Tunisia’s Democratic Gains Have Done Nothing for Its LGBT Community

Tunisia’s Democratic Gains Have Done Nothing for Its LGBT Community
Tunisians rally demanding human rights, Tunis, Tunisia, Aug. 31, 2013 (photo by Amine Ghrabi via flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0).

Last week, five Tunisian civil society associations submitted a report to the United Nations, decrying systemic attacks on members of Tunisia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Despite progress in some areas since the popular overthrow of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, many say that discrimination against the LGBT community has worsened over the past five years.

In May 2015, the Tunisian government authorized the country’s first official LGBT advocacy organization, Shams, making it the only country in the region to legalize such an association. But a smear campaign ensued, propelled by some conservative politicians and religious figures. Abdellatif Mekki, a prominent parliamentarian and former health minister, called for the group to be disbanded, arguing that Tunisians “had a revolution for freedom . . . not to found an association to defend gays.” He added that homosexuals are “dangerous for society” and should be punished. Hedi Sahly, Shams’ vice president, received nearly 200 death threats each day, prompting him to flee the country out of fear for his safety.

In January, authorities suspended Shams for 30 days under murky charges that were contested by the organization and a number of human rights groups. Shams appealed the decision and resumed activities in February. But the suspension highlights the legal vulnerability of Tunisia’s LGBT community under the country’s penal code. Last December, for instance, six teenage students were given three-year prison sentences under Article 230 of the penal code, which criminalizes sodomy and homosexual acts. The defendants were also banished from their hometown of Kairouan.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.