‘Everything is gone’ for LGBT+ Afghans, says bisexual man who escaped before Taliban took over

A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced.

The situation is dire for LGBT+ people in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has returned to power, says a bisexual man who recently fled the country.

Afghanistan wasn’t a welcoming place for LGBT+ people prior to the Taliban takeover that shocked the world – but human rights activists are expecting things to get much worse. The militant group is likely to enforce an extreme interpretation of Sharia law that could see swathes of women and LGBT+ people executed.

Mehrshad* is a bisexual man who decided to flee Afghanistan when he heard that US forces were negotiating with the Taliban (*his name has been changed to protect his identity). He currently resides in a European country as an undocumented migrant.

“I realised that there is no hope for the future in Afghanistan for me,” he told PinkNews. “I insisted to my mom that I must leave. My mom said: ‘No, wait until a legal way comes up, like a scholarship, maybe an invitation from any country.’

“I could not handle the situation in Afghanistan because it was very tough for me. I was very sick of it – to hide my identity, my sexuality, my ideology. I could not speak to anyone. For the last three years in Afghanistan, I was all the time at home, reading books, watching movies, staying at home. I did not dare go out. I barely went out for one or two hours with my very close friends and close family, not with any classmates or other guys, because I was scared.”

His asylum journey has been a turbulent one. He eventually had to pay a smuggler to take him to a country in Europe from Iran. An asylum application was opened, but it was later mistakenly closed, he says. He remains unsure what his current legal standing is.

Mehrshad spent time on the streets before he met a man and moved in with him. He acknowledges that the situation in Afghanistan for LGBT+ people is grim, but he thinks it’s just as bad for those who have fled the country. Complicated processes and hostile systems mean that some Afghans have found themselves stranded in legal limbo, just as Mehrshad has.

While Mehrshad is no longer living on the streets, he is still afraid for his future. He is considering trying to leave the country he is currently based in for another European country in the hopes that the asylum process won’t be so turbulent elsewhere.

‘Everybody hides’ in Afghanistan, says bisexual man who fled

While living in Afghanistan, Mehrshad kept his sexuality to himself. He worries for the LGBT+ people stranded in the country now. 

“There is no underground community for the LGBT, there is no upper ground – nothing. Nobody says their sexuality. Everybody hides. Nobody knows my sexuality [in Afghanistan], not my friends – except my cousin, nobody else knows.” 

Like the rest of the world, he has watched in horror in recent days as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

“It’s like watching the The Walking Dead,” Mehrshad says of the Taliban. “It’s just like that, like the zombies are taking over the country. They took over the country already, and there is no safe place.”

He is deeply worried for LGBT+ people in his home country, but he is also terrified for his atheist friends who he fears will face persecution from the Taliban. When he still lived in Afghanistan, Mehrshad used to meet with a group of fellow atheists once a week where they would discuss what books they were reading and talk about different ideologies. Because many of them were visible and vocal about their atheism, Mehrshad fears they could be at the top of the Taliban’s list for persecution.

“We were a small community that used to gather together on Thursdays to read books and talk about different ideologies in different countries like Marxism, capitalism, socialism, and all those, and now I’m very worried about those guys because they wanted to try and leave the country and now all the ways are closed,” he says.

“I’m very worried about the atheists because they exposed themselves, but the LGBT [community], they did not expose themselves. Only maybe one or two exposed themselves. I have friends that deleted their Facebook accounts, they deleted all of their posts, to try to hide but I don’t think it’s the way to hide. There is no community to support atheists in Afghanistan. 

“The Taliban are saying: ‘We are here for the Sharia law, we just want Islamic law,’ and Islamic law is very clear about atheists, about LGBT people. It’s really clear that an atheist is an infidel and an infidel must be stoned or hanged. The LGBTs are the same. 

“No one can negotiate with the Taliban. They want to turn back 1,400 years ago to when Muhammad was in the deserts of Saudi Arabia. They want to live like that, and there is no good for atheists and LGBT people and those who wanted to enlighten the people for a brighter future. Everything is gone.” 

Mehrshad’s comments come just days after the Taliban seized control in Afghanistan as the US military left. Human rights groups have expressed fear for the country’s women and girls, as well as the already-embattled LGBT+ community, who will likely face violence and persecution under their extremist regime.

Speaking to PinkNews, author Nemat Sadat said the Taliban will “weed out and exterminate” the LGBT+ community. 

“The Taliban will impose a ‘bait, kill and dump’ policy,” Sadat said. “That is, they will appoint informants to lure gay and bisexual men online and in public spaces and take them to a secluded spot and kill them and dispose of their bodies.

“I know this because that is what undercover Taliban elements within Afghan government during the Karzai and Ghani era did and those who escaped shared their story with me.”