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LGBTQ people are being hunted down in Afghanistan

Homosexuality punishable by death under Taliban Sharia law interpretation

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

Kabul was known as one of the few “liberal” cities in Afghanistan. The word liberal is in quotation marks, and inflected, because it is liberal compared to the rest of the country. Now that the Taliban has taken over, most people who expressed themselves differently and openly are forced to adhere to Sharia law, completely change their ways, hide their identity, or be killed.

The U.S. State Department reported in 2020 that even before the Taliban took power in August, LGBTQ people in Afghanistan faced “discrimination, assault and rape” and “homosexuality was widely seen as taboo and indecent.” Laws against lesbian, gay and transgender people made their existence illegal and punishable by up to two years in jail. Those laws were not always enforced, but they did leave LGBTQ people at risk of extortion and abuse by authorities, as reported by the U.K. government.

Even with the discrimination and abuse, LGBTQ people still had a sliver of space in society. Nemat Sadat, an LGBTQ Afghan author living in the United States said that gay, lesbian and transgender people helped the country’s cultural life develop since the Taliban’s last rule 20 years ago. But, most of these people built their lives quietly.

Now with the Taliban regime, their sliver of space in society is gone, there is no room to live quietly as an openly LGBTQ person. Under the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law, homosexuality is punished by death.

In an interview with Reuters, Waheedullah Hashimi, a top decision maker for the Taliban said, “there will be no democratic system at all because it does not have a base in our country,” and continued to say, “what type of political system should we apply in Afghanistan is clear. It is sharia law and that is it.”

One source spoke to a 20-year-old university student who is lesbian in Afghanistan. Her family accepted her as a lesbian, but now the new Taliban leadership has put the lives of all of her family at risk. There is a new surge of violence against any lesbian, gay and transgender people. This includes anyone speculated of being lesbian, gay, or trans, and those who support them.

This young lesbian woman has gone into hiding. She is part of hundreds of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan who are pleading with advocates and organizations outside Afghanistan for help to escape the Taliban tyranny.

Nemat Sadat shares stories of lesbian, gay and trans people in hiding. He shared a story of a gay man who watched from his hiding place in the ceiling as Taliban fighters beat the friend who refused to disclose his location.  

LGBTQ people in Afghanistan fear the risk of being arrested, beaten and killed. The Taliban made it clear that it is enforcing its strict religious laws against Afghanistan’s LGBTQ citizens. In an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper, one Taliban judge said there were only two punishments for homosexuality: “stoning or being crushed under a wall.”

LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are reporting that their friends, partners and members of their community are being attacked and raped. They also stated that Islamic fundamentalists and riotous groups are encouraged by the new tyranny and are on the hunt for LGBTQ people.

Another source shared that a gay man was targeted for his sexuality and then raped by his male attackers. That is a terrible paradox. He was raped by his male attackers, who criminalizing him for having same sex relations.

LGBTQ people are in hiding, desperately trying to get out of the country, and trying to erase any proof of their queer identity.

They feel abandoned by the international LGBTQ community. The Taliban is proving that the Western nations have normalized relations to their government. The Taliban and their supporters see this a proof of their victory. This leaves LGBTQ people defeated and fearing torture and death.

The U.S. government and other Western countries evacuated many people out of Afghanistan, including journalists, women’s rights activists and those who worked with foreigners. But, LGBTQ activists said that nothing has been done for them. A source says about her situation, “we will definitely be killed. We are asking to be evacuated immediately from Afghanistan.” To date, no safe route has been found.

Even underground measures to help LGBTQ people are challenging and near impossible. The Rainbow Railroad is a non-governmental organization helping LGBTQ people around the world escape persecution. Executive Director Kimahli Powell said evacuating LGBTQ people from Afghanistan is especially hard as they are often alone, in hiding, and unable to contact each other. If routes to get them out is nearly impossible, that still means those routes are somewhat possible. As difficult as it may be, we must find pathways to save these people and get them out.

The Taliban regime has established itself, knowing with certainty that the world will stand aside, albeit condemning and protesting, but not intervening. This is empowering jihadists across the world, especially in the Middle East. The Taliban has many allies and admirers, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas. 

