At the end of August, the last U.S. passenger plane disappeared from Afghanistan’s horizons. The Taliban had finally taken control of the entire country after several days of battles and fire within the capital city. The leaders of the Taliban declared a new state of rule from the presidential palace formerly occupied by President Ashraf Ghani.
Soon after the Taliban’s taking of Kabul, Afghan men and women panicked in troves to the airport to flee oppressive rule. Getting a ticket onto an American bound plane was like winning the lottery for many Afghans.
Canada declared it would help resettle 20,000 Afghans, purposefully including LGBT Afghans among that mix. Canada made its intention to resettle those who would suffer tremendously under Taliban rule: Gay and trans folk, and any other kind of queer person, among a few other marginalized groups.
In early August of 2021, when the Afghan crisis was unfolding, a group of Democratic senators urged Biden to prioritize LGBT refugees. This group of senators, including Amy Klobuchar, wrote a letter to the State Department asking them to explain in greater detail a statement that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made regarding LGBT asylum seekers.
In February of 2021, President Biden signed a memorandum that instructed U.S. agencies to ensure the rights of LGBT persons around the world. After that memorandum was signed, the State Department under Sec. Blinken said that it would make an enhanced effort to protect LGBT asylum seekers.
But the group of senators, in their letter, are still asking what has specifically been done to protect LGBT asylum seekers. What new steps has the Biden administration taken? And specifically, what steps has it taken to protect these LGBT refugees in Afghanistan?
It’s time that the United States not only resettle Afghan refugees, but purposefully make it part of its mission statement to resettle LGBT people. Although, since 1994, the U.S. has acknowledged asylum claims based on homosexuality, during the latest Afghan crisis, the Biden administration never made any intentional effort to prioritize LGBT folk as refugees. Biden never came out and aggressively prioritized LGBT Afghans.
Under Taliban rule, gay people are killed and thrown off buildings. Under the former Afghan administration, being gay was a punishable crime and LGBT folk who were outed were sent to jail.
Taliban rule also spells disaster for trans people: Being trans is not even an option in Afghanistan, where the Taliban would surely kill trans people as well as those who are gay.
Article 130 of the Afghan constitution implements Sharia law, which bans homosexuality. In these cases, men who have sex with men or women who have sex with women can be put to death. Moreover, Sections 645 and 646 of the constitution punish intimacy between two women with jail time.
Some recent victims of Taliban rule describe how the Taliban is asking LGBT folk to identify others in the LGBT community within the country. They are promising a safe rite of passage to those who identify members of the queer community. Such targeting is inordinately cruel—asking members of the LGBT community to turn on each other.
The Biden administration, armed with a liberal agenda, should create an LGBT refugee resettlement initiative. Some details about this kind of initiative have to be ironed out—take, for instance, the issue of metrics. How would the U.S. accurately assess someone’s LGBT status? If you were to argue that this initiative already exists, then I must ask—where is it? Where are these concrete steps that Biden has taken to make the lives of LGBT Afghans safer? Has he given a speech on this topic?
Perhaps the administration can start by reaching out to LGBT nonprofits in these uncertain regions—Rainbow Railroad, is, for instance, an organization that helps LGBT people in the Middle East find better lives in safe countries. Other groups in countries such as Jordan help smuggle trans people to safer countries, such as Turkey. Preexisting LGBT citizens who seek help from these nonprofits can be identified by the Biden administration to come to the United States, seeking a safe rite of passage.
Afghanistan serves as an example to help LGBT people who suffer in crisis. It’s high time that the U.S. government not only acknowledge LGBT asylum seekers, but place them on a pedestal, along with other groups who are immune to abuse.
Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a transgender man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Isaac is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.