Tunisia: Gay-rights activists take to the air in Tunisia

BOUHDID BELHEDI is not easily intimidated. The campaigner for LGBT rights has been assaulted by Islamic extremists outside his house in Tunis and beaten by a mob as a policeman watched. Since helping to launch Shams Rad, an online radio station catering to LGBT people, he has received thousands of online threats and insults.

The station, which began broadcasting out of Tunisia in December, is the first of its kind in the Arab world. It is on six days a week and reaches 10,000 people in 15 countries, according to Shams, the Tunisian group behind the effort. The Dutch embassy provides funding. The aim is to create a space to talk about LGBT issues that is not “dominated by imams”, says Mounir Baatour of Shams.

The challenge is staying within the law. Anal sex is punishable by up to three years in jail in Tunisia. A court once suspended Shams’ operating licence on dubious grounds. Hosts are careful with their language, so as not to be seen as promoting homosexual activity. Nobody comes out on air. Common topics include the science behind homosexuality and the treatment of gay people.

“We’re in 2018 and the Arab street is still homophobic!” said a host recently. “They still use the word ‘pervert’.” Another decried the Arab world’s rejection of “all international resolutions and declarations” dealing with homosexuality. Songs by Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay singer, are interspersed throughout the shows. Read more via the Economist