The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, travelled from Palestinian territories to meet with Taliban leaders in Qatar. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has a history of ties to the Taliban, even with radicals joining each other’s organizations. Very public statements of congratulations were made between leaders of the Taliban, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and all with full Iranian support.

The increase in brazen forcefulness of these groups reaches beyond Afghanistan, and spreads to the lands dominated by other similar groups. This causes an escalation of the threats to anyone who opposes Sharia law or who lives differently than what Sharia law allows. LGBTQ people in these lands are in peril. 

If we do not help LGBTQ people in Afghanistan, the lives of LGBTQ people under other similar tyrannies face increased uncertainty and danger.

Since posting this video, I have been receiving direct messages from LGBTQ people in hiding in Afghanistan, and those who are seeking to be evacuated. They all share harrowing experiences of being attacked, raped, and threatened by Taliban, Islamic State and bullying groups.

Yuval David is an innovative actor, host and filmmaker with a creative mantra to entertain, uplift and inspire. He is a captivating performer and compelling storyteller who uses his platform for sharing narratives that affect social change, specifically on behalf of highly respected U.S. and international organizations that raise awareness for the marginalized and under-represented, inspired by his LGBTQ+ and Jewish identity, and his Israeli-American roots.

He can be reached through social media

YouTube.com/YuvalDavid

Instagram.com/Yuval_David_

Facebook.com/YuvalDavid

Twitter.com/YuvalDavid

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Commentary

Supreme Court: What we know is bad enough. What should we do?

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote

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(Blade photo by Michael Key)

As the shock of actually seeing a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade sunk in, reporters and many concerned people once again started asking me whether the Republican Party and the Supreme Court it has packed with agenda-driven justices pose a threat to same-sex couples’ freedom to marry, which we won through a decades-long campaign. My one-word answer was and is: vote. 

When an alarm sounds and there’s a fire in your kitchen, you don’t sit back and debate whether it might spread to the bedroom. You fight the fire. 

Don’t waste time and energy sitting around cataloguing all the many additional bad things that might happen. What’s happening right now, to women, to all of us, is bad enough – and we can do something about it. We can elect representatives who will defend the rights of Americans and strengthen our democracy, who will pass legislation to protect voting rights and reproductive rights (and elections, economic opportunity, racial justice, and more), and who will select judges and justices who are faithful to the Constitution, not to theocratic ideology, partisan or shadowy funders’ regressive agendas, or an oligarchic wealth and power grab. We can vote out the elected officials who are dividing Americans to distract and demoralize them, foisting their unpopular minority views on our pluralistic people, driving our country into a ditch.

Those who would roll back the clock on America’s progress, and even undermine American democracy itself, didn’t succumb to despair, cynicism, apathy, or inaction, and nor should we. We can mobilize and turn out. We can overcome obstacles. We can reclaim power.

Who gets elected makes a difference. 

Republican senators, led by Mitch McConnell, stole a Supreme Court seat (now filled by Neil Gorsuch). They railroaded through a second Trump nominee (Brett Kavanaugh) without meaningfully investing his sketchy past (not just the credible charges of lying about a sexual assault, but Kavanaugh’s paper-trail while in government and even his finances and the unresolved question of who paid off his debts). They ruthlessly (and hypocritically) seated a third Trump nominee (Amy Barrett) literally in the middle of an election. They pretended to believe that these nominees would respect precedent. And, of course, it was Republican presidents who packed the Supreme Court with litmus-tested ideologues; would Hillary Clinton have appointed the three right-wingers that Trump did? Would Al Gore have chosen the likes of Samuel Alito? 

Voting, or not choosing to turn out to vote, has consequences.

The justices installed by Republican presidents who didn’t even win the popular vote have gutted voting rights, subverted labor organizing, shifted the rules of the economy to favor the wealthy, carved out special licenses to discriminate under the guise of religious freedom, impeded progressive and pro-environment actions of government (intended to be, as FDR put it, our people’s “greatest single instrument of cooperative self-help”), and now, come after women’s empowerment and health.

No political party, no politician, is perfect, but the difference between the Democrats and Republicans today could not be starker – not just because they differ radically on matters of policy, but because the primary difference is now that one is the Democratic Party and the other is anti-democracy itself. 

