LGBT minorities

Les minorités LGBT : les boucs émissaires d’une lutte de pouvoir

In Tunisia, LGBT minorities become the billy goats of a power struggle

Mohamed Rami Ayari is a 22 years old former computer science student, founder of an association for the defence of LGBT rights called Without restrictions. His career is linked to the recent history of Tunisia and illustrates the human rights situation in that country.[1]



Mohamed Rami Ayari


It was during adolescence that Rami knew he is gay. At school, and elsewhere, all he hears about people like him is that they are “depraved people, doomed to the fires of hell.”

September 17, 2010, the Tunisian revolution is triggered, us hearing the so-called Arab Spring. Winds of freedom and democracy bringing hope for this country. Civil society is organized better and better. Members of sexual minorities engage in this historic movement.

Rami was 17 then, and it took him two more years before revealing his sexual orientation to his friends. Most of them ensured their support to Rami. His family suspected the situation and they tolerated it, but with the condition that it wasn’t spoken. Things were not so great when Rami decided to speak publicly and, like many others, he found himself disowned by his family and banished from home. Nonetheless, Rami is now at peace with himself, and he refuses to go back into hiding because of who he is.

The criminalization of sexual orientation, an unconstitutional law

In Tunisia, the article 230 of the Penal Code dating from the French colonial regime makes punishable sodomy and “lesbianism” with three years of prison. Now this archaic law violates two fundamental rights guaranteed by the new Tunisian Constitution: the right to private life respect and the right not to be discriminated against. In September 2015, in an unprecedented statement, the Minister of justice himself called for the decriminalization of homosexuality.[2] An association was created: Shams – For the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, which then got his accreditation (the first one in the history of the country). But the minister was sacked, among others, because of his position[3].


On December 10,2015, the International Day of Human Rights, the Mawjoudin-We exist association launched a campaign in support of LGBT people. Civil society, artists, political parties andother organizations have called for the repeal of section 230. A petition was signed by several celebrities from the world of culture and arts, Including Salma Baccar, Jalila Baccar, Fadhel Jaziri, Raouf Ben Amor, Anissa Daoud, Sana Ben Achour, Sawsen Maalej.


We must realize the consequences of such criminalization of fundamental human rights. Homophobia is found virtually everywhere. Media spreads out homophobic contempt into the open .Discrimination in employment, housing, and every where is endorsed. On the streets, on the Internet and even in the private sphere, threats and physical violence enjoy impunity. When a victim complaint, it easily backfires against them: the police will refuse to register the complaint, attempted extortion and even physical and sexual assault. In Tunisia, the cases are unfortunate numerous. They are denounced by Amnesty International[4] as well as Human Rights Watch[5].

In interviews he has granted to certain international media, Mohamed Rami Ayari recalled a particularly perverse consequence of this law: what the authorities call “anal test”, a medieval practice devoid of any scientific validity, but supposed to prove homosexuality and endorsed by the courts! This is simply a violation of physical integrity, condemned, among others, by the Union of Tunisian doctors and the World Medical Association[6]. The Special Rapporteur of the UN on torture likens the practice to torture[7].

Sexual minoritiesas scapegoatsin afragile democracy

The Arab Spring is celebrating its five years. What conclusions can we draw? In the eyes of most analysts, Tunisia remains the country where this peaceful uprising gave the best results. The proof in the last few months, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a group of organizations representing civil society in Tunisia[8].

However, in terms of the rights of sexual minorities, the situation is far from rosy. On the one hand, with the abolition of the dictatorship and freedom of speech, it is also the homophobic reflex of the most conservative segment of society that has unleashed. In some ways, the crackdown today on Tunisian LGBT minorities is worse than before.

The cruel testimony, perhaps it is this: it is the president himself of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, who presented the Nobel’s election committee the nomination of Tunisian civil society[9] Now this same Essebsi has just declared that under his leadership never be decriminalized homosexuality in his country![10] Why such a turn around? LGBT citizens seem to be the scapegoats of a war for power. The repression of their rights serves the faith of some social conservatism.

Pursued by death threats, the president of Shams had to flee the country. Since late January, Shams’s accreditation was suspended.[11] What was the reason? “The defense of homosexuality”. In fact, its members have had the misfortune to publicly demand the abolition of the iniquitous law. International organizations and the international press were kicked out. For Rami, as for many, the definitive suspension of Shams would be very bad news for the young Tunisian democracy and other organizations of civil society. Fortunately, this suspension was overturned by the Court on 23 February.

Despite the rejection of his family, despite the insults and lack of contempt, Mohamed Rami Ayari remains optimistic. He said heis particularly confident of the Tunisian youth. But he is also aware that today more than ever, the solidarity of the international community is crucial. That is why he leads his face uncovered to fight and wants to make it known throughout the world. Will werespond to his call?



In this photo(Chedly Ben Ibrahim/Demotix/ Corbis) taken during a march celebrating the 5th anniversary ofthe Tunisian revolutionon January 14, we see a group of activists for LGBT rights. Among them are members of Shams, and to the left, the vice president Ahmed Ben Amor. In the center, Mohamed Rami Aryari of Without Restrictions and former FEMEN Amina Tyler.


[1]                    [1] Ralph Hurley O’Dwyer; Forbidden Love: a student’s struggle for LGBT rights in Tunisia ; Trinity News, 5 January 2016.

[2]                    [2] Amnisty International. We must fight anti-gay taboo in Tunisia. 30 September 2015.

[3]                    [3] AL Huffington Post. Tunisie : Le gouvernement sort de son silence à propos du limogeage du ministre de la justice. October 22, 2015.

[4]                    [4] Amnisty International. Tunisie : 6 jeunes hommes condamnés pour sodomie. December 14, 2015.

[5]                    [5] Human Rights Watch. Éric Goldstein. Les droits des personnes LGBT cinq ans après le soulèvement tunisien. February 8, 2016.ès-le-soulèvement-tunisien

[6]                    [6] Human Rights Watch. Tunisie: Trois ans de prison pour homosexualité

[7]                    [7] Human Rights Watch. Rapport mondial. Événements de 2015.

[8]                    [8] Radio-Canada.

[9]                    [9] Tuniscope. 10 septembre 2015

[10]               [10] AL Huffington Post. 6 octobre 2015.

[11]          Human Rights Watch. Suspension of activities of a LGBT organization. 15 January 15, 2016.és-dune-organisation-lgbt