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    Tunisian LGBT Community: A "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Situation

    By Farah Samti | Jan 25 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

    Tags: Bisexual , challenges , Don't Ask Don't Tell , gay , Gay Day Magazine ,

    The socio-political upheaval Tunisia has undergone since the revolution has led many Tunisians to question their place within this new society – Tunisia’s often undiscussed homosexual community is no exception to this uncertainty.

    While the fall of Ben Ali has afforded a greater space to free expression, not all Tunisian homosexuals are convinced things are headed in the right direction.

    Stoufa, a 54 year-old homosexual hairdresser and designer, said that there was a time in Tunisia when people had enough exposure to homosexuality that they were not taken aback by it. However, he says that attitudes towards homosexuality have changed considerably over the years.

    “People these days speak more openly about homosexuality, and claim to be tolerant. However, in reality they are not,” he stated.

    According to Stoufa, who was raised in downtown Tunis, his community was small and everyone knew each other.

    “In such a small community, sexual orientation was not a secret. However, there was no shame associated with it. People just respected it then – more than they do now,” said Stoufa.

    Nevertheless, there have been recent signs that a public dialogue is beginning that was not possible before.

    Tunisia’s Gay Day Magazine, launched in March 2011, is the first online Tunisian magazine for the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community in the Middle East and North Africa. A blog, Facebook page and Twitter account have been established for the magazine in an effort to interact with Tunisian homosexuals across a number of mediums.

    Fedi, a 23 year old unemployed college graduate, is the online administrator of Gay Day Magazine’s website.

    “We aim at advocating for human rights, and against stereotypes. We wish to serve as a space that facilitates communication among the Tunisian LGBT community and provides a healthy and interactive environment to confront issues that face our community,” stated Fedi.

    Social networks and online support groups represent a refuge for the LGBT community – particularly to teenagers questioning their sexuality.

    “Issues such as homophobia, the impossibility of being openly gay, and the taboo of addressing these problems has made the internet the first conduit for gay Tunisians to express themselves,” said Fedi.

    Fedi, however, does not harbor any illusions about the fact that many problems remain for Tunisian homosexuals. Many of those problems are social; homosexuality is often unjustifiably associated with pedophilia, sex addiction, or sin. But discrimination against gays doesn’t stop with social biases – it is inscribed into the law as well.

    Abd Essatar Zaafrani, a lawyer, stated that there is not a direct article in the constitution specifically prohibiting homosexuality. However, there are articles in the penal code related to general ethics that are against it. Article 230 criminalizes same-sex acts for both men and women with imprisonment for up to three years. However, these legal stipulations have never been applied.

    “Perceptions regarding human rights depend on the culture and traditions of each society. There have always been reservations concerning this issue in Muslim and Arab countries. [The protection of ] minority rights has always been a question of the balance between law and social values. It is a continuous debate,” he added.

    In post-revolutionary Tunisia, young Tunisian homosexuals have mixed views about how the social changes accompanying the fall of the Ben Ali regime may change their situation in the future.

    Both Aymen, a 30 year old web designer, and Sabri, a  23 year-old student, are not openly gay. However, they stated that they have always been the target of stereotypes, judgment, and mistreatment.

    Sabri and Aymen believe that the homosexual community is not being given adequate recognition.

    “Gay rights should be a concern of the government. In a society that expresses discrimination and hate toward us, instead of respect we need legal protection,” declared Aymen.

    The two men expressed worries about the future of the LGBT community in Tunisia.

    Sarah, a 21 year old student, has also chosen to remain discrete about her homosexuality. She expressed her determination to leave the country and settle abroad, where pressure on homosexuals might be less intense.

    “There are way too many problems that Tunisian homosexuals face, including a generational gap in understanding between parents and their children, and even social hypocrisy among homosexuals themselves,” Sarah stated.

    In spite of her feelings about the intolerant aspects of Tunisian society, she does not think that now is the time to push for change in the country, saying that she believes that Tunisia has social priorities that should take precedence over gay rights.

    Fedi as well, despite his strong conviction about the need for legally guaranteed rights for the homosexual community, thinks that it is still too soon to officially demand them from the government.

    “Such a move would only destabilize the situation in which we are living, and cause more violence and more insecurity.”

    Written in collaboration with Jaber Belkhiria

  • By Farah Samti  / 
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      • Ferid /

        What you in fact are saying is: No human rights in Tunisia!
        Now, that’s not a really smart thing to say, is it?

        Maybe YOU should consider moving to Afghanistan?

    1. Lutfi /

      You are wrong when you say “homosexuality is often unjustifiably associated with pedophilia, sexual abuse, or sin.” It is justifiably associated with these things. However as a society we need to understand the abuse or deviant conditions in which people may embark on such a path. Many young men “become” homosexual after abuse by older men and feel unable to relate in a normal sexual relationship with women. The causes are myriad and we shouldn’t blame but instead try to help. However it doesn’t help to jump on a LBGT bandwagon and pretend it is quite normal. For instance, a man who decides he wants to be a woman, to cut off his genitals and dress in womens clothes and take hormones to develop breasts. That is not normal! Another who is attracted to young men and wants to place something where faeces come from..that too is not normal. But to blame someone who may have been abused and is in a cycle he cannot escape, that too is wrong we need to have sympathy and establish ways of treating this illness

    2. Rainbow /

      Tarek, you are a moron. your comment is not only incredibly offensive to thousands of gays and gay friendly individuals, it also reflects how much of an ignorant homophobe you are.
      as long as gay people (or any other category of people) is not harming you in any direct way, you need to respect their right to be the way they wish to be.
      If you’re too closed minded to respect other human beings, then OUR beloved Tunisia has no interest in having you.

