Gus Kenworthy
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The Dire Plight of LGBTQ+ Afghan Refugees

refugee

The advancement of the Taliban and the toppling of the Afghanistan government has led to displacement for women, children, and LGBTQ people, the latter of which are subject to the penal code for being queer in Afghanistan. Article 130 of the Afghan constitution allows for the implementation of Sharia Law, which prohibits same-sex sexual activity. The maximum penalty is death and is applicable in cases of sex between men or between women.

I started receiving messages from friends online asking me what we are doing to support LGBTQ Afghans, and I did not have a better answer but to reply, “When they get to the United States, we would help them settle in.” The problem is not a lack of support when they get here but how they get here.

The next shared message I received was a Gofundme link, from a friend in Dublin. He is organizing a relocation fund for his friend Omid, a 25-year-old gay man based in Kabul “so he can travel safely and legally to Turkey and begin his journey away from persecution and the risk of being killed for being who he is.”

I've become increasingly worried about young people like Omid, a law graduate living in Kabul as a gay man. Omid is not a single story, but an obvious indication of the need of many LGBTQ Afghans who are afraid to speak up because laws such as the penal code and other discriminatory legislation render them hopeless. The ones left behind are likely to face the Sharia penal code or section 645 or 646, which criminalizes same-sex intimacy between women for up to one and two years imprisonment. In times of war, and major disasters, LGBTQ people, women, and children are the most vulnerable.

I was triggered because I remember how my journey as an asylum seeker began. My country passed a law that criminalized same-sex relationships by 14 years of imprisonment, subsequently led to the persecution of members of the LGBTQ community, and many had to flee to find safety like myself. It was a life-changing event for me, I lost most of my twenties to the process of being relocated to a new country. The trauma of not being able to live my twenties like any other remains deeply, up until today. That’s why Omid, who is younger than me, needs support from systems and not individuals.

The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being a refugee is longlasting; these people who are displaced are my family, and I wish the United States can do more than extract their own from Afghanistan, I hope the U.S. will take swift action as Canada has, announcing it will take in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan. If saving lives is all we care about, we should all be advocating for taking as many refugees as possible because the ones left behind would likely suffer torture and, in extreme circumstances, death.

The United States has more responsibility than any other country. The current refugee resettlement program requires refugees to go to a safe country and then apply for our existing resettlement pathway, which is not an option for people desperate for their lives. The Special Immigrant Visa SIV pathway has a backlog of 17,000 applicants. We can open pathways for refugees to come into the country aside from existing mechanisms.

This is a systemic issue and not an individual one. We need more awareness of the current plight faced by Afghan people. They cannot carry the burden of finding a new home and spreading awareness at the same time. Wherever you are, you can play a role, call your representative, and tell them saving Afghans' lives is a priority for you and the constituents they represent.

We must create a different type of Visa that will enable refugees in Afghanistan to be resettled without having to leave their new countries. Visa processing is bureaucracy and the mandate right now is saving lives.

I’m calling on LGBTQ philanthropists and individuals to contribute to organizations supporting LGBTQ displaced people and refugees and equip them to extract people living in danger. The situation in Afghanistan is an LGBTQ issue, and a humanitarian crisis; the sooner our community recognizes it the better. 

In times like this, the response to humanitarian aid for LGBTQ people has always been bureaucratic and less actionable. Global equality of LGBTQ people should be the anthem, which means responding in times of crisis to the plea of LGBTQ displaced persons to find safety and an opportunity to rebuild their lives, as I was afforded when the U.S. government granted me refugee status in 2017.  

LGBTQ people seeking protection have lacked the support they need in the rallying movement of migration and resettlement. The goal is not to leave anyone behind, but to provide resources to individuals and organizations fighting for LGBTQ displaced persons to find safety.

We consistently say never again, and this moment is a call to action for our promise to never again let people in dire circumstances be left behind.

Edafe Okporo (he/him) is author of the forthcoming book, ASYLUM, a Memoir, and
Manifesto by Simon and Schuster, out summer 2022. Okporo is the United States Mobilization Director of Talent Beyond Boundaries, helping refugees find safety with offices in the U.K. Australia, Canada, U.S.A, Jordan and Lebanon. Find him on Instagram @edafeokporo and Twitter @edafeokporo.

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