Born and raised in Afghanistan, Rabia Balkhi considers herself a lucky person. Despite living in a country with a long history of discrimination against LGBT people, Balkhi still has his family’s approval of his sexual orientation – as a lesbian.
But that rare luck is putting her whole family in danger, after the Taliban took control of the capital, Kabul. The gay and transgender community in Afghanistan is now living in fear, because of a real fear.
Since the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15, the Balkhi family has decided to flee. The name “Balkhi” is actually a fake name to keep it safe, when she and five people from the LGBT community in Afghanistan gave an interview to CNN.
The 20-year-old student is one of hundreds of LGBT people in Afghanistan who are calling for foreign activists to find ways to help them escape the hands of the Taliban. Ritu Mahendru and Nemat Sadat, two activists outside Afghanistan, said they had a list of hundreds of names who wanted to flee the country.
“The situation is getting worse every day. Fear of arrest is now a part of life. I’m so stressed I can’t sleep,” – Balkhi said.
It is not clear how the Taliban will handle when applying their very strict laws to the LGBT community. According to the sheet image In Germany, a member of the Taliban said there would be two punishments for homosexuals – stoned or crushed to death by a brick wall. However, a spokesman for the Taliban said they have not made any official announcement yet.
Soldiers of the Taliban
Several people from the LGBT community in Afghanistan said they had heard stories of friends and family members being assaulted or raped. Now, they fear that the new regime under the Taliban will put them in the same situation, or even worse. As Balkhi recounts, a gay man near her home was raped after the Taliban found out.
As the weeks passed, Balkhi and a few members of the community had to find a way to hide themselves. They hid in dark cellars, single rooms without windows, mindlessly staring at phone screens without finding a way out. They all feel abandoned, when the rescue flights are not their turn to leave the country. They want to escape the Taliban before they are found and punished under harsh, brutal laws.
Even before the Taliban came to power, life in Afghanistan for the LGBT community was not easy. A report from the US State Department in 2020 said gay people here are exposed to many risks, including “discrimination, assault and rape”. In addition, they are easily arrested by the authorities and sexually harassed.
“Homosexuality is considered taboo here,” – quoted in the report.
At the time, same-sex relationships in Afghanistan were illegal, punishable by up to two years in prison. Although this law is not always applied, it creates a basis for LGBT people to easily be oppressed and blackmailed by corrupt police, according to a report from the British government in 2013.
But at least then, society still has room for people like them.
Nemat Sadat, an Afghan author of the LGBT community living in the US, said it was gay and transgender people who helped Afghanistan’s culture flourish 20 years after the Taliban last took power. “They excel in the beauty industry. Concerts or fashion shows are crowded with LGBT people,” – Sadat commented.
The wall of the US Embassy in Kabul has been repainted into the flag of the Taliban
At that time, only a few people felt comfortable and safe enough to “come out”. But even so, some can still quietly live true to their selves. Like Balkhi, despite being open to her family, she still has to find a way to secretly meet her girlfriend every weekend. Hay Hilal – a 25-year-old gay man said he had a boyfriend and openly fought for LGBT rights in Afghanistan.
“We just didn’t expect them (the government) to collapse so quickly,” Hilal pondered.
Living in fear
When the Taliban arrived, Balkhi said being a woman alone made her dream of finishing college disappear. And as a lesbian, she even faced dangers to her life.
Reply sheet Reuters, Waheedullah Hashimi – part of the Taliban’s leading group – said the country would essentially operate “under Sharia law and that’s it.” But if it’s Sharia, then homosexuality will become a crime worthy of death.
Balkhi said that as soon as they heard that the Taliban had entered the city, they immediately fled. They leave their home in Kabul, looking for a secret place to hide. “They (Taliban) have information on every family here.”
Balkhi fears that her family will be attacked, even murdered for hiding someone from the LGBT community. Not daring to sleep for fear of being discovered, the young girl said she was very afraid of being found by the Taliban. She could have been stoned to death, just because she was gay.
According to activist Nemat Sadat, someone from the LGBT community contacted him and recounted his experience. This man hid on the roof, watching the Taliban soldiers beat his friend for refusing to disclose his location. Another called Hasan, saying that he had been hiding at a friend’s house in Kabul for more than a month and had now run out of money and food.
A week ago, Hasan received a call from an unknown number. A male voice said Hasan is being targeted because of the LGBT community. “Don’t say much, we’ll find you wherever you are,” Hasan narrated the words of the other end of the line. He quickly changed his phone number to avoid risk.
And Hilal, who has openly fought for LGBT rights in Afghanistan, said that some people came to his home to see him soon after the fall of Kabul. “They threatened my brother, saying that if I go home, they’ll kill me (because I’m gay).”
For the next three weeks, Hilal hid in a friend’s cellar. He had no money, very little food, and had to accept the fact that he might never see his family again. “Being LGBT isn’t our fault? It’s fate, no one can change it. All they can do is kill me.” – Hilal is desperate.
Homosexuality is not a crime?
Ritu Mahendru, a human rights activist with 10 years of experience in Afghanistan, said he knows of at least one case where transgender women from men had to grow beards and dress like men to avoid being noticed. In one case, a lesbian had to marry a male friend for safety, until she could leave the country. Or a 25-year-old gay man who tries to stand up and walk to look masculine, but is still badly beaten by a Taliban soldier.
“He cursed at me, saying I didn’t know how to walk like a man,” – young men experience.
Protests in Ankara (Turkey) demanding rights for the LGBT community in Afghanistan at the end of August 2021
Balkhi, up to this point, still considers himself lucky. She shared that lesbians like her have an advantage over the LGBT community, because they are allowed to hide under traditional costumes such as hijab or chadri. Last August, she and her family wore chadris to Kabul airport hoping to board a rescue flight, but were prevented by Taliban soldiers. They said that no Afghans were allowed to enter the airport, and threatened them with whips until the people had to leave.
“I don’t know if I can get out, but I understand I wouldn’t be able to live here, under such circumstances.”
For Sadat, each passing day shows that the situation is more stressful. Many people have lost contact, as he struggles to find a way to get them out of the country.
“I don’t know if they died or managed to escape the country so they didn’t receive my call. A lot of LGBT people in Afghanistan have lost hope, are starving and needing food supplies.”
As for Hilal, you’re stuck. He still didn’t know how to cross the border safely, because that meant he would have to reveal his identity. As an outspoken activist, it is possible to be identified.
“I want to live. We are human. We want a life like everyone else. But people can live and we can’t.”
“Isn’t it our fault being LGBT? God made us like that!”