      • European /

        You are ignorant, not Tarek. As a man from Europe, where homosexuality is legal, I support brave Tunisian people in their fight against things which are not normal, such as homosexuality, pedophilia, etc.
        Homosexuality is a mental disorder, just like depression or something similar. Yes, like depression, it is not directly dangerous to others, but diseases like SIDA (AIDS) spread much faster between gays than between heterosexual people. Also, one of the main characteristic of a living being is to have children, and homosexuals would never be able to have them. I say, gay people shouldn’t be executed or imprisoned, but they should be CURED.

    3. Afif /

      The transposition on Tunisia of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” label, representing a policy that was only recently abandoned by the U.S. Military, is quite outlandish. It took an Act of Congress to abolish this policy which had been established by the Clinton administration in the military. Didn’t it?

      The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980′s held that homosexuality was not a constitutionality protected right and the government had the right to criminalize such conduct. Several decades later, the Court reversed itself, because it looked at the issue in a social context where people, and the Court, became better educated than before. It was no longer an issue of “disgusting” sex, as it was put, but it was simply about the right of a human being to privacy.
      In the Tunisia context, knowing of Ennahda’s ascent to power, and the resentment thereof by many, the unintended consequence of the use of the term intolerance nowadays seems to send the message that the age of intolerance has begun. This, I must confess, has raised questions in mind, and perhaps in those of its readers, if there is an attempt of social manipulation by media outlets to discredit Ennahda in a subtle way. Just to be absolutely clear, I do not imply in any way that Ms. Samti is personally complicit in this, and should be commanded for raising an issue that is real for many Tunisian citizens.
      I would like to suggest that the question should be addressed in terms of two rights: First , the right to privacy. Meaning you can do whatever you want with your partner behind your closed doors, but not in public. This should be applied equally to heterosexuals–such as kissing in a public place. Second, the right to have equal protection under the law. However, no society should be forced to accept that which is against its grain and culture, such that the majority becomes oppressed in the name of the protection of the minority. If one can say that he will never accept homosexuality, but he will defend the rights of homosexuals and others to choose their style of living behind closed doors, we have made a big step. I am not arguing against come out of the closet either, but private conduct should remain just that.

      With my apologies for this long comment.

    4. NO thanks /

      Homosexuality has NOTHING to do with human rights. There is NO scientific or spiritual justification for this criminality. Perverts, pedophiles and other sickos need to go live with their white colonial European masters. Carnal minded Americans and Europeans are NOT our yardstick.

      • Afif /

        @NO thanks:
        If you can read the unabridged version of One Thousand Nights and One in Arabic, and the poems of Abu Nawas, you may realize that before the dicovery of America homosexuality was rampant in the Muslim world even during the Abbassite period. No one is expecting you to change your mind, but you should not impose your private life on the private lives of others. Your statement about Americans and Europeans is both unfortunate and wrong.

    5. Nora /

      I understand that this is a big deal for Tunis but, to be honest, do you really think it is of that much importance right now? Its been a year after the revolution and there is SO much more that needs to be done. Dont you think the economy, jobs, and education should be taking a higher precedence then this topic?

      I just feel like in general Tunis is straying from what is of at most importance right now, to deal with these little topics that should not have to be dealt with until Tunis is a bit more stable.

      What do you guy thing?

    6. Afif /

      I absolutely agree with you. I think these issues serve as a distraction from what is needed right now. But when these issues are brought up by the media or others, one cannot sit still and not address them. Part of the problem, I think, is that I suspect that there is an effort to discredit the current goverment on many levels, including on these social issues. So one is forced to both address these issues and make others aware of these attempts by the anti-Ennahda.

    7. Paloma Negra /

      We are here, we will stay and we will not move…Tarek, who do you think you are for stating such insanities?

      This country belongs to everyone, right now, yousay that it’s not time for talking about such issue.

      This is an issue about human beings, about souls and about life overall…

      Gays, exist in Tunisia and anywhere else in teh world.

      If ever we want to build up a country which respects the 3rd generation of Human Rights, we have to accept every diffeence, and understand plus apply the real meaning of the word “tolerance”.

      Gays are here, gays exist and gays shall be respected as human beings.

      It’s a shame reading such posts in 2012

      Everybody shall fight for freedom!

      • Nora /

        Oh I completely agree that there needs to be tolerance. I am not saying we need to push them aside and be like “oh we will handle them later”. What I AM saying is, that of right now, as the beginning of a new and free Tunisia we need to start slowly. We cant deal with everything right way. There are just some things that should take precedence over others. Again I am not saying that we should not address this, but right now I think like the Tunisian economy and education should be thought about more so right now. Also know that more educated Tunisians will allow them to be much more open to things that they might find different to them, just how I believe in being more educated causing me more to be more ope and aware of this issues and have many guy friends with no problem at all!
        Its just all about whats the best for the changing Tunis right now. Its just going to take time.


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