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Tunisia is a small conservative Muslim country in Africa, found between Libya and Algeria. Queer Tunisians have gained more freedom of expression since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Ben Ali’s dictatorship and resulted in the creation of a democracy. But though homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia, activists are beginning to change things.
An article by The New Arab explains that ever since the beginning of the revolution activists have been organizing against the criminalization of queer people. Currently, homosexuality is punishable with up to three years in prison, with some men arrested for “acting feminine.”
But things are looking up. Over 700 people attended an LGBTQ film fest in Tunisia, one of the first events of its kind to go without attendees being threatened by police. The screening was held by Mawjoudin, an LGBTQ rights organization with over 192 members. Mawjoudin was founded in 2015, and its name means “We exist” in Arabic.
Another Tunisian LGBTQ rights organization founded in 2015, Association Shams, was the victim of a smear campaign that eventually led to the suspension of the group by the Tunisian government in January 2016. Shams took the government to court and won, and now the organization has launched a magazine and radio station.
In September 2017, human rights minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia condemned Tunisia’s forced anal examinations of “suspected homosexuals.” But, still, there have been no plans put forward to repeal the laws calling for these examinations.
Tunisia’s Freedoms and Equality Committee, a presidential commission made up of human rights advocates, legislators and professors, recommended the decriminalization of homosexuality to Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebi, according to NBC.
While the conservative country has a long way to go, its less-oppressive post-revolution government has allowed activists to make strides by normalizing conversations on LGBTQ rights in a region where innocent queer people are rarely afforded such platforms.
As activists continue to blaze trails in Tunisia, it is crucial that the world stands alongside their efforts to legalize the existence of queer people.
To help LGBTQ people in Tunisia, support organizations like Mawjoudin and Association Shams.
Featured image of Tunisian activists by Mohamed Messara