Tunisia’s gay community is finally out and proud following a week which saw the announcement of government recognition for a leading anti-homophobia group, just days after a ‘gay-pride’ style party marked World Anti-Homophobia Day at a Northern Tunis hotel.
Outspoken campaign group, Shams, received the go-ahead from the Ministry of Interior on Monday just hours after hundreds of revelers danced all night around the rainbow flag to mark World Anti-Homophobia Day.
The top secret party, held just minutes from a nearby police station, formed part of a defiant all-night protest designed to stamp out Tunisia’s controversial Law 230.
Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code decrees imprisonment of up to three years for private acts of sodomy between consenting adults.
Transgenderism is not strictly illegal although police often charge transgender Tunisians under article 226, accusing them of outrages against public decency.
Shams vice president Ahmed Ben Amor told Tunisia Live that the country’s LGBT community is no longer hiding in the shadows.
“We want to let people know that we are here and we are joining the fight against homophobia and for the rights of sexual minorities in Tunisia, he said.
“Nobody in Tunisia can say that homosexuality doesn’t exist but as it stands we are forced to come here in top secret
“There is absolutely no denying that we exist and we are not going anywhere.”
Speaking about the difficulties faced by gay men in Tunisia he claims that life in the country will remain unsafe for homosexuals until the government puts laws in place to protect them.
“Tunisia is an extremely homophobic society and there are some here who want to terrorize us and make our lives hard.
“They want to carry violence against us because of our sexuality.
“In 10 years it might change but we need a law put in place to protect us here.”
Meanwhile another member of the group, who wished to remain anonymous claimed that although attitudes are changing, there is still a long way to go before Tunisia’s LGBT community can claim freedom.
“Tunisia is making good steps towards a better life for homosexuals but there is still a long way to go.
“The situation has improved and attitudes are definitely changing.
“Now you even get heterosexuals supporting the cause.
“But it is quite hard in a society that is predominantly homophobic and it is very hard for people to accept openly gay parades or events here.
“Personally I believe that the government must first be prepared to discuss legislation and only then will we see change.
“If the law exists to protect citizens then it must protect all citizens.
“Instead of a law criminalizing homosexuals we need a law that will protect them.”
The group gained popularity earlier this year when they took to the streets to protest homophobia as part of the World Social Forum.
However the latest round of relative tolerance for such movements will come as a surprise to many given the country’s chequered past in terms of gay rights.
Former Ennadha Human Rights minister Samir Dilou famously compared homosexuality to a disease during a 2012 TV appearance.
As recently as February this year, a Swedish tourist was jailed for two years for commmiting homosexual acts.
The sentence mirrors that of Belgian man Ronny De Smet was sentenced to three years in prison for ‘attempted homosexual seduction’ in 2013, after a police sting operation.
He was released three months later.
Despite the challenges being faced by the LGBT community, Ahmed Ben Amor has a defiant message for those attempting to stifle gay rights.
“To all of the homophobes in Tunisia, my message is simple.
“I am your doctor brother, I am your cousin, I am your friend and you must accept us because we are all human.”
by Conor Sheils
Source – Tunisia Live