Tunisian Drag Queens Fear Growing Discrimination

By Roua Seghaier | Jan 28 2013 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: criminalization ,Drag queen ,Ennahdha ,gay ,homosexuals ,

A Tunisian drag queen

Members of Tunisia’s small drag queen population have reported increasing harassment and surveillance under the country’s post-revolutionary regime.

“The show is currently surviving under an emergency state,” the commercial director of a drag show in Sousse recently told Tunisia Live. “We had to take down our fliers to minimize the risk of the actors being recognized.”

The director, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, said she is constantly harassed about the sexual orientation of the show’s actors. While most of the performers indeed represent a gender or sexual minority, some are heterosexual men who were forced into the industry due to unemployment, she explained.

“But for the audience they are simply artists,” she said.

On October 23, 2011, the day the Islamist Ennahdha party was elected, some drag queens left the country as a preventative measure, the director said.

Tunisian Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice Samir Dilou stressed in a January 6 interview that, despite Tunisia signing international anti-discrimination treaties, “it refuses to decriminalize homosexuality … and will not accept blackmail,” according to Al-Jazeera. Under Tunisian law, punishment for “sodomy” ranges from six months to three years in jail.

Earlier in February, Dilou described homosexuality as a “sickness” on national television. Later, the ministry issued a communiqué stating that the Tunisian government is not inciting anyone against homosexuals.

Despite the government discouraging violent acts against homosexuals, members of the country’s LGBT community say they are increasingly anxious about their place in society.

The portion of the Criminal Code (Article 230) criminalizing homosexuality was introduced during the French Protectorate, yet under the previous regime its implementation was not prioritized, according to the commercial director.

“The most harassment we received under Ben Ali was from the controlling police that would come to the show and mock the actors,” she said. “They never tried to pull the actors out of the closet.”

New recruits are extremely careful about raising suspicions regarding their sexual orientation; they often do not let family members know about the nature of their job.

The cast of the show is confused about the origin of the increase in monitoring. Some think the government aims to implement Article 230; others think it is due to the ability of religious extremists to voice their opinions after years of silence.

Olfa Youssef, a Tunisian researcher specializing in Linguistics and Arab Civilization, said it is only logical that civilians will target sexual minorities when the government criminalizes homosexuality.

“The government’s speech simply implies it is a citizen’s duty to turn criminals to justice,” Youssef explained.

The Koran does not explicitly condemn homosexuality; rather, the Koran specifically condemns acts of homosexual mass rape as a war mechanism, not consensual intercourse between same-sex adults, Youssef writes in Bewilderment of a Muslim Woman. Thus, she said denying gay rights as a means of protecting Muslim identity is illegitimate.

Some claim that Dilou’s recent description of homosexuality as a sickness to be cured, rather than a sin to be punished, is a step forward toward LGBT acceptance. Yet, Youssef denied this optimistic interpretation. According to her logic, classifying homosexuality as a sickness still leaves the door open for numerous legal abuses.

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    No rectify what you said,
    homosexuality is forbidden in Islam and if we catch 2 men having sex together both of them must be executed,so don’t say anymore that it’s not forbidden in Islam.
    and according to Tunisian laws,if police catch them having sex they go both of them to prison.
    and if fags want to live,they can go to Europe, we don’t want them in Tunisia.

    • No citizen of Tunisia should be thrown out of their country unless they are judged by a Tunisian court (through a fair trial)to leave the country. Sérieux, why all that country? En quoi ça te gène que des mecs baisent d’autres mecs ou des filles se tapent d’autres chattes? Trop de violence en Tunisie.

  1. This is a very touchy subject and very open to misinterpretation. There are many gays who are Tunisian I remember many years ago my wife and i went to the Medina. I was approached by many young Tunisian men offering my sex for money. At that time I thought it was just a question of economics and or exploitation. There were many german people I think then coming to the country to engage in those practices and were made very welcome

    Being gay for some may be a preference but for many its not and that is a scientific fact so all should try and foster a atmosphere of tolerance. Equally it must be said that because one is born in a Muslim country that does not make a person a Muslim. So there may be many gays born there ergo Muslim but dont practice or pray at all so should they be treated as going against Islam?

    The issue of sodomy is also very interesting as some men and women prefer anal sex so that the girl stays a virgin….now that is also true. so should these people be prosecuted also….it just seen a bit of contradiction in terms to be honest.

    My friend who is not gay hitched a lift just last night and after going about three miles the driver who said he was a doctor but his hand on the private part of my friend….the car stopped and my friend jumped out feeling he could not complain cos the man was a doctor and the police would probably not believe his story.

