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LGBTQIA+ Afghan Refugee Crisis

Episode 2

InterPride is proud to present the second episode of InterPod focused on the LGBTQIA+ Afghan Refugee Crisis.

Click here to listen in on Spotify!

The LGBTQIA+ community has come a long way in our fight for acceptance, but our work is far from over, especially for those who continue to face persecution in their home countries. We must discuss refugee and asylum situations not only as a human right but as an LGBTQIA issue.

Recently, many of our LGBTQIA+ community members have been forced to flee Afghanistan because of the conflict there. What can you do about the Taliban’s harsh treatment of our community members? Hear from individuals who know firsthand about it, as well as refugees who left their home country and now advocate for all LGBTQIA+ seeking refuge.

Guest speakers include Melanie Nathan, Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim, Bilal Askaryar, KingCyborg, Dean, Liam, and InterPride’s Co-President, Hadi Damien.

Speaker Biographies

Melanie Nathan

Melanie Nathan — practiced law in South Africa before immigrating to the United States in 1985. Renowned for her human rights advocacy, she consults and speaks globally on human rights, LGBTQI equality, and issues impacting LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees. Melanie is the Executive Director of The African Human Rights Coalition, providing advocacy, humanitarian services, and resources for forcibly displaced people in and from African countries. She is a country conditions expert witness, giving testimony in the U.S. and international courts for LGBTQI asylum seekers from 12 different African countries. Melanie is the Founding Director of Private Courts, Inc., a global advocacy and conflict resolution practice. She also writes a popular advocacy blog, O-Blog-Dee-O-Blog-Da, winning the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association Award for Excellence in Blogging for 2019. Her career highlights include a last-minute reprieve in a death sentence case in South Africa, the introduction by Senator Dianne Feinstein of a Private Bill into the United States Congress on behalf of a binational lesbian about to be deported, and testimony for U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Uniting American Families Act (2009). She recently led a thematic workshop for the UNHCR Roundtable in Geneva for LGBTQI+ in Forcible Displacement and gave the closing keynote speech for the WORLD PRIDE SUMMIT in Copenhagen/Malmo. She is a former Marin County Human Rights Commissioner and a former Vice President on San Francisco Pride Board. She is the recipient of several local and global awards and honors. She is openly lesbian, uses she/her pronouns, is partnered, and is the proud mom of 2 daughters.

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim

Dr. Ahmad Qais Munhazim — genderqueer, Afghan, Muslim, and perpetually displaced, is an assistant professor of global studies at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Munhazim was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan. As an interdisciplinary scholar, de/colonial ethnographer, and community activist, Munhazim’s work troubles borders of academia, activism, and art while exploring everyday experiences of displacements and war/conflicts in the lives of queer and trans-Afghans in Afghanistan and its diasporas. Munhazim holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Minnesota.

Bilal Askaryar

Bilal Askaryar — is the communications coordinator for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign, a national campaign for asylum rights in the United States. The Women’s Refugee Commission is a member of the campaign. Before joining WRC, Bilal worked with the Immigration and Refugee Program at Church World Service. He led major media engagement strategies to rebuild support for the United States Refugee Admissions Program and dismantle the Muslim Ban. Previously, he led a landmark collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Turquoise Mountain Foundation to bring former refugee and internally displaced artisans from Afghanistan to showcase their work at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. While pursuing his master’s degree in international development at the School of International Service at American University, Bilal was the communications liaison at the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, D.C.

KingCyborg

KingCyborg — is a singer-songwriter and producer born and raised in Luanda Island. This wild spirit and talented Angolan artist lures her listeners into a multifaceted musical world, carried by a voice tinged with soul and nostalgic influences, creating a unique brand of music that penetrates and heals. It’s fair to say that Cyborg was born singing. Her passion for music and the arts, in general, was always palpable. It was common to find her singing and to dance to old school Kizomba, Semba, Rebita, Rock&Roll, and the good old school raw Blues and Jazz. Growing up in African culture, Cyborg always found herself in extremely artistic environments from food to music, dance, fashion, paint. KingCyborg started writing and composing at the age of 8, where she would recreate songs by other musicians, often adding her melodies and lyrics. At the age of 14, KingCyborg collaborated on a song with Patrulha Secreta, A rap group from Angola-Luanda. In the same year, King participated in a music video as one of the lead dancers for a hip-hop/rap group named Os Supremos KingCyborg became well known in Luanda neighborhoods as the “girl who got the moves.” She was often invited to parties where she had the power to attract and elevate people’s vibrations. In 2006 KingCyborg joined a hip-hop dance group called Serpents, consisting of five women. Serpentes opened doors and allowed Cyborg to share the stage with other prominent and famous Angolan artists such as Yuri da Cunha, Heavy C, Ary, Yola Semedo, Anselmo Ralph, Zona 5, Kalibrados, and Perola.

