In Madrid, gay ac­tivists from Mus­lim world urge free­dom

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The Arab Spring brought a taste of lib­erty for north Africa’s gay and trans­gen­der com­mu­ni­ties, but six years on their bat­tle for rights and recog­ni­tion con­tin­ues, ac­tivists say. In Madrid for WorldPride 2017, one of the globe’s big­gest cel­e­bra­tions of LGBT rights, ac­tivists from the Mus­lim world called for greater free­dom or the de-pe­nal­iza­tion of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in coun­tries where be­ing gay is so frowned upon it can lead to jail.

In Tu­nisia, the frag­ile democ­racy ush­ered in af­ter the 2010-2011 rev­o­lu­tion against dic­ta­tor Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has al­lowed for open de­bate on the sit­u­a­tion of the coun­try’s LGBT com­mu­nity. But ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is nev­er­the­less still pun­ish­able by three years in jail as per ar­ti­cle 230 of the crim­i­nal code. Para­dox­i­cally, the coun­try made abor­tion le­gal in 1973, ahead of France.

Si­lence and con­trol

At a three-day gath­er­ing of more than 180 ac­tivists, Tu­nisian ac­tivist Hafedh Trifi said the “pri­or­ity” was to abol­ish this ar­ti­cle and the anal test used to see if some­one had gay sex-a prac­tice he qual­i­fied as “in­hu­man” and “de­grad­ing.” He said the LGBT com­mu­nity had called for the re­peal of this ar­ti­cle ahead of elec­tions in 2014, but was met by “si­lence from all par­ties.” In the Is­lamist En­nahda party that forms part of the rul­ing coali­tion, he added, some “say that it is an ill­ness that must be treated, or that you have to kill, im­prison or send ho­mo­sex­u­als away into ex­ile.”

But it’s not just about re­li­gion. In Oc­to­ber 2015, Tu­nisia’s Pres­i­dent, the sec­u­lar Beji Caid Essebsi, said on television that ar­ti­cle 230 would not be re­pealed. “I’m against it,” he said. In neigh­bor­ing Al­ge­ria, mean­while, openly gay imam Lu­dovicMo­hamed Za­hed says that “there is the im­pres­sion that it isn’t even pos­si­ble to de­bate these is­sues.” Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity there is also pun­ished by jail-as it is in Morocco and Libya-and he says his coun­try is in the hands of a “mil­i­tary-eco­nomic oli­garchy” that fears di­ver­sity. “If peo­ple live in a cli­mate of di­ver­sity and de­bate, (the elite) will lose con­trol, and it knows it,” says this imam who has lived in France since the 1990s. “It’s easy to con­trol a har­mo­nized pop­u­la­tion.”

Be­ware of cliches

In Egypt, the fall of dic­ta­tor Hosni Mubarak in 2011 did not free up the sit­u­a­tion. There, the law doesn’t ex­plic­itly pe­nal­ize ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, but gay men are reg­u­larly jailed for “de­bauch­ery.” But in a talk on the LGBT com­mu­nity in the Is­lamic world, Mus­lim ac­tivist Daniel Ahmed Said warned against blan­ket-la­bel­ing Mus­lim coun­tries as ho­mo­pho­bic. He said that in north Africa and the Mid­dle East, French and Bri­tish col­o­niza­tion’s from the 19th cen­tury brought “rigid morals with re­gards to sex­u­al­ity.”Trifi con­curred, say­ing that laws against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Tu­nisia came with the French pro­tec­torate, set up in 1881.

Sec­u­lar Turkey

Fur­ther afield, the sit­u­a­tion is par­tic­u­larly com­plex in Turkey, where sec­u­lar­ity is one of the pil­lars of the mod­ern repub­lic pro­claimed in 1923. A first Gay Pride march took place in Is­tan­bul in 2003. But author­i­ties have banned it since 2015, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns. This year, po­lice fired rubber bul­lets at a small group of ac­tivists that tried to defy the ban. Sedef Cak­mak, an ac­tivist and coun­cilor for Is­tan­bul’s Be­sik­tas district, said the pro­hi­bi­tion hides po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious mo­tives.

She told AFP that author­i­ties in the sec­u­lar coun­try couldn’t openly say that the 2015 ban was for Ra­madan, but on the phone, she was told that it was due to the Mus­lim holy fast­ing month co­in­cid­ing. In 2014, the 35year-old added, 80,000 peo­ple took part in Is­tan­bul’s Gay Pride march. She said “the gov­ern­ment saw that the LGBT move­ment is becoming a po­lit­i­cal ac­tor in the coun­try, so they started to see this as a threat.”

Turkey is cur­rently un­der a state of emer­gency im­ple­mented af­ter a failed coup in July 2016 to un­seat Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan, and crit­ics say their free­doms are not safe­guarded. Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is le­gal in Turkey, but on the other hand, Cak­mak says, “there are no laws that for­bid dis­crim­i­na­tion on sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and iden­tity.” “So lit­er­ally the state is say­ing ‘we don’t care about what hap­pens to the LGBT com­mu­nity’.”—


MADRID: Par­tic­i­pants wait for the start of a Gay Pride high heels race in the Chueca district, a pop­u­lar area for the gay com­mu­nity in Madrid.

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