And the difference between heading in the right direction and the dark place American politics is in right now can turn on as small a number as two: If there were two more Democratic senators, notwithstanding Republican obstruction and Trumpist lies, the Senate would dispense with the filibuster and follow the House in passing legislation to safeguard our elections and Americans’ right to vote, assure access to abortion, reform policing, invest in the middle class, extend the Child Tax Credit, address the need for safety in the face of the insane prevalence of guns, and so much more. Urgently needed reforms to protect and reinvigorate our Republic, including Supreme Court expansion, would be on the table as correctives or at least deterrents (full disclosure: I am on the advisory board of Take Back the Court). President Biden and progressives (who right now are leading effectively despite having zero political margin) would be delivering much more on what they ran on, what a majority voted for, and the country would be moving forward faster.

If you want a better Supreme Court, if you want better policies, if you want a better democracy, you must vote and get others to vote.

Justice Alito in his draft rightly notes that in some ways, abortion is different from other questions, and professes that that distinguishes the right to choose an abortion, which the majority takes away, from other rights, such as the freedom to marry without restriction based on race or sex.  “We emphasize,” Justice Alito writes in his draft, “that our decision concerns the constitutional right to abortion and no other right. Nothing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” 

Analysts are right not to believe him. He and Justice Clarence Thomas, at least, have indicated their absolute desire and intention to go after the freedom to marry as well as other basic rights, including contraception. Justice Alito’s draft contains an attack on the very idea that the Constitution protects an underlying liberty (sometimes denoted as our right to privacy, or our right to autonomy); the “unenumerated” right that the Court has invoked to affirm American’s freedom to make important life-defining choices, such as when and whether to bear a child, or to have sex, or whether and whom to marry. 

Justice Alito pretends that because the word “abortion” is not in the Constitution, it is not protected. (The Constitution also does not contain the word “marriage” – or, for that matter, the words “freedom,” “education,” “corporation,” or “judicial review”). What the Ninth Amendment does say, of course, is “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” 

That clear constitutional text won’t be enough to stop Justices Alito and Thomas. But the fact that they may be ready to roll back the gains of the past fifty or more years, or overturn the New Deal, doesn’t mean there are five votes to fully adopt the specious, fraudulent attack on Americans’ underlying liberty that the draft opinion sketched out, or to follow it to where he might want to go. 

More than a million gay people have gotten legally married in the US. We didn’t win marriage as a gift from the Court; we mobilized, organized, persuaded, shared our stories, fought, and worked for decades to change hearts and minds, and then the law. We won in legislatures, in state courts and then federal, at the ballot, and in millions of personal conversations. When I wrote my law school thesis in 1983 advocating for the freedom to marry, polls showed support at 11%. We grew that to 63% by the time we went for the win at the Supreme Court in 2015, and support has widened and deepened since. The latest polls now show support for the freedom to marry at 70%, including majority support even among those over 65, even among those still willing (despite Trump, despite Putin) to identify themselves as Republicans. We won by overcoming losses, and turning no into yes.

There are many reasons to hope that the freedom to marry victory remains secure – even while there is reason, of course, to fear.

But, again, we shouldn’t be sitting around cataloguing, fretting, or waiting in dread of additional bad things. Trump and his enablers are mounting a continuing coup attempt. Extreme candidates threaten to take power in states and in the House. And now looms the despicable prospect of a constitutional right such as a woman’s right to choose – embedded in the law and our lives for nearly half a century – being cynically stripped away, with all the harm that will inflict on women, children, and families. We know enough already.

Instead of worrying about whether the freedom to marry is at risk, we must heed the call to action already upon us. By taking action now, above all by winning elections, we will best undo damage and move our country forward, the best protection for all that we we care about.

*********************

Evan Wolfson led the campaign to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Since victory in 2015, he advises and assists diverse movements in the US on “how to win,” as well as activists seeking to win marriage in other countries worldwide.

