Growing up as a teenager in Afghanistan, Rabia Balkhi felt lucky.
Despite being born in a country with a long history of discrimination against its LGBTQ people, Balkhi’s family accepted her as a lesbian. Now Balkhi says that rare acceptance has put all their lives at risk, as the new Taliban leadership in Kabul unleashes a wave of physical violence and fear on Afghanistan’s gay, lesbian and transgender population. As soon as the Taliban recaptured Kabul in August, Balkhi and her family went into hiding. The names of Balkhi and five other LGBTQ people inside Afghanistan who spoke to CNN for this story have been changed for safety reasons — Balkhi chose to use the name of a famous female Afghan poet who she considered “brave” and a “hero.”
The 20-year-old university student is one of hundreds of LGBTQ people in Afghanistan who are urging advocates outside the country to help them escape the Taliban regime. Two LGBTQ activists outside of Afghanistan told CNN they had separate lists each with hundreds of names of people who want to flee. “The situation gets worse every day … fear of arrest is part of life now and I have such stress that I can’t even sleep,” Balkhi told CNN by text message from an undisclosed location.
It’s not clear yet how severely the Taliban will enforce its strict religious laws against Afghanistan’s LGBTQ citizens. No official statement has been made, but in an interview with Germany’s Bild newspaper in July, one Taliban judge said there were only two punishments for homosexuality — stoning or being crushed under a wall. In response to a request for comment, a Taliban spokesman told CNN they had no official plans for their LGBTQ population yet. “When there is anything I will keep you updated,” he said.
The LGBTQ people in Afghanistan CNN spoke with said they had heard reports of friends, partners and members of their community being attacked and raped. And they were terrified that Islamic fundamentalists and vigilante groups emboldened by the new regime could do the same to them — or worse. Balkhi said one gay man in her neighborhood had been raped after being found by the Taliban. Some LGBTQ people told CNN they have been hiding in single rooms and basements for weeks, staring at the walls or endlessly watching their phones for any hint of a way out.