US Congress members have issued a letter calling for the US to evacuate LGBTQ refugees from Afghanistan amid attacks from the Taliban in the wake of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The letter, which was sent to US Department of State Secretary Antony Blinken on August 24, stressed that LGBTQ Afghans are facing an increased risk of deadly homophobic and transphobic violence now that the Taliban is in control. The US has moved out more than 80,000 people from the country, but lawmakers do not want LGBTQ folks to be left behind.
The letter, first reported by the Washington Blade, was led by out gay Congressmember Chris Pappas and garnered the signatures of more than 60 Congress members, including out gay New York-based Congressmembers Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones, as well as out gay Congressmembers David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Mark Takano of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, and Angie Craig of Minnesota.
“We write to highlight the existential threat LGBTQ+ Afghans face under Taliban rule, and to urge you to expand the Department of State’s recently announced Priority 2 (“P-2”) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals to explicitly include LGBTQ+ Afghans,” the letter reads. “We further implore you to work with the Department of Defense to ensure that charter flights receive uninterrupted access to the airport, as charter flights will likely provide the best opportunity for priority refugees to escape.”
The letter also warned that the Taliban is poised to embed anti-LGBTQ policies in the nation’s laws, further putting queer people in harm’s way.
“With the Taliban’s takeover of the country, LGBTQ+ Afghans face the prospect of violent death,” the letter reads. “Sharia law, cemented in Afghanistan’s constitution, prohibits all forms of same-sex activity, and makes same-sex activity punishable by death. Just as it was for ISIS in Iraq, Sharia law is the Taliban’s guiding compass as it establishes its rule over Afghanistan’s government and society. During its campaign in Iraq and Syria, ISIS frequently executed LGBTQ+ individuals by stoning them to death, castrating and hanging them in public squares, and throwing them off buildings.”
The letter added, “Under Taliban rule, LGBTQ+ Afghans will suffer a similar fate. Last month, Taliban judge Gul Rahim promised that once Taliban forces had taken over Afghanistan, they will implement Sharia law and seek to prosecute and execute LGBTQ+ Afghans.”
Legislators supported these statements with the State Department’s decision on August 2 to provide “Priority 2 (P-2) designation,” or special refugee status to Afghan people and their relatives who are seeking to flee the country but do not meet all of the criteria for immigration.
The group added, “We have a moral obligation to uphold our values and utilize every tool at our disposal to protect the LGBTQ+ Afghan community. In the spirit of upholding our values and leading by example, we urge you to expand the Department of State’s P-2 designation granting USRAP access for Afghan nationals to explicitly include LGBTQ+ Afghans.”
In an interview with MSNBC, Torres stood by President Joe Biden’s decision to immediately pull out of the country.
“The President chose to withdraw not because it was politically expedient, but because it was the right thing to do,” Torres told MSNBC. “The decision the President made was the right one.”
Jones, who represents Northern Westchester, also backed the president’s decision.
“Withdrawing troops from Afghanistan was not an easy decision, but it was the right decision,” Jones tweeted. “[Biden] is showing political courage in standing up to the military industrial complex. We must now do right by the Afghan people and welcome those who need refuge.”