Nemat Sadat (born 1979) escaped persecution and war in Afghanistan as a child and grew up in the United States. There he came out as the first gay Afghan. A few years later he became a vegan. Nemat studied at Harvard and is currently working on his first novel.
In 2013 you were the first Afghan to come out as gay. What led you to do this?
I returned to Kabul, Afghanistan, my birthplace and ancestral homeland, in March 2012 to work as a temporary consultant with the Canadian International Development Agency. Shortly therafter, I was hired to work as a professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) at the start of the following academic year. Soon after I arrived at AUAF, I was persecuted after rumors swirled across campus and the capital that I was a practicing homosexual and a lapsed Muslim. Under sharia law, the punishment for being gay in Afghanistan is the death penalty. Knowing this, I could have escaped Afghanistan for the second time in my life. Instead, I decided to stay and spend the next year trying to awaken a gay movement by defending the universal human rights of LGBTQ and all people. I decided that if I wanted to be a role model for Afghan youth and for all persecuted LGBTQ Muslims that I had to demonstrate my leadership even against all odds. In August 2013, I was fired by AUAF because the government of Afghanistan alleged that my presence as an outspoken gay Afghan man was subverting Islam in Afghanistan. I returned to New York City and officially came out to the entire world on Facebook. Since then, I have been championing for LGBTQ rights in Afghanistan and Muslim communities worldwide.
You are now not only fighting for human rights, but also for non-human rights and have been vegan since 2016. Ist that a logical consequence for you? Absolutely it is. After being a vegetarian for several years, it was a natural next step for me to evolve as a vegan. As a persecuted minority whose life was threatened in Afghanistan and who has suffered discrimination and marginalization in the United States, I empathize for the plight of animals who are slaughtered with impunity and consumed as clothes and foods.
After our outing as a gay ex-Muslim, you have received death threats. What is your situation today? Nearly five years later, the death threats have subsided. When I frst came out as gay and then as as an ex-Muslim atheist, it was shocking for many Afghans and Muslims who felt threatened by my mere existence and self-expression. They condemned and cursed me and called for my execution. People don’t realize how alienating and painful it was for me to end the internal conflict in my head by coming out gay and later atheist and be rejected by most of my friend and relatives and face a standoff with the entire Afghan nation and community of believers.
How do you see the future of the LGBTT*IQ and the Animal Rights Movement? Despite the setbacks with the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and right-wing governments in Europe, I do believe that the march for greater LGBTQ inclusion will continue to grow. In a democrative society, it is very difficult to undo civil liberties. Internationally, particularly in the 70 or so countries where LGBTQ people are criminalized with up to life in prison or handed the death penalty, the movement has just started. I believe the next frontier for LGBTQ rights will play out in Africa and Asia. In countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe is where the march for equality will gain momentum as Millennials in those countries will change the attitudes towards homosexuality in their respective societies.
What would be necessary to improve the human rights situation in Afghanistan? The first thing that needs to happen is for policymakers to amend the Constitution to decriminalize homosexuality and apostasy in Afghanistan. We can’t talk about freedom of belief, gender equality, and gay liberation if sharia is the law of the land. Afghanistan’s 1964 constitution was based on secular principles. The country has to accept a plurality of beliefs and freedom of thought. Activists cannot promote atheism or LGBTQ rights if they know they will be "honorably“ killed by their families, mob squads or the state. The US and other western countries who aid the Government of Afghanistan and other countries where homosexuality is still criminalized need to insist that freedom of religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation become part of the equation.
Which person would you like to see as the successor of US President Trump Kamala Harris. I absolutley love her. She entered public service to make a difference in the world and she did so by initiating smart initiatives in criminal justice reform as District Attorney of San Francisco and Attorney General of California, even taking positions that were unpopular by Democratic rank and file. As Senator now, she is leading the charge against Trump’s program to deport the children of foreign-born immigrants who crossed over to the U.S. illegally with their parents. Senator Harris is incredibly articulate, charismatic, intelligent and passionate—which resonates every time I hear her speak. Mrs. Harris didn’t evolve on gay marriage. She was a full supporter of LGBTQ equality long before she entered politics. I believe she will inspire a whole new generation to participate in politics as Barack Obama did in 2008. Last December, I read in a US News article titled "The Inevitability of Kamala Harris“ that she also has a penchant for vegan food. So she could be a potential ally in the animal liberation movement. She’s also a woman of color and has an interesting life story as her mother immigrated to the US from India and father from Jamaica. There is no better candidate to defeat Trump in 2020 and lead the free world. Kamala Harris is our divine feminine and rainbow warrior of peace.
What are your personal plans for the future? I currently have a novel that I’m trying to get published. The title is "The Carpet Weaver". It is a Bildungsroman, or gay coming-of-age story, set in Afghanistan’s turbulent 1970’s and 80s. I also have a couple of memoirs that I am currently writing and hope to share with the world in the coming years. I hope that these books will serve as a petitition to grow the international LGBTQ movement. The next step in my transformation as an activist is to campaign for total and complete animal liberation in the United States. What is good for animals and their right to live, is good for human health care (as reduction in animal intake reduces the chance of cancer, dementia, and other diseases), and also is good for the environment. So it is a win-win-win situation. But we need to expand the movement to make this dream come true. Naysayers say I have zero chance to see my dream become a reality. But there was a time when the vast majority of Americans thought there was zero chance to end slavery, zero chance for women’s suffrage, zero chance for civil liberties for persons of color, and zero chance for gay marriage. Look where we are now. I believe the next frontier will be the expansion of freedom and equality for animals. It is inevitable. As Martin Luther King proudly said, "The moral arc of the universe always bends towards justice.“ The day will come when all animals in America are liberated.
I am keen to work with allies to expand the vegan movement and promote animal liberation. I realize that to make this a reality, I will have to build a national coalition of allies and will need to run for political office and change laws from within the system. For now, I’m enjoying my time in the proverbial wilderness. But when the moment is ripe, I will jump in the race, probably in a district in Manhattan which has a high concentration of vegans per capita. If I want to be taken seriously as a leader of the animal liberation movement, I will need to campaign on a platform to end the consumption of animals in New York State and eventually across the country. As Senator Elizabeth Warren once said, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re probably on the menu.” Animals can’t run for office but we vegans can and must.
Fotocredit: Nemat Sadat Twitter
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