    So this behaviour is rife in Tunisia. So why should these people be victimized for being who they are. In Europe I think the level of tolerance may be higher and if the young people in Tunisia find this behaviour offensive they also should be listened to. But lets not pretend to be shocked at something that has gone on for years.

    It maybe that since the revolution more people are aware of Islam and wanting to change their practices but Tunisia needs to decide what it is, the stances it will take and the processes it will honor, but violence and name calling is not the way to resolve these types of issues.

  2. what am I reading here!!!…..a freaking article about drag queen in Tunisia…..bizarro world said Seinfeld.

    I think the 2 ‘tunisian’ drag queen we have should go to mark, he can help them get the hell out of Tunisia for good…

    • @ zokrah please I am not supporting drag queens. Your comment made me laugh. I personally dont like drag queens but I would not seek to harm things or people I dont like. The oppressed should never become the oppressors. Some times when in turmoil we look for others to attack and create a pecking order that makes us feel better. Tunisia has far more than two drag queens but as the article states not all drag queens are gay. so what is it you are objecting to gay people or drag queens as they are both very different…thanks for thinking of me though

  3. For those Tunisian politicians who are discovering or tempted to engage in gay bashing, I would remind them that through its history, Tunisia had many successful heroes who were openly gays. I would only mention the following:

    — Mongi Slim (Allah yarhamou): he was a successful Tunisian politician and diplomat in the government of Habib Bourguiba in the 60’s. He was elected president of the UN General Assembly.

    — Ali Riahi (Allah yarhamou): a very popular Tunisian artist/singer. He died of a heart attack- some say because of a failing love affair- while performing one of his best love songs.

    –Aziza Othmana (Allah yarhamha): a rich and powerful Tunisian woman who helped build hospitals and half houses for the poor a couple centuries ago. Many historians recognize her as a closeted lesbian -Allah yarhamha-.

    • Chedley, thank you for this information. I find it interesting that Mongi Slim and Aziza Othmama were gay. Could you give me some names of books or other references that has this information?
      It will take the Tunisian politicians and the society itself some time to accept homosexuality. Look at the United States, only recently that gays are allowed in the military and just this week the Boy Scout organization is changing its rule about allowing gays to join. And still about 40% of Americans are anti-gay and gay bashing happens every day. It’s very difficult to be gay anywhere, I think we should all have some compassion.

      • In Tunisia we have a saying to describe the likes of this “Chedley Aouriri” … we say “khoudh el 3ilm min rous el fkarin” … that is translated “seek wisdom in turtles heads” … hahahahaha …

        I mean, while you’re at it … why don’t you say Bourguiba was gay … Ben 3achour and Haddad were gay … and so on … after all no one is gonna check after you and the sources you alone have them and you keep them in a metal safe in a bank …

        the idiot just above took your “information” for holy words … hhhhh … I guess wishful thinking should really be classified as a mental disorder …

        oh my God … the universe might be finite … but human stupidity isn’t

  4. Oh wake up Female Impersonation has existed since even before the times of Shakespeare. It does not mean the actor is Gay, Transvestite or any other persuasion which lets be honest is no ones business!

    There are some very good Female Impersonators/Drag Artists/Drag Queens in Tunisia who put on fantastic entertainment. Its a crime that they should need to hide or feel threatened in their own homeland. It seems this country has very little respect for the talented artists it harbours from dancers, musicians and actors etc.

    Homosexuality is not an illness, its a fact of life however much you want to hide it or sweep it under the carpet. There are plenty of heterosexual people out there who are far more dangerous than the ideas that some people seem to have bred into their minds. What two consenting people choose to do between themselves is no one else’s business but theirs.

    Last time I checked Tunisia was a secular country and not Sharia. Police and the government of Tunisia should be using their time for better use such as getting this country back on its feet and not wasting their time spreading hatred, propaganda etc.

    But then again better to cause a big drama to get you out of doing what you are supposed to be doing right? open your eyes!

    • It’s incredible and out of this world to me that you allow yourself to even think, let alone speak, about an issue which only concerns the Tunisian society … how should this be called now? … maybe “neo-colonialism”? … did we Tunisians drive the filthy frenchs out of our land with our blood only to find a much filthier colonialists trying to get in and tell us how to live in our own country.

      Please tell me I am dreaming … !!!

      Now I understand why some nuts are asking for sharia law in the US or other western countries .. they are basically following your foot steps in trying to impose their way of life on others …

      Unbelievable .. !!!!!

  5. Hey ‘FreeTunisian’ you look at a lot of man-ass when you pray to your angry god in the mosque, you closet homo, LOL. Move to Iran or Saudi, Tunisia is not for you, hater. Stupid Fuck!