LGBT Afghans are facing an existential threat under the Taliban, whose previous reign in the country two decades ago saw violence against marginalized groups.
Members of the LGBT community in the country who spoke to The Hill via text message, using pseudonyms for personal safety, described widespread and constant fear following the swift Taliban takeover. Many have been forced into hiding after the deaths of family and friends, killings they say came at the hands of the militant group.
“The Taliban have specific group[s], they are searching the LGBT Afghans…they will kill us if they find us,” a gay Afghan man by the name of Sarfaraz told The Hill.
One gay man, who asked to be identified only by his nickname, Ahmadullah, described a climate of paranoia, in which members of the community are encouraged to give up the names of those suspected to be LGBT to the Taliban.
“They say, ‘If you want to live in peace with your family, give us the names of the LGBT+,’” Ahmadullah said.
The Taliban began a military offensive in Afghanistan amid the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops in the region. Earlier this month, the group made significant territorial gains, capturing large cities like Kandahar before eventually taking the capital, Kabul.
The group’s return to power has sparked fear among LGBT Afghans, who faced discrimination and threats of violence in the country even before the Afghan government fell.
Nemat Sadat, a gay, Afghan American author, journalist and activist based in San Diego said he received death threats from Islamic extremists when he taught at the American University of Afghanistan in 2012.
“Soon after I arrived, I was persecuted by the sons of strongmen in my university and others who were not very happy about my presence in Afghanistan. They had spread rumors that I was a lapsed Muslim, a practicing homosexual and an Israeli Mossad spy,” Sadat said.
“When I came first as gay and then later ex-Muslim, and I received curses and death threats and fatwas,” Sadat continued. “And by this time I had already left Afghanistan.”
Ahmadullah said that before the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, members of the LGBT community faced arrests and jail time because of their sexuality.
When asked if he felt more acceptance under the Afghan government, Ahmadullah said the main difference was that the U.S.-backed government would put LGBT people in jail, but the Taliban “kill us on the spot.”
He added that he never told anyone he was gay because if Afghan people were to find out “they will call the Taliban.”
Taliban leaders have said they will rule by Sharia, their interpretation of Islamic law.
“There will be no democratic system at all,” Taliban commander Waheedullah Hashimi said, according to Reuters. “We will not discuss what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan because it is clear. It is Sharia law and that is it.”
Over 20 years ago, the Taliban essentially removed women’s rights in Afghanistan and allowed public beatings and executions. Under Taliban rule, homosexuality was punishable by death.
Now, LGBT people are once again fearing for their lives, with many saying they feel as though they’re being hunted down by the Taliban.
A lesbian Afghan who asked to be identified only as Rabia, said the threat of the Taliban has forced her family to move several times. LGBT women can face various forms of brutality under the new regime.
“If they find that we are LGBTs they will catch us and [it’s] not clear how they will kill us,” Rabia said.
“And they think we are like waste human[s] in the society and they should remove us from here.”
Rabia added that she would likely face a public shooting or stoning if her identity as a lesbian is revealed.
Some LGBT Afghans have vivid memories of the day the Taliban regained control of the country.
Ahmadullah described how he and his boyfriend were sitting at a restaurant when the first heard. He said he told his boyfriend to go home and call to say he was safe. But he never received the call. Ahmadullah said he later learned his boyfriend was beheaded by the Taliban.
He said a classmate told him that the Taliban “killed your best friend.”
“They said if you kill a gay, god will send you to heaven,” said Ahmadullah.
He also told The Hill that the Taliban killed his father and brother because they worked for the Afghan government.
After he learned of the deaths of his loved ones, Ahmadullah said he has taken to hiding in basements and relying on other people to give him shelter.
Ahmadullah, Rabia and Sarfaraz are among the thousands of Afghans who hope to escape the country by boarding an evacuation flight to countries taking in refugees.
“We want the…big nation[s] such as the USA and U.K… to evacuate us from Afghanistan because these countries will be safe enough for our lives, not any other countries like Asia or the Mediterranean,” Sarfaraz said.
Ahmadullah said that at one point, he made his way to the Kabul airport, and waited in dirty water outside of a gate for days. At one point he attempted to climb over the wall into the facility, but said he was beaten back by U.S. forces.
“They were shouting ‘go away,’” he said.
The Canadian government has specifically indicated that they will take LGBT refugees seeking asylum. Canada has pledged to take 20,000 Afghan citizens from groups they have identified as at-risk.
When asked if the Biden administration was working to prioritize evacuations of LGBT Afghans, a spokesperson from the State Department told The Hill that the U.S. was working quickly to assist “vulnerable Afghans.”
“The United States is working closely with allies and partners on our shared objective of quickly assisting vulnerable Afghans such as women leaders, human rights activists, and LGBTQI+ individuals outside Afghanistan through humanitarian programs,” the spokesperson said.
International LGBT groups such as Stonewall and Rainbow Railroad have called on the United Kingdom to take action and evacuate vulnerable Afghans from the region.
It remains unclear how many Afghan refugees will be evacuated from Kabul by the Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops.