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India activists use Independence Day to reiterate push for equality

Government, private institutions continue to exclude Trans people

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Flag of India (Photo by Rahul Sapra/Bigstock)

NEW DELHI, India — India on Aug. 15 celebrated 76 years of independence. 

This year’s Independence Day was very different. The Indian flag was everywhere; on cars, taxis, trucks, homes and government buildings. The country celebrated its true identity — Bharat, the Sanskrit name of India. 

Sanskrit, the world’s oldest language, is part of India’s cultural identity. But the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community is still searching for true inclusion in different government and private institutions. 

The Indian Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the colonial-era law that criminalized homosexuality. Four years later, on Aug. 15, Prime Minister Narenda Modi addressed the national from the Red Fort in Delhi, and talked about his vision for the country by 2047, but he did not specifically address the LGBTQ+ and intersex community.

The Indian government and private institutions do not allow people to choose gender-neutral or genderfluid identity markers. The use of appropriate pronouns for the LGBTQ+ and intersex community in public or private institutions is not very common either.

The Washington Blade sought comment from the Indian Post, the world’s most heavily used mail system, for comment on the issue, but it did not reply.

The Indian Post offers a variety of mail, insurance and banking services to its customers. While analyzing the saving account opening form, the Blade found that there are only three gender options: Male, female and other.

The Supreme Court in 2014 recognized Transgender people as the third gender in a landmark ruling and ordered the government to provide welfare programs to the community.

“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” said the Supreme Court.

The available gender options force one to identify either with male, female, or other as trans even if they are not any of these. The Madras High Court in 2021 laid out an agenda of inclusion for the LGBTQ+ and intersex community, but the majority of government and private institutions are still far from following these rulings.

The Blade also contacted public sector banks as well as private ones like HDFC Bank; Central Board of Secondary Education; a national level education board; Axis Bank and the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, but received no response.

The Blade reached out to the Bank of Baroda, one of the country’s public sector banks. 

A person with the bank’s HR team hung up the phone when asked to comment. The bank has a branch in New York, but it did not respond to a request for comment.

Not everything, however, is as bad as it seems. 

Kerala, a state in southern India, in January 2021 decided to include “Transgender” as the option in all government forms for a more inclusive approach. Following the Supreme Court judgment, the state established a district board for the Trans community that can respond to trans-specific ID cards. 

Government and private institutions are failing to achieve complete gender inclusivity — including the use of proper pronouns — in spite of efforts to enact progressive policies for India’s Trans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer and intersex communities.

Tamil Nadu, another state in southern India, on Aug. 20 published a document from its Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department

The document included a glossary of terms to be used to address the LGBTQ+ and intersex community, and it came from the Madras High Court. The Tamil Nadu government mandates the use of terms from the glossary in all institutions, including the media, to address community members. It includes “thirunangai” (Trans women,) “thirunambi” (Trans men,) “pal puthumaiyar” (queer) and “oodupal” (intersex.)

Many high school students with whom the Blade spoke said the use of these terms would be a positive step towards inclusivity, but private schools and other institutions do not provide many options for those who want to select their gender.

The Blade in December 2021 reported the National Council of Educational Research and Training published a manual to make teachers and students more sensitive to LGBTQ+ and intersex issues. It was meant to create a more inclusive environment for Trans students, but the organization withdrew the manual after conservative activists protested.

To make sense of how gender identity and sensitization about gender can affect students in schools, one must look back at February of this year, when a student of Delhi Public School, a premier private school, died by suicide by jumping off his residential building. His mother in a complaint she filed with the police alleged her teenaged son faced extreme harassment at school over his sexuality.

Changes in colleges and universities are also coming, but the pace is slow. 

The Blade in April reported that the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research became India’s first gender-neutral university. With this new policy, the university also included the gender-neutral prefix Mx.

The Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, a premier institution in India, and other central government-funded institutions have accepted and are supporting LGBTQ+ and intersex inclusion by allowing the formation of an LGBTQ+ and intersex club at the campus. But gender options other than male, female and other, are still not available on the institute’s entrance exam or during the admission process.

