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Column: The Taliban’s return means death for LGBTQ Afghans. Biden, will you help?

Taliban fighters roam streets of Kabul
Taliban fighters, who overthrew the Afghan government this weekend, patrol the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul on Wednesday.
(Rahmut Gul / Associated Press)

President Biden is held in high regard in the LGBTQ community, largely for his “Meet the Press” interview in 2012, when as vice president he endorsed same-sex marriage ahead of President Obama.

As the boss now, Biden has continued that support: bringing Pride Month celebrations back to the White House and creating an administration with a historic number of LGBTQ appointees and initiatives.

One such initiative is the memorandum he issued in February in which he explicitly directed “all agencies abroad to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” including “protecting vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers.”

Well, Mr. President, it is time to see if you can keep that promise.

Right now, LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are being hunted by the Taliban. A Taliban regime that made public execution of queer people a spectator sport before U.S. military occupation pushed the regime back into the shadows. A regime in which one of its judges told a reporter last month that gay men will be executed by having walls toppled on them once the Taliban are back in power.

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Given this horror, will you enforce the memorandum’s directive “to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs”?

Even in the height of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, LGBTQ Afghans did not live in safety. A 2009 Justice Department report stated that “no death sentences are reported to have been dispensed after the end of the Taliban rule but … this is still technically possible” under Afghan criminal law.

That such punishment was possible — even after the overthrow of the Taliban — shows the extent of persecution queer Afghans have suffered. Still, the fall of the Taliban was an opening. Young Afghans felt comfortable enough to come out to friends and begin dating quietly through chat groups and dating apps. Now, the phones they used to find each other can be confiscated by the Taliban and used to hunt each of them down. Making matters worse, many dare not get rid of their phones since those devices may be the only means of communication that could lead them to safety.

This isn’t theoretical. This is happening in Kabul right now. Nemat Sadat, a gay Afghan man and author of the critically acclaimed book “The Carpet Weaver,” was forced out of his teaching position at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and eventually fled the country in 2013.

After rumors began circulating that Sadat was gay, the Taliban issued a manifesto targeting the university and the Afghan government pressured the school to fire him. Keep in mind that while the Taliban was pushed back in those years, they were never fully pushed out. By 2018, the Taliban had either regained or was contesting more than 45% of the country, according to U.S. government reports.

Sadat now lives in Washington, D.C., where he advocates for LGBTQ equality in the Middle East. Here’s one of the many text messages he received this week from LGBTQ people he knows in Afghanistan:

“We are so scared, we are hiding, we know they will come after us, but we don’t know what to do.”

Over the last 20 years, young LGBTQ Afghans took it upon themselves to be the vanguard of change, Sadat told me. “They came out to their families. They told their friends. They found love. And it’s a very diverse group of people. People who didn’t have a lot of means and people who did.” Now, he points out, the people with means may be able to escape on their own, but not the others.

Of the Taliban, Sadat said: “They are going to do what the Nazis did to LGBT people. They are going to try to exterminate us.”

Nazis arrested approximately 100,000 gay men before the end of the war, with thousands ending up in concentration camps where they were the subjects of experiments and tortured. An estimated 65% of those held in camps died there.

“People never thought that the U.S. was really going to withdraw,” Sadat said when I asked him why more people didn’t leave sooner. “They really thought the talk was just political theater for domestic purposes because no one really believed the U.S. would create a parallel government with the Taliban.” He was referring to the agreement the Trump administration made with the Taliban without participation from the Afghanistan government.

Earlier this month, 14 senators signed a letter asking the State Department to explain the specific steps it was taking to enforce the February memorandum. While LGBTQ people are living under duress all over the world, America’s responsibility to people in Afghanistan is obviously unique. So should our response be to the crisis they are now facing.

They are on the run.

Their families have turned their backs on them, some are even turning them in.

Without intervention, they will likely be massacred.

Now is the time for the Biden administration to step in. Whether it could have forestalled the swift collapse of the Afghan government this week can be debated. What is less debatable is its moral duty to rescue and resettle LGBTQ people who will be targeted and killed under the Taliban’s rule. The very people Biden said he would seek to protect a few months ago.

@LZGranderson


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