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Out in the Bay

LGBTQ people stuck in Afghanistan risk execution

Photo from HRC Tweet reading in part: “LGBTQI Afghans’ lives are at risk under the new Taliban regime. @POTUS must take action”
Courtesy of Human Rights Campaign
Photo from HRC Tweet reading in part: “LGBTQI Afghans’ lives are at risk under the new Taliban regime. @POTUS must take action”

Despite massive evacuations after the Taliban takeover in August, many thousands of LGBTQ people remain in Afghanistan fearing for their lives, say two NGOs trying to rescue them. NGO officials and a gay Afghan American helping refugees resettle in California speak about the plight queer Afghans face and how the U.S. and Canadian governments should help.

The world watched in shock as the Taliban swiftly took control of Afghanistan in August after 20 years of US-led occupation. By late September, more than 120,000 people were evacuated, but tens of thousands of LGBTQ Afghans remain there, in extreme danger and fearing for their lives, say agencies trying to rescue them.

Same-sex activity was already criminalized in Afghanistan. The Taliban, however, has vowed to institute strict Sharia law. A Taliban judge stated in July that gay men would be subject to death by stoning or being crushed by a wall toppled on them.

With discrimination and violence growing, many queer Afghans have gone into hiding while they desperately hope to be rescued or to find successful ways out of Afghanistan on their own – ways that won’t lead to their own deaths or the death of loved ones.

LGBTQI+ activists are especially threatened and are “actively being pursued by the Taliban,” says Dane Bland of Rainbow Railroad. “It’s the equivalent of having an arrest warrant out, except it’s essentially an execution warrant.”

We bring you an important and disturbing conversation with representatives of two non-profits trying to get queer Afghans to safety — Rainbow Railroad and the Human Rights Campaign — and a gay Afghan American who is helping resettle refugees in the San Francisco Bay Area. They spoke with Out in the Bay about the challenges queer people in Afghanistan face and what the U.S. and Canadian governments should be doing to help people out of a deadly dangerous crisis.

Our expert guests are Jean Freedberg, Director of Global Partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign, based in Washington, D.C.; Dane Bland, Director of Development & Communications at Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian and U.S. non-profit that helps persecuted LGBTQI+ people around the globe; and Harris Mojadedi, an activist with the Afghan Coalition in Fremont, CA, which is helping Afghan refugees resettle.

UPDATE: This conversation first aired in November 2021. We bring it to you again as the situation is still dire. As of Jan. 19, 2022, Rainbow Railroad says it had helped close to 80 LGBTQIA Afghans resettle in the U.K. and is “working on pathways into North America.“ Many thousands remain stuck while “general concerns, like famine, etc., are more rampant than before,” Dane Bland wrote to us. On the U.S. policy front, “the Biden administration has been making some efforts, but has not specifically addressed” items in the 10-point plan to help LGBTQ Afghans flee to the U.S., the HRC’s Jean Freedberg wrote to us Jan. 18.

Please help us keep bringing queer air to your ears. Out in the Bay is an independent non-profit production. Your gift will help keep LGBTQ voices and stories coming to you and others who might not be able to give. (Donate tabs on our website will take you to a Media Alliance interface. Media Alliance is our non-proft 501(c)3 fiscal agent. Your gift will be earmarked for Out in the Bay.)

This edition of Out in the Bay was produced by Kendra Klang, hosted by Eric Jansen and edited by Christopher Beale.

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Eric Jansen is a long-time broadcaster and print journalist. A former news anchor, producer and reporter at KQED FM, San Francisco; KLIV AM, San Jose; and Minnesota Public Radio, Eric's award-winning reports have been heard on many NPR programs and PRI's Marketplace. His print work has been in The Mercury News, The Business Journal, and LGBTQ magazines Genre and The Advocate, among other publications. He co-produced the June 2007 PBS documentary Why We Sing!, about LGBTQ choruses and their role in the civil rights fight.