Tunisia’s debate about homosexuality’s place in society has heated up over the last month. In mid-April, Tunisian actor Ahmed Landolsi appeared on Al Hiwar Ettounsi, a popular talk show. During his time on air, Landolsi expressed his belief that “homosexuality is an illness” and “goes against Islam.” Immediately following the comments, Tunisia’s LGBT and ally community railed against Landolsi’s beliefs, many even “outing” him as a gay man himself.

Shams, Tunisia’s first LGBT group, publicly criticized Landolsi’s on-air statements. Ahmed Ben Amor, VP of the group, even went on the same show this past week in order to push back against Landolsi’s comments. The producers of the show placed Ben Amor side by side with an imam, in order to polemicize the debate. As the show’s episode went live, pictures of Ben Amor started flooding social media networks. The overwhelming majority of commenters wrote blatantly homophobic, sometimes even violent messages regarding Ben Amor. When asked to comment on how he felt about his experience on the TV program, Ben Amor responded with one word: bad

Additionally, in the days following his appearance on the program, Tunisian Facebook users shared pictures of anti-LGBT discrimination occurring in public space. Photos of signs above grocery stores, internet cafes, and restaurants reading “Homosexuals are forbidden from entering” flooded Facebook. One of the signs also read, “Atheists and homosexuals are forbidden from entering.” Even a taxi in Kairouan had a sign plastered to its window, reading “Homosexuals are forbidden from riding.”

Homophobic comments on social media came to a fever pitch when an anonymous National Guard member posted a photo of a National Guard uniform, next to a letter reading, “We are against homosexuals and are waiting for a law to crush them. This is the nation. This is Islam.”

Shams lawyer Mounir Baatour called for an “official boycott of all homophobic shops and service providers.” Additionally he called for the “prosecution of any service provider guilty of discriminating based on sexual orientation.”

Homosexuals and other LGBT community members find themselves in a precarious situation in Tunisia. According to a survey by ELKA Consulting, 64.5% of Tunisians believe homosexuals deserve punishment. Additionally, the widespread use of “anal examinations” for men suspected of sodomy has been widely criticized by human rights activists, prompting Amnesty International to report on the issue in front of the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
A judge recently threw out the case of 8 men recently arrested on charges of violating Article 230 of the penal code, which criminalizes sodomy. The men refused the anal examinations and the judge ruled there was no evidence of any illicit activity. This marked the first time men arrested on charges of violating Article 230 were found not-guilty.

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