Several stores in Tunis have put up signs barring entry to homosexuals, which were quickly denounced by Shams, an organisation that fights homophobia. Activists from Shams are concerned by a spate of hate speech incidents against gay people in Tunisia.
A restaurant, a food market, an Internet café, a clothing store, a phone store, a taxi… all shared the same message: “No homosexuals allowed." These signs appeared in different neighbourhoods of Tunis starting on April 21, the day after Shams’ vice president appeared on television, on a talk show called “Klem Ennes”. In the same show, a week earlier, Tunisian actor Ahmed Landolsi had described homosexuality as a “sickness”. While his words were met with criticism, he also received many messages of support.
"Many Tunisians think that homosexuals should stay closeted and avoid speaking up in the media"
All these hateful messages appeared after our vice president went on TV. He did this to defend gay people after actor Ahmed Landolsi called them “sick”. Since then, our organisation has been receiving dozens of death threats every day. Before that, it was relatively rare…
This is the first time we’ve seen such signs in stores. One of them even bans atheists! People emailed us photos they took of the signs, and in some cases the storekeepers themselves posted photos of their signs online. We went to three of these places to verify that these signs really existed. Unfortunately, they did…
The majority of people here agree with these storekeepers’ message. But many people also condemn it. One person sent us a photo of an Internet café where the owner had posted a sign: “Homosexuals allowed – we are all Tunisians” in reaction to the hateful signs.
We’re calling for a boycott of stores that put up hateful signs, since it is illegal to refuse to sell goods or refuse services to a client, according to article 24 of Tunisia’s law 64. Moreover, how on earth are these stores going to distinguish between homosexuals and heterosexuals? Do they intend to conduct rectal examinations, like the authorities do to prove whether someone is homosexual? It’s absurd!
These past few days, other photos have also appeared that show messages calling for the killing of homosexuals. They appear to have been taken by members of the police, the national guard, and the army. [Uniforms are visible in the photos, but FRANCE 24 was unable to certify the source of these images.] Internet users spotted them on social networks and sent them to us.
In this case, too, reactions have varied widely… However some policeman and soldiers have reacted with positive messages, for example: “We’ll protect everybody.” We have called on the authorities to intervene and put a stop to this hate speech, which is becoming really disturbing.
Homosexuality is still very frowned upon in Tunisia. Many people believe it goes against nature and against religion. Some people tolerate homosexuals, but think that they should stay closeted and avoid speaking up in the media.
Thankfully, mentalities are evolving: surveys show that three years ago, 94 percent of Tunisians were against homosexuality, while that number has gone down to 64 percent today.
In Tunisia, homosexuality is considered a crime. Those found “guilty” of homosexual acts risk three years in prison.