As her profile continued to rise in Angola, KingCyborg found herself forced to choose between living in the closet or being her authentic self, out and proud. Ultimately, Cyborg decided to leave the dance group. She chose herself. Hence when Cyborg recorded Freeze The Moment and Hypnotic, collaborating with the music producer Mari Timans. Something happened right there, at that moment: With broken English and a thick accent, the duo used every resource at their disposal to make things happen. They began recording in the safety and privacy of their own homes, using silk stockings over microphones to buffer street noise, and two freestyle jams were created in a closet (literally, in a closet). But with a ferocity that has become Cyborg’s trademark. Cyborg was forced to abandon her country (Angola) and seek refuge in South Africa after political persecution. While often living in precarious conditions, KingCyborg remained positive and ambitious and always turned to her arts, to music. She was writing and singing. Creativity never stopped flowing. The pain, anger infuses her work and the trauma she has endured. After attempts to settle in Cape Town failed, it was time to consider a leap of faith. With a student visa, Cyborg flew to San Francisco, where she studied English and Business and began applying for asylum. The process took over three years but often felt like an eternity. Meanwhile, Cyborg faced the challenges of being a foreigner, an asylum seeker, an outsider to a new culture. No job was too small: she worked under the table as a cleaning lady, a house painter, a mover, and a teacher. All of these helped keep food on the table and a bed to which to sleep. Fleeing one’s home, leaving everything behind, while creating a new life in a foreign country is not easy. But there were silver linings: Cyborg became the main subject in a national documentary film directed by Tom Shepard and producer Jen Gilomen. Unsettled showcases Cyborg’s real-life journey of being a person of color, gay, and an immigrant in the USA. Unsettled was filmed over five years and released in 2019, winning several awards, press coverage, and tours in many countries worldwide. In 2020, KingCyborg released Been There with thousands of streams on multiple platforms, including Spotify. A song about self-discovery and connection, Been There recounts Cyborg’s journey. It’s about embracing your good and bad sides: the beautiful and ugly, the angelic and the wicked. It’s about everyone who is or was oppressed and is on a journey of healing and self-love. It’s shadow work. Been There is a reinvention and continuation of her healing process through melodies: to help herself and help others find enlightenment and peace. KingCyborg is a unique being with a unique style. One must open one’s chakras to feel her art. Deep dive into the infinite waters and shadow work. Heal.

Dean (real name withheld for security purposes)

Dean — Ambassador for the African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC), is a trans man who was forcibly displaced due to anti-trans persecution from his home country in Africa, and now resettled to N. America via East Africa. Dean is an accomplished photographer and graphics designer and looking forward to developing his career in his new country.

Liam (real name withheld for security purposes)

Liam — a Regional Director and Ambassador for the African Human rights Coalition, is a lawyer who was forcibly displaced from his home country in Africa due to anti-gay violence and persecution. He is currently in protection and seeking resettlement to a third country. He is looking forward to fully utilizing his leadership and legal skills in safety.

Hadi Damien

Hadi Damien Co-President, InterPride was born in Beirut in 1989, Hadi Damien is the initiator and organizer of Beirut Pride, the first Pride in the Arabic-speaking world. He was arrested in May 2018 and placed in custody following the homophobic fabrication of a fake, sensational program attributed to Beirut Pride. He was released after the initiation of criminal proceedings against him, relative to the organization of “events that incite to debauchery,” which is still ongoing. He authored the multi-sectoral framework for the LGBTIQ+ file in Lebanon (featuring a 10-year plan that responds to LGBTIQ+ challenges). Member of InterPride (Representative of Region 18, CSIC co-chair, committee member), he also sits on the International Advisory Boards of both AllOut NGO and the Human Rights Conference of the WorldPride Copenhagen 2021.

Postgraduate lecturer in the Jesuit Saint Joseph University in Beirut, he designs events and communications for the private and public sectors and practices political communication. In this capacity, he lobbied during the Lebanese parliamentary elections of May 2018 for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, succeeded in getting candidates and MPs to pledge support for the decriminalization of LGBTIQ status, then authored the decriminalization parliament bill. He also wrote a bill for the national HIV response that features 72 sections, including a large part about non-discrimination procedures.

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About Michelle Meow, Producer & Host of InterPod

Michelle Meow is the host and producer of “The Michelle Meow Show.” The program’s tagline is: ‘Your A-Z, covering the LGBT, LMNOP, and everyone in between.’ Michelle’s mission is constructing opportunities for people to listen in to deep conversations to develop understanding and empathy. She shares, “We simply don’t have enough opportunities to talk and not enough moments to listen.” Michelle’s show can be heard in San Francisco and nationally on the Progressive Voices Network and her local TV show can be seen on KBCW TV and Channel 44.

Michelle also produces programs at the iconic Commonwealth Club, where she has also serves on their Board of Governors. There she is dedicated to conversations around social justice with an intersectional lens. She has interviewed notable thought-leaders such as Olympic medalist Adam Rippon, NFL’s first out LGBTQ coach Katie Sowers, first American woman in space, and Sally Ride’s widow Tam O’Shaughnessy. Since 2006, Michelle has been a co-host of the San Francisco Pride Parade broadcast and she was the President of their Board of Directors from 2014–2018. She is a self-described LGBTQI+ history geek, information sponge, and a lover not a fighter.

Michelle shares, “Exchanging thoughtful dialogue can create change. We are all different, but in our differences, we find similarities and hope. Exchanging thoughtful dialogue can create change we all seek in humanity.”

You can learn more about Michelle and her programming at here.

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