Afghanistan's 'coming out' for LGBT rights can pave the road to peace

Emily Judem

NEW YORK CITY — A year ago gays didn’t exist in Afghanistan. They were simply invisible — never mentioned in the national discourse — until I applied liberal constructivist theory from international relations when I spearheaded an ongoing queer narrative that eventually gained traction and cemented a gay Afghan identity.

As the election in Afghanistan came into full swing this year, gay identity politics gravitated into the mainstream. In an unprecedented move, the Afghan media has started outing closeted politicians; notably, accusing Wahid Omar, also spelled Waheed Omer, the former spokesperson to President Hamid Karzai, for engaging in extramarital homosexuality despite his persona as a pious family man.

As the gay commotion sizzles in Afghanistan, the full preliminary election results released on Sunday have narrowed the field to a runoff between the two leading presidential candidates. Many still wonder whether Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani is more gay-friendly and who is better suited to lead Afghanistan.

Six months ago, I endorsed Dr. Ghani while the LGBTIQ community of Afghanistan mobilized their underground network (which includes atheists, feminists and humanists) to vote en masse for the former academic. It remains to be seen if the rainbow coalition’s preferred candidate will win the election and what enduring momentum the gay bloc will have on Afghan politics.

All of this gay uproar in Afghanistan started in summer 2012 when I moved back to my homeland after having lived in exile for 32 years.

I started a position as a professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) and contributed to segments on Afghan and international broadcast news. Soon after my arrival in Kabul, I was persecuted for not conforming to the local “corrupt” culture. I resisted the repression by using social media as a platform to criticize Islam’s infringement on human rights.

I started talking about institutionalized misogyny and pedophilia and gradually expanded the conversation to include homophobia and transphobia.

I then used creative writing to push my political agenda. I posted risqué stories like the one about two engaged Afghan men on the verge of a breakup due to one partner’s hemorrhoids ruining their sex life. I also shared a diary about my homoerotic ordeal at Kabul international airport, when I snuck alcohol into the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on the Mujahedeen holiday.

To complement my rhetoric, I uploaded photos of me cross-dressed as a transgender from the “Gilgamesh Rising” play I performed at Oxford, England last May.

Then in July, AUAF fired me after the Afghan government threatened to criminalize me for engaging in outreach that was promoting homosexuality and subverting Islam.

Even though I returned to the US, I refused to give up hope.

I escalated the situation by posting a barrage of sexually explicit poetry during the month of Ramadan. But the real game changer happened on August 22nd with my pioneering coming out on Facebook  and soon news about the proud gay Afghan man, who desires a husband, went viral and traveled the world.

Since Afghanistan received a gay makeover, the collective memory of a blighted nation has been transformed.

All the taboos have been crushed and Afghans now have an open space to engage in dialogue about controversial topics. The mere thought of Afghans publicly debating creation theory versus evolution science would have been unimaginable only a few years ago.

But, while my initiative and the launch of a cultural revolution is a great start, more needs to happen to engineer progressive change to secularize Afghanistan.

In the last twelve years, the international community has concentrated gender rights’ efforts in Afghanistan on women, excluding LGBTIQ from the equation. With not a single advocacy group in the country, gay Afghans suffer with only three tragic options: commit suicide, marry the opposite sex, or flee to a safe haven.

Living a gay lifestyle in Afghanistan is impossible when society is ignorant about gay rights and homosexuals, under the current laws, can be put to death for simply being who they are.

If Afghanistan wants to end the communal wars then it must extend human rights to all citizens including LGBTIQ who currently have no legal status as they are deemed sinful, according to the Quran.

The criminalization of gays in Afghanistan speaks volumes about Islam’s discrimination, inhumanity and structural violence against its own people.

In the west, women and gays gained their civil rights in tandem and reinforced each other’s interests. In Afghanistan, most women are married to men and spend most of their lives inside the home while gays tend to be more active in the public sphere. For this reason, a unified feminist slash gay coalition is the key to an inclusive Afghan society. Even heterosexual men will be happy and live harmoniously when everyone can cherish their gender identity and sexual orientation and explore romance and their sexuality.

Sexual repression inhibited by gender segregation and a dearth of opportunity is a perfect recipe for violence.

In Afghanistan, it may not be the root cause of war but it’s certainly the reason why there is no peace and so much poverty. Honoring a person’s sex and sexuality is a basic human need. Thus, the only solution is to end the gender apartheid in Afghanistan and integrate everyone into a secular regime that is fair, equitable and just.

Sharia Law has proven to be a curse that has trapped Afghanistan into a chronic state of war. How can there ever be peace if the first and final word is that of Allah, which means gays, women and ‘infidels’ will forever be deemed inferior and subjected to evil?

Since the war started in 1978, ruthless people have taken something valuable out of Afghanistan or injected totalitarian beliefs, which have escalated the chaos.

When I infiltrated Afghanistan, I benignly put something powerful back in: the idea that honoring diversity and respecting each person’s heritage is a dignified and humane way to live and the only way a war-torn society can flourish into a modern state.

While there is fierce resistance to my pluralist dream for Afghanistan, it’s only a matter of time when Afghans wake up and enlighten themselves about the virtue of coexistence in peace.

When the most vulnerable minority group is protected, Afghanistan will secure its place as a full-fledged member of the civilized world. Until then, the march to freedom in Afghanistan remains a turbulent road ahead. But the good news is that the last frontier has been reached with LGBTIQ Afghans finally rising up.

Nemat Sadat is a human rights activist and a Kellogg College student pursuing a master of studies in creative writing at the University of Oxford. He is writing his first novel and lives in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter at @nematsadat.


This piece is part of a new GlobalPost Special Reports/Commentary initiative supported by the Ford Foundation called "VOICES." The mission of VOICES is to present the ideas and opinions of those who are less frequently heard in the media, including women, people of color, sexual minorities, citizens of the developing world and young people. These voices will consistently discuss topics important to GlobalPost Special Reports including human rights, religious issues, global health, economic inequality and democracies in transition.