“We agree that despite various rulings and judgments passed by the Supreme Court, there is still a long way to go for having better inclusion in government institutions. Though from having ‘male’ and ‘female’ as the only two default options to choose from, there has been increasing inclusion of ‘genderfluid’, ‘others’, ‘prefer not to say,’ etc., as categories of identity in many, if not all, places,” said Khushi, a representative of Saathi, an LGBTQ+ and intersex support group and a club at the Indian Institute of Technology. “Yet to make this phenomenon or this change a habit or routine, there is a lot that needs to happen. Given the way Indian society is structured, this entire idea many a time falls on deaf ears.”

Khushi from Saathi (Photo courtesy of Khushi)

Saathi throughout the year organizes workshops, movie screenings and informal meetings for everyone, including straight people who want to understand the community.

“To bring about a change, the government bodies have to consistently use inclusive language across its portals. Being inclusive in the school/college admission process as well as a further commitment to a gender inclusive and friendly environment can go a long way,” said Khushi. “Apart from that government can support already existing academic level and independent organizations that uphold the LGBTQIA+ cause. Anti-harassment policies can be gender neutral. In case of universities there can be courses that run-in sex and gender identity. There can be compulsory nonbinary gender orientations. There are many other things that can be done but the point is that though slowly but surely some change is coming through.”

Instagram in 2021 announced the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ and intersex community by providing the option to add pronouns. But Meta’s picture-sharing app is still far from providing the Indian LGBTQ+ and intersex community with this feature. 

The Blade reached out to Meta for a comment on the issue, but the company, which faces accusations of failing to prevent the incitement of violence in neighboring Myanmar, did not respond to multiple requests.

While talking with the Blade, Kumaresh Ramesh, a former Saathi coordinator, said that even though the courts have decriminalized same-sex relationships and advanced the rights of people in the Trans community, there is a lot of work left to be done to mainstream acceptance in the society. 

Ramesh graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology last year and is no longer part of Saathi. While expressing his opinion, he suggested some measures which can help normalization of other gender and pronoun use.

“While one can litigate in court for enforcing these changes, we should also work on organically making it commonplace. For instance, if we make it a point to state our preferred pronouns and encourage others to do so, the government will eventually have to follow suit. I would like to request professors and teachers across disciplines to also state their preferred pronouns while they introduce themselves. This could be a small but powerful step towards fostering acceptance,” said Ramesh.

“Although IIT Bombay is centrally-funded and the current central government has not come out in support of the LGBTQ community, the administration has been largely supportive of Saathi, especially in the more recent years as awareness about the community has gone up. Talking about the government, intent is the key. If the government wishes to further the acceptance of the community, the importance of diversity and inclusion should be taught to school students. Greater representation of the community in school curriculum will increase acceptance not just in the young generation but also their parents and grandparents.”

Neysara, the founder of Transgender India, an online portal that supports the trans community and creates awareness, said that preferred gender-neutral pronouns are important for the Indian Trans community. She also said that to make preferred/gender-neutral pronouns one of the centerpieces of Indian Trans discourse would be a prime example of blindly copy-pasting western Trans discourse to India without any understanding of the cultural context.

“Forget the pronouns printed in a form, most Trans people in the country are not even allowed to enter SBI (one of India’s largest public sector bank) or a post office,” said Neysara. “How will they even see this form? Such tokenistic moves of printing a word on a form is super easy, what’s more difficult is inclusion, reform and sensitization. That’s what we need in any office.”

Neysara, founder of Transgender India, an Indian Trans rights group. (Photo courtesy of Neysara)

Ankush Kumar 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]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

Southern-Central Asia

India Supreme Court chief justice seen as LGBTQ ally

Chandrachud has been expressing his observations and opinions on the issue of LGBTQ rights in India, even when he was not the chief justice

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DY Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India (Screenshot/YouTube NDTV 24-7 News)

NEW DELHI – The struggle for equality in the world’s biggest democracy took a giant step forward in 2018 with the decriminalization of homosexuality, but the fight is not over.

Though homosexuality is now decriminalized in India, same-sex marriage is still not legalized. In other words, same-sex couples can love but cannot marry. The pain in the community is visible. Since same-sex marriage is not legally recognized, it affects a spectrum of rights available to heterosexual couples that include the transfer of property and access to medical facilities.

Several marriage equality cases have been filed in the Delhi High Court and in other courts across the country.

