Arab World Gets First LGBTQ Radio Station in Tunisia

As far as the Arab world goes, Tunisia is one of many places where it’s unsafe for gays and the queer community. Homosexuality is criminalized under article 230 of the Tunisian penal code, and it’s punishable by up to three years in prison.

Last year, two gay men were arrested just on suspicion of same-sex activity. They were sentenced to eight months in prison and forced to undergo anal examinations. Some have been convicted for merely acting feminine, under another article that considers it “assaulting public decency with an obscene attitude.”

A new radio station is certainly shaking things up in Tunisia. Having launched December 15, Radio Shams was created with support from the Dutch embassy by Shams, an LGBTQ rights organization.

The station’s programming is devoted to LGBTQ issues, with topics ranging from civil rights to sexuality and politics to economics. Their slogan is “dignity, equality,” and their goal is to “sensitize the people of Tunisia, ordinary citizens and political decision makers about homophobia in society, and to defend individual liberties.”

“We are going to touch, through subjects we treat, everyone living on Tunisian soil,” station director Bouhdid Belhadi toldThe Straits Times. “Our editorial policy is to talk about rights and individual freedoms in general, but the focus will be on the LGBT community.”

Although activists have welcomed the launch of the radio station, its organizers have reported receiving backlash from Tunisia’s conservative population, which is largely Muslim. Belhadi toldThe Straits Timesthat they received more than 4,000 insults and threats online, including death threats.

Until now, Tunisia’s first and only queer outlet wasGayday Magazine. It was scrutinized by Tunisia’s human rights minister, who believes the concept of sexual orientations is “specific to the West” and that homosexuality should be treated medically, stating that “freedom of speech has its limits.”

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