Members of the Turkish LGBT+ community hold rainbow flags during a solidarity protest action to support Afghan women in Ankara. (Getty Images)
A gay man from Afghanistan who came out to two of his friends before the Taliban seized power is now living in fear that they will out him to the extremist group, putting his life in danger in the process.
Sulaiman, not his real name, is one of the many LGBT+ people currently living in fear in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. He is desperate to get out of the country and he has dreams of building a new life for himself in England, where he could have a boyfriend and live openly.
“The situation of living under the Taliban flag as a gay man is very tough,” Sulaiman tells PinkNews. “I’m really scared of them because I don’t know what they will do if they know about my sexual orientation. Because of this, I do not get out of my home often. I always stay home to avoid facing them.”
Before the Taliban seized power in August, Sulaiman lived with family and taught English at a university. After the fall of Kabul, he travelled to the capital city along with countless other Afghans. He tried to flee, but he couldn’t find an exit route. Since then, he has returned to his home town, where he is now living in the shadows and waiting to be rescued.
Sulaiman has known he was different ever since he was a small child. Once he discovered the internet, he quickly learned that he was gay. At the age of 20, he was pressured by his family to get married.
“It was a very, very difficult and tough request for me that I should get married because I do not have attraction to girls,” he says. He rejected his family’s pleas because he felt that getting married would “ruin” his future, forcing him to live a life that he didn’t want.
He has never come out to his family – doing so would almost certainly come with instant ramifications – but he thinks they have their suspicions.
“My family and brothers guess because they ask me: ‘Do you have girlfriends? Why do you not have connection with girls? Why do you not chat with girls? Why do you not have attraction to girls?’ All my brothers and cousins have girlfriends and have sex with girls, apart from me. They might guess that I’m gay but we do not talk directly on this matter because it’s very tough for our family to talk about these matters, especially in this province. It’s a very religious society and country.”
Sulaiman has avoided sex and relationships because he didn’t want to bring shame on his family
However, two of his friends do know about his sexuality. “I’m really afraid if my friends tell them about my situation because it’s a very, very big matter for them. If they share with them, they will receive a bonus from the Taliban.”
The situation is made all the more heartbreaking because Sulaiman has gone to great lengths to suppress and hide his sexuality. He says he has never had sex with another man and he has never had a boyfriend. His family is well-respected in his province and he knows that, if his sexuality got out, it would be a “big shame” for them.
“In our culture it’s a very big shame and embarrassment for people to be found out as gay and have sexual relationships, so I always avoid and refuse to have sex and to have a boyfriend,” he says.
“I’m hiding every day and I keep everything secret.”
Sulaiman is hopeful he will be able to get out of Afghanistan soon. He would happily live in any country where things are better for LGBT+ people, but he is particularly keen to live in England.
“I love England because of its nature, its beauty, freedom, as well as its people,” he says. “The other things that attract me is the English language, it would be easy for me to live in England because I know the language. It would solve all my problems.
“I’d really love to have a boyfriend and to have a good life. I have not had any boyfriend or sex because it has been 24 years of killing my emotions and feelings. I am keeping everything a secret and killing all my thoughts to stay alive in Afghanistan.
LGBT+ people ‘are the first to be executed’ in Afghanistan – but they’re the last to be evacuated
Nemat Sadat is a gay Afghan and author who lives in the United States. He is one of the many activists working to bring people like Sulaiman to safety – but it’s not an easy task. He has hundreds of LGBT+ people on his list of potential evacuees.
Sadat is also not able to do it by himself. He has set up a fundraiser in a bid to raise money to help get LGBT+ Afghans to safety.
“The LGBTQ Afghans are the first to be executed, last to be evacuated,” he tells PinkNews. “They’re hiding in basements, closets, rooftops, and secret rooms behind trap doors.”
LGBT+ Afghans are “screaming in silence and solitude for the world to help them”, Sadat says. “The kind of persecution LGBT+ Afghans are collectively experiencing is unprecedented in our lifetime. This is why I’ve committed myself to the safe passage of LGBT+ people out of Afghanistan and I won’t stop until all 550 on my list have relocated and resettled in an open society where they can honour their gender identity and sexual orientation without fear of persecution.”
The outlook for LGBT+ people still stuck in Afghanistan is terrifying, he says. “Everyday people on my list are getting beaten, killed, going missing or [dying by] suicide. I’m under a lot of pressure to save the lives of LGBTQ Afghans who are at risk of imminent death.”
He is now calling on international human rights groups and the LGBT+ community abroad to throw their weight behind Afghanistan’s embattled queer population.
“Does the international community want to be remembered for abandoning our LGBT+ brothers and sisters in Afghanistan to the world’s most tyrannical terrorists or rescue the lives of the most vulnerable people, in the most dangerous country right now?” he asks.