Two petitions filed by gay couples came to the India’s Supreme Court on Nov. 25 asking for recognition of same-sex marriage under the Special Marriage Act, 1954. A bench led by the new Chief Justice D. Y. Chandrachud issued a notice to the federal government and the attorney general and posted the matter for further hearing after four weeks.

Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC), a public sector insurance company under India’s Finance Ministry, last month appeared to recognize a same-sex couple who lives in Kolkata. The arrival of the Supreme Court’s new chief justice is an additional ray of hope for the country’s LGBTQ and intersex community.

On many occasions, Chandrachud has signaled his support for the community. For instance, while speaking at the British High Commission in New Delhi, the Indian capital, on Aug. 31, Chandrachud said that decriminalization of homosexuality alone cannot achieve equality, and it must extend to “all spheres of life,” including home, workplace, and public places.

Chandrachud has been expressing his observations and opinions on the issue of LGBTQ rights in India, even when he was not the chief justice but a Supreme Court judge. Chandrachud, while speaking at the British High Commission event, which focused on the future of the country’s LGBTQ and intersex rights movement, said society owes a debt of gratitude to every individual who formed and continues to form a part of the struggle for equality.

“Perhaps, we need a little more than love,” highlighted Chandrachud at the New Delhi event while calling for structural change in society to let the LGBTQ community live a life of autonomy and dignity.

The Supreme Court in 2018 struck down the law decriminalizing homosexuality. Chandrachud was on the Supreme Court in 2018 when it decriminalized homosexuality between consenting adults and recognized sexual autonomy as a basic right of individuals.

“While the decision in Navtej was momentous, we have a long way to go. The Beatles famously sang ‘All you need is love, love; Love is all you need.’ At the risk of ruffling the feathers of music aficionados everywhere, I take the liberty to disagree with them and say – perhaps, we need a little more than love,” highlighted Chandrachud. “At the heart of personal liberty lies the freedom to choose who we are, to love whom we will, and to live a life that is true to our most authentic selves, not only without the fear of persecution but in full-hearted joy and as equal citizens of this country.”

Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India was the historical judgment that struck down the criminalization of homosexuality in India.

“The accomplishment of this simple yet crucial task would breathe life into the decision in Navtej,” said Chandrachud. “It is not merely the black letter of the law that these changes must take place in, but in the heart and soul of every Indian. Heteronormativity — in every sense of the word — must give way to a plurality of thought and of existence.”

Chandrachud in August said that justice can quickly be undone if people do not continue with the right discourse to safeguard the interests of marginalized groups. Chandrachud also highlighted in the same event that the decriminalization of homosexuality is not sufficient for members of the LGBTQ community to realize their rights. He was referring to the withdrawal of an advertisement of Karva Chauth featuring same-sex couples.

Karva Chauth is the Indian festival celebrated by Hindus in northern India in which wives keep a day-long fast for their husbands and perform rituals for the long life and well-being of their husbands.

The advertisement showed female couples celebrating Karva Chauth, and faced backlash over the internet and immediately firm withdrew it. Meanwhile, the marriage equality case the Supreme Court heard on Nov. 25 and Chandrachud’s position as chief justice has brought renewed hope among LGBTQ and intersex activists and the broader community.

“It is heartening that D.Y Chandrachud was recently appointed as the Chief Justice of India. His opinions on abortion, privacy, women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, adultery, and gay rights (to name a few) have been progressive and brought about much-needed change,” said Kanav Narayan Sahgal, communications manager at Nyaaya, Vidhi Center for Legal Policy. “With an uncooperative central government, and a largely conservative society, the ball is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.”

Ankush Kumar 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]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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Gay teens jump from bridge labeling it “Happy End Decisions”

On the status of queer rights, Armenia ranks third worst at the end of the scale, with only Turkey and Azerbaijan scoring lower

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Davitashen Bridge across the Hrazdan River in Yerevan, Armenia. (Screenshot/YouTube)

YEREVAN, Armenia – The largest LGBTQ+ non-governmental organization (NGO) · Charitable organization in Armenia announced the tragic death of two young gay Armenian youth who leapt to their deaths from the Davitashen Bridge across the Hrazdan River in the Armenian capital city October 20.

