Gabir, a 26-year-old gay man living in Afghanistan, was dining at a restaurant with his boyfriend of eight months. The two met at university, became friends and dreamed of moving to Europe to get married. But a few hours after their meal together, Gabir learned that the Taliban had picked up his boyfriend.
The Taliban beat his boyfriend bloody, killed and dismembered him, and then threw his body parts in the street as a warning of how the Islamic militant group handles LGBTQ people. His boyfriend was 24 years old.
Later, a person claiming to be with the Taliban called Gabir.
“I know you are gay,” the caller told Gabir. “Before capturing Kabul, we knew everything about you. You have three or four friends who are gay. You have a boyfriend. Once we settle here in Kabul, we will not let you live. If we find you, we will kill you.”
Gabir has since gone into hiding, dropping out of university and cutting off all contact from his friends and family to avoid being caught.
Homosexuality was already an imprisonable offense in Afghanistan. But now that the Taliban regained control of the entire country, Gabir and countless other LGBTQ Afghans have two choices: flee or die.
Wielding guns and the supposed authority of God, Taliban members have begun searching people’s homes, their pockets and their phones, according to Aziz, a gay Afghan 21-year-old. If they find any evidence of queerness, they can shoot you on the spot and then go after anyone you’ve contacted on your phone.
If Aziz comes out to his family, he said, “They would beat me and throw me out the house.”
Even if he initially survives, he’ll remain in grave danger. Gay people, a Taliban judge promised earlier this year, will be prosecuted and executed by stoning or pushing a wall on top of them.
LGBTQ Afghans only have one hope: that foreign governments and organizations will help them flee.
On Wednesday, Democratic New Hampshire Representative Chris Pappas led 63 lawmakers in pleading with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to help LGBTQ Afghans leave the country. Pappas and his fellow lawmakers called on the State Department to extend its recently announced refugee admissions program to LGBTQ Afghans.
Additionally, the lawmakers asked the Department of Defense to ensure that LGBTQ Afghans receive uninterrupted access to the Kabul International Airport so they’re not harmed while trying to flee.
“While we appreciate that the situation in Afghanistan is fluid, you have the power to protect the lives of countless LGBTQ+ Afghans from the horrors they face living under a regime that threatens their very existence,” Pappas’ letter to Blinken stated.
The letter was also supported by Council for Global Equality, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Athlete Ally, the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, PFLAG National and the National Equality Action Team (NEAT).
On August 14, Canada announced its intention to resettle over 20,000 Afghan citizens, with an emphasis on protecting LGBTQ people, women, and others typically targeted by the Taliban. The U.S. has yet to announce any such policy for LGBTQ Afghans.
Rainbow Railroad, a global nonprofit that aims to help LGBTQ people flee persecution, said it has already received 50 requests for help from LGBTQ Afghans.
“We need to hold governments accountable to really support individuals,” Kimahli Powell, the executive director of Rainbow Railroad, told TIME magazine. “They’re going to need access to housing; they’re going to need access to emotional and mental health supports, they’re going to need access to resources. I think that’s the opportunity for individuals, civil societies and governments to provide.”
One GoFundMe fundraiser created by three queer Afghans living in the U.S. raised over $45,000 to help LBGTQ Afghans. The money would’ve helped pay for passports, visas, plane tickets and other evacuation costs.
However, when the organizers tried to access the money, GoFundMe couldn’t approve the withdrawal “due to Taliban control.”
GoFundMe has since advised people instead to donate to international humanitarian groups like Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. But LGBTQ activists worry that these organizations won’t specifically help LGBTQ Afghans in the way that direct donations would.
LGBTQ activists in the U.S. have urged others to donate and volunteer with groups like OutRight Action International, Immigration Equality, ILGA World and Human Rights Campaign Global. These groups have long histories of specifically working with LGBTQ individuals living in dangerous regimes.
In the meanwhile, the U.S. has had trouble evacuating Americans and Afghan allies who assisted the U.S. military during its 20-year occupation. Legislators have slammed President Joe Biden for not rushing evacuation efforts earlier on.
Now that the Taliban is surrounding the Kabul airport and monitoring borders and roads, it’s difficult for anyone to leave without risking their lives.
Both Gabir and Aziz said they expect to die. Both are in hiding and say they are unable to reach the airport.