U.S. and other countries to do more to help LGBTQ+ Afghans who remain inside Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of it.

A report from OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch that details the plight of LGBTQ+ Afghans includes a series of recommendations for the U.S. and other “concerned governments.”

– Use any diplomatic leverage to press the Taliban to recognize the rights of everyone in Afghanistan, including LGBT people.

– Recognize that LGBT Afghans face a special risk of persecution in Afghanistan and neighboring countries and expedite their applications for evacuation and resettlement.

– Support and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Afghans in need, and support organizations providing humanitarian assistance, including programs specifically designed to assist LGBT Afghans.

– Ensure that support to organizations working in Afghanistan is directed to organizations that commit to gender-sensitive programming, nondiscrimination, and inclusion of LGBT beneficiaries.

– In engagements with formal and informal civil society groups in Afghanistan, including human rights organizations, women’s rights and feminist organizations, and organizations focused on health, education, or youth, raise concerns about abuses against LGBT Afghans and urge such groups to be inclusive of LGBT Afghans.

– Engage with civil society organizations directly or indirectly addressing LGBT issues in Afghanistan, informal groupings of LGBT people, and community leaders who are well networked within LGBT communities to best help them protect their rights.

The report also includes recommendations for countries from which LGBTQ+ Afghans have asked for asylum.

– Fully respect the rights of Afghan people who are or are perceived to be LGBT to claim asylum where they can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution.

– When considering asylum claims and other requests for protection from LGBT Afghans, fully consider all evidence regarding violations of the rights of LGBT people in Afghanistan, who faced severe discrimination previously and especially since the Taliban takeover.

– When considering asylum claims for LGBT Afghans, take into consideration that LGBT individuals often conform to societal norms, such as entering into different sex marriage, in order to survive. Married status should not be taken as an indication of someone not being LGBT.

The report’s other recommendations include calls for international aid organizations inside Afghanistan to “provide targeted and specialized assistance to LGBT people” and for the Taliban to “urgently end any and all forms of discrimination or violence against anyone based on a person’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.”

OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch released their report less than six months after the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan.

A Taliban judge last July said the group would once again execute gay people if it were to return to power in the country. The report notes a Taliban official later said the group “will not respect the rights of LGBT people.”

The report includes interviews with 60 LGBTQ+ Afghans inside Afghanistan and in five other countries that OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch conducted between October and December 2021.

A 20-year-old man with whom the groups spoke said Taliban members “loaded him into a car” at a checkpoint and “took him to another location where four men whipped and then gang raped him over the course of eight hours.” The report notes the man went into hiding, but the Taliban continued to target him and his family.

A lesbian woman with whom OutRight Action International and Human Rights Watch spoke said her parents “arranged for a speedy wedding” with a man before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. The report notes her parents beat her when she “tried to refuse to go through with it.”

The woman’s parents, according to the report, paid her husband to take her out of Afghanistan. They now live in another country, and he “beats her nearly every day and will not allow her to leave the house.”

The report also details 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.” She had been living with other Trans women in an abandoned youth hostel in Kabul, the Afghan capital, when the Taliban regained control of the country.

“Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Afghanistan, and others who do not conform to rigid gender norms, have faced an increasingly desperate situation and grave threats to their safety and lives since the Taliban took full control of the country on Aug. 15, 2021,” reads the report’s summary.

‘More needs to be done’

Two groups of LGBTQ+ Afghans that three advocacy groups — Stonewall, Rainbow Railroad and Micro Rainbow — evacuated from Afghanistan with the help of the British government arrived in the U.K. last fall. Some of the dozens of Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ+.

Rainbow Railroad; the Council for Global Equality; the Human Rights Campaign; Immigration Equality; the International Refugee Assistance Project; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration in a letter they sent to President Biden last September called for his administration to “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell on Wednesday during a webinar on the report noted his organization has “had really encouraging conversations with” Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights who was previously OutRight Action International’s executive director, and “her team and with the U.S. government and the Canadian government as well” about the evacuation of LGBTQ+ Afghans.

“More needs to be done,” said Powell.

Powell added there “are concrete things that we’ve asked to be done within the context of Afghanistan that can be done.”

“It’s encouraging that governments signaled early on that they want to help out Afghans at risk,” he said. “That signaling has led to many folks in Afghanistan who have enough social media to read those messages to ask how (sic) does that look like, including reaching out to us at Rainbow Railroad. And what we’re asking governments to do now is to help us answer that question, help us answer the question as to what we can do to protect people who are still stuck in Afghanistan, help people who are displaced outside of Afghanistan awaiting resettlement and partner with us to do it.”

OutRight Action International Senior Fellow J. Lester Feder echoed Powell.

“Regardless of the identity of the vulnerable people involved, not enough has been done to help vulnerable people,” said Feder during the webinar.

Feder also urged the U.S. government to do more to help LGBTQ+ Afghans and other vulnerable groups who remain inside the country.

“We know with the amount of support — either with people who had direct connections to the U.S. government or the U.S. military when they left — have been left stranded in Afghanistan,” said Feder.

“People who are supporting and support vulnerable Afghans in the United States need to speak up and show support for the government processing (asylum) cases faster and for more spaces being made available,” he added.

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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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