‘Pink,’ in a statement on their webpage, noted that the two boys had posted a final goodbye mutually under the Instagram handle rayyyyyennnnn which showed a collection of photos of the couple including an intimate moment. The post was labeled [translated] “rayyyyyennnnn- Happy Ending Decisions to share photos and all our joint actions were made by both of us”

The LGBTQ+ group in its statement pointed out: “

We consider it unacceptable to justify the death of people. The young men still had many years of life ahead of them, but because of intolerance towards them, they took such a tragic step. LGBT people are very familiar with the feeling of isolation and misunderstanding of family and society. This tragic incident proves once again that LGBT people in Armenia are not safe and not protected by society or the state.

Photo via Insta

It is extremely important to show compassion, realizing the gravity of what happened. We offer our condolences to the families and friends of young people, and at the same time, sympathizing with their grief, we call on the public to refrain from insults, humiliating expressions, distorting the details of the incident in the form of hateful messages and comments, and spreading hatred.”

A spokesperson for the Davtashen Administrative District of Yerevan acknowledged that the suicide jump of the two teens occurred but declined to provide further information saying that the matter was still under investigation.

Open Caucasus Media journalist Ani Avetisyan identified the couple as Arsen, 16, and his 21-year-old partner, Tigran.

In its statement ‘Pink’ noted: “Unfortunately, it was not surprising to see the public reaction to what had happened. The photos posted by the boys quickly went viral on social media and Telegram channels with hateful and offensive language, mostly continuing to highlight the fact that the boys are gay, which justifies their decision to commit suicide. Many comments even encouraged others to do the same.”

Avetisyan reported that the suicide of Tigran and Arsen, has been shrouded in speculation. The reactions to their death have led to questions over the role society and the media plays in deepening the isolation felt by queer people in the country.

A prominent point of contention in the case was the age gap between the couple; Arsen was a minor, while his partner was five years older. Shortly after the news broke, screenshots surfaced allegedly showing Arsen’s mother commenting on his Instagram post saying: ‘as a minor, you are dead to me’ and ‘it’s better if you die’. The comments were deleted after news emerged of their death, Avetisyan noted.

Mamikon Hovsepyan spoke with Open Caucasus Media telling OCM the media plays a huge role in how cases pertaining to the queer community are received in society. He stressed that only a few media outlets were neutral in their coverage of the case, while others were ‘raising the level of hate in the country’.

Hovsepyan also commented that that 16-year-old had experienced psychological abuse and ‘probably a different kind of violence’ at home. The activist said that the boy did not have anyone with whom to share details of his life and that he didn’t receive any emotional support from his mother. His circumstances, Hovsepyan believes, might have pushed them to end their lives.

Despite the work of local queer groups, Armenia still lags behind in terms of queer rights, Avetisyan reported.

According to ILGA-Europe’s Rainbow Europe, an annual report on the status of queer rights across Europe, Armenia ranks third worst at the end of the scale, with only Turkey and Azerbaijan scoring lower.

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Taliban kill 22 year-old gay man in Kabul, Afghanistan

Pink News UK first reported the death of Hamed Sabouri, who was detained, tortured & video evidence of his killing sent to his family

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Hamed Sabouri (Provided)

KABUL, Afghanistan – A twenty-two year old aspiring gay medical student was tortured and killed by Afghan fighters two months ago after being stopped at a checkpoint in the country’s capital city.

Pink News UK first reported the death of Hamed Sabouri, who was detained and then tortured with the video evidence of his killing sent to his family members in August.

According to a source who spoke via Telegram with the Blade on Friday, Sabouri had been detained at one of the hundreds of Taliban checkpoints in Kabul used by the terrorist group to enforce adherence to Islamic Sharia law and religious rules instituted after they took control of the country in August of 2021.

The source added that it was reasonable to speculate that there had been content on Sabouri’s mobile that served as the justification for his being detaining by the so-called Taliban freedom fighters leading to his torture and death.

The Taliban have often used the contents of the mobile phones seized to then extend the circle of LGBTQ+ persons they seek to persecute, imprison and torture.

Many in the Afghan LGBTQ+ community have taken measures to disguise their existence in country so as to not attract the Taliban’s attention. Several hundred LGBTQ+ Afghans have also fled to neighboring Pakistan to escape persecution.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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