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Commentary

Dispatch from Kyiv

Intersex activist remains in Ukrainian capital with mother

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Julia Pustovit attends an Egalite Intersex Ukraine event at the Kyiv City Museum of Antiquities and Art in Kyiv, Ukraine (Photo courtesy of Julia Pustovit)

War came to our house suddenly and severely. It was brought by a cruel and ruthless aggressor: Russia.

More than 10 million Ukrainians were forced to seek refuge around the world, where it is much safer today. My elderly mother and I stayed in Kyiv because she needs daily help and support, and she can’t move far from home because of her poor health.

It is not easy for an intersex person to live in Ukraine, even in peacetime, but in times of war it is even tougher. Moreover, without the appropriate ID (passport) that corresponds with my gender and appearance, it is nearly impossible for me to leave the country.

More than 10 years have passed since I began my struggle to get a correct document, but today the lack of one creates for me a real danger. During the occupation of Bucha and Irpin and other cities we lost touch with some our intersex colleagues. We do not know what happened to them, and for me it’s very scary because as it turned out I live just 10 km from the frontlines.

I am well-known to the Russians because of my activism, and as it turned out they are not tolerant of Ukrainians. I know that they are even more cruel towards people like me. They also slaughter LGBTIQ people; torturing them before killing them.

Julia Pustovit is the head of Egalite Intersex Ukraine, the first intersex rights organization in Ukraine. Pustovit lives in Kyiv, Ukraine, with her mother.

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Commentary

LGBTQ Ukrainians will do our best to resist Russia

Putin invading country with ‘traditional values’

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Olena Shevchenko (Photo via Facebook)

Today I woke up at 5 a.m. because of the massive attack on our cities from Russia. Nobody in Ukraine can still believe it is happening right now. I got dozens of messages and calls from different regions, from people who are asking me what to do, and I didn’t have any answers. It took us few hours to collect information on different regions and cities and members of our LGBTQI+ communities there.

We have branches in 11 regions, including Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, which are located in eastern Ukraine. We started to collect names of those who must be relocated immediately.

So why it is so dangerous for LGBTQI+ people to stay under possible occupation?

Russia is coming with its “traditional values” and will be hunting us, those who are dangerous for their evil empire. I heard they already have lists of activists who will be persecuted first and I am sure that LGBTQI+ activists are on those lists.

We already had a similar situation in 2014, when Russia occupied our territories and many people were forced to leave their homes. Many of them were LGBTQI+ people, who told us they were hunting them and some were killed or disappeared.

In 2014 we opened a shelter for LGBTQI+ internally displaced persons in Kyiv. This time it seems we do not have any place to go and we want to protect our homeland from occupants. Therefore, the situation is difficult and nobody knows what will be next and who will survive. We are doing what we can do now: Providing psychological support to people, opening a hotline for consultations and asking international communities to somehow help us. But it seems these instruments don’t work anymore in the world and we must fight this stupid war on our own.

I think the international community needs to realize that it’s not just some war in Eastern Europe. It is the start of a huge international crisis and possible war all over Europe. The Russian president clearly showed he doesn’t care about international obligations, rules or sanctions anymore. He will continue and never stop.

We are living in very interesting times in which a new story is being made, and this is not only our Ukrainian history, but also in the geopolitical history of the world. Existing international institutions and existing mechanisms for deterring and maintaining peace have proved imaginary. When I say imaginary, it does not mean that they do not exist. This means that they are not effective. They help only if you believe in them and hold on to that faith. In essence, we need to rethink this and create other, new and working mechanisms, and here Ukraine must show its strength to others.

Jokes about “deep concern” are no longer funny. We understand that this is the maximum of what an imaginary democratic world can give us now. In recent days, our international partners have been writing to me almost every minute, many of them asking if we have a crisis plan in place, and, if not, when will we develop it. I want to tell everyone again: What plan can work in the event of a full-scale invasion? (We do not have planes to take people to a safe place, as you did.) In any case, we remain to defend ourselves and our country and will continue to help people. Our activists from the LGBTQI+ communities are staying and keep working, providing support to the most marginalized ones. Honestly, I don’t know how long we will be able to resist, but we will do our best for sure.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones. Everything will be fine!

Olena Shevchenko is the chair of Insight, a Ukrainian LGBTQ rights group. Shevchenko lives in Kyiv, Ukraine.

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