ISLAMABAD, Aug 22 (Openly) - In September 2021, Openly published the diary of a gay man based in Kabul, one month after the Taliban took full control of Afghanistan.
The impact of the diary, written over one week, was enormous, with British lawmaker John Nicolson reading from it during a parliamentary debate on LGBTQ+ Afghan refugees.
But what happened to the diarist, a former English teacher who had lost his job and was then hiding from possible death at the hands of the new Islamist regime?
A year on from the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, Openly recontacted the man, whose name we are not publishing to protect his identity, to find out what happened next.
In a three-part diary, he told us his thoughts and feelings - and experience of fleeing Afghanistan for neighbouring Pakistan as he tries to make it to the West.
Part I: Life in Afghanistan
On August 15 last year, I was sitting in my house in Kabul listening to the news about how the Taliban had taken over 65% of the whole country.
And then the radio went dead.
My mother came into the room. The Taliban had taken over the capital, she said, and the military had decided not to fight back.
At that moment – in that very second – I remembered the bullies at my school and how they were connected with the Taliban.
I knew they would come looking for me as they had bullied me at school and called me gay. I had to leave immediately.
I grabbed my backpack and filled it with all the official documents that I thought I would need. But my parents were concerned.
"Why are you acting so weird?" they asked. "Why are you so scared?"
Before the Taliban took over, life wasn't perfect, but things were starting to come together for me.
I was working as an English teacher and life was good. I could afford food, not only for myself, but also for my family.
At that point, my dream – and my goal – was to apply for university the next year and be able to do my Bachelor's degree.
But everything changed so quickly.
On August 15, the Taliban came and took control of the whole country and suddenly there was no place for the LGBTQ+ community.
I was extremely scared.
My first thought was how to get out. I knew that the United States and the UK were evacuating their former workers.
I thought if I can get to the airport and escape the country that I could live in a society where I could actually have a future.
But that unfortunately didn't happen.
Hardly anyone from the LGBTQ+ community was able to get to the airport and escape Afghanistan. We all got stuck.
There were so many dark days after the United States completely abandoned us.
The Taliban not only took control of the entire country; they also took control of the media.
I wasn't 'out' as a gay man at the time – everyone knows that is impossible in Afghanistan, even before the Taliban came.
I was bullied at school for not fitting in.
I had been publicly identified as gay by my classmates and bad things happened to me throughout my time at school. Now those bullies have become distinguished commanders and officers in the government.
In early October, they came to my parents' house with an official arrest warrant looking for me. They told my parents they wanted to arrest me because I was gay.
Fortunately, I had guessed that something like that might happen. I left my parents' home as soon as I could and went to a relative's house. I tried to get hold of a passport and a visa to get myself out of the country.
But I needed financial support. I didn't have an income and I wasn't able to work. During those first difficult months, I wouldn't have survived if I hadn't got help from my friends in Britain.
(Two British men, whose identities Openly is protecting to ensure their work can continue, are financially helping the writer after reading his diaries online.)
I knew my life was in danger. I had heard there was a list of names that the Taliban had compiled of LGBTQ+ people and I was worried that mine was on it. I knew they were looking for me.
I'm still very young – just 20 – and I didn't have a very wide range of experience of life. I was just very scared, stressed and anxious beyond belief.
I lived in my relatives' house for 10 months, 10 very long months of worry and fear.
I contacted so many international organisations that were helping LGBTQ+ people, telling them about the ongoing situation in the country.
"Help me," I said, "Help me before I face the worst experience of my life: maybe being raped, tortured or killed."
But they were no help.
The worst thing was losing my boyfriend. We were so good together and our relationship was amazing.
I wrote in my diary that we were inseparable, but in fact distance took everything from us.
I lost the love of my life.
This is his story as told to Openly Editor, Hugo Greenhalgh. The diary entries have been edited and condensed for clarity.
This is Part I in a three part series. For more in this series:
Escape from Kabul: Part II - a gay man flees Afghanistan
Escape from Kabul: Part III - Life as a gay man in Pakistan
Kabul diary: A gay Afghan tries to flee the Taliban
A year in exile: Afghan refugees tell of fresh starts
A year on, Afghans hide out fearing death by data
LGBT+ Afghans fear being forgotten 100 days since Taliban takeover
LGBT+ Afghans left behind say world turned its back on them
(Editing by Katy Migiro and Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.
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