Tunisia: forbidden to homosexuals on some taxis’ and shops’

In Kairouan, Tunisia, on some taxis’ and shops’ windows appear notices stating :“Forbidden to homosexuals”.In December 2015, the court of Kairouan sentenced six young men to three years jail for sodomy. The authorities released the six boys at the beginning of March 2016. The decision came up after the Shams, an association for LGBT rights, took prompt action and started protesting for the court’s sentence throughout all the period the two boys were detained.

“Our commitment is defending sexual minorities and repeal Article 230 of the Tunisian Penal Code, which dates back to 1913 and provides for up to three years in prison for sodomy. On 17 May 2015, we became the first LGBT association to be recognised by the Tunisian government,” tells Ahmed  ben Amor,19, Shams’ vice president and spokesperson “our actions shock the conservative fringes of society, that deemed homosexuality to be against God.”  

Ahmed describes Tunisia “as an open prison, where Police can arrest any alleged  homosexual and brings him to the police station. There, it is common to be searched and anally examined.” 

In August, while he was on a taxi heading to Sousse, police stopped the vehicle next to the city of Mahdia. Officers made him get out of it. They also beat him and then harassed him with a baton. Eventually, they abandoned him in the middle of the countryside.

According to Ahmed, Tunisian men have the burden of setting up a big family. Being gay means rejecting this state of mind and society basis. “For this reason, many parts of society hinder what we do.”

Before the creation of Shams, “The Sun” in English, nothing existed to safeguard the rights of gay, lesbians and transsexuals. Nowadays, it counts approximately 130.000 likes on Facebook and a big support from international community.

 Ahmed is on the first line in this battle for equality. As many gay Tunisians, he experienced discrimination and violence. “I discovered to be gay when I was 11. At that time, I had my blog where I shared my views and opinions under a nick name.”

In March 2015, his family unveiled his secret through internet, when his sister found some pictures of him with his boyfriend. His parents reacted violently . For two days, his father and his uncle tortured him. At the end,  his father stabbed him in the lap and this left him unconscious.

“They brought me to the hospital, from which I escaped. I took a shelter into a friend’s of mine house.”

His incredible experience pushed him to dedicate his time and his energies to the defence of these discriminated minorities. October 2015 was one of the major  turning point for Shams activism. After a press conference in which was outlined its strategy and its aims, the association and Ahmed too got into the limelight for what they were doing.

 “Almost immediately, my teachers excluded me from their courses, after  addressing me terrible verbal abuses. One day some Salafists showed up at my school in  Monastir and they assaulted me in front of the other people. So, I decided to leave Monastir for Tunis.”

Ahmed found impossible to continue his education. A stigma was attached to him as a symbol of perversion, someone who could corrupt his peers. Even private high schools refused him.

In January 2016, he took part to one of the most famous talk show in the country. Afterwards,  the attention only made him the target for further harassment, delivered via Facebook or by telephone. “Once, I run  into a man approaching me with a big knife in his hand and luckily I could get away.”

Therefore, he had to quit his job as music teachers. Ahmed believes this is because parents don’t want to see their children hanging around with a person like him.

During the last Revolution anniversary, Ahmed and other Shams’ members hit the road to celebrate. They held gay flags in the hands and as soon as the others spotted it  they began to insult them. Luckily, the police could disperse the crowd and calm down the situation.

“ They intervened only because the Media were present and they wanted to show they are efficient. Otherwise, they are as violent as all the other people.”

However Ahmed doesn’t believe the situation hopeless and he explains that that since the association’s creation, all the society speaks about this topic more and more and it receives more attention from the media. All of this complies with the Shams’ objectives: by shocking the society and making it discuss about controversial topics, they help the normal people to open their minds.

“I’m not afraid of being beaten or arrested. The only thing I can’t put up with is the impossibility to get an education. I know that to pursue my association’s fight I need also to improve my skills. Concluding my academic career is the only reason for leaving my country. If it necessary, I’ll do it, but only to come back to serve this cause better.”

@matteo_lat

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