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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 24, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 08
Tunisian official sparks Facebook war over Gay rights
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Tunisian official sparks Facebook war over Gay rights

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Homophobic remarks by Tunisia's new Minister for Human Rights sparked an outburst of online protests in the North African country's first public debate on LGBT rights.

On February 4, minister Samir Dilou appeared on a popular TV talk show. The host, Samir el-Wafi, asked him about a January 28 demonstration for LGBT rights, the country's first such event.

'Freedom of expression has its limits,' Dilou announced.

El-Wafi - long known for his homophobic sentiments - ended the segment by telling Dilou that Gays are mentally ill and require treatment. Sexual orientation should not be a protected right, the two agreed.

Tunisia's GayDay magazine then published a reply to the minister's remarks titled 'I'm Human Too, Minister of Human Rights.'

'I say to his highness the minister for the sake of his memory, since perhaps he has forgotten or ignored, that the World Health Organization - since 1990 - announced that homosexuality has been removed from the list of mental illnesses, concluding a century in which it had been considered as a medical condition,' said Paloma Negra, a writer for the magazine. (English translation by All Africa website.)

'It was both laughable and tragic to watch the live insult and mockery of one who claims to be the minister of human rights for a constituency that continues to suffer from various forms of exclusion, injustice, and marginalization,' continued Negra.

'This is what has been achieved in the country of the revolution. The revolution that we thought was, or almost was, a revolution of dignity and freedom.'

TV personality el Wafi responded with new anti-Gay slurs.

'In the name of freedom and in a conservative country whose people are facing a struggle between modernity and tradition; a magazine for fags dares to come out and challenge all the circumstances, rules, morals, ethics, and customs,' he said in a Facebook post. (English translation by All Africa.)

'Do we need further strife because a very small minority expresses its perversion & not caring about the feelings and the sacred beliefs of a majority?'

According to Global Voices, a website dedicated to collecting and translating online political and cultural posts, Facebook then exploded with posts for and against Gay rights.

An individual identifying himself as Tarek posted a poem on GayDay's Facebook page (translation by Global Voices):

Yes. I am Gay. & I am Lesbian I am the man who loves men&the female who loves females. Yet, I'm the apple of my dad's eye. I am the girl who finds a warm haven in her mother's lap. I'm the student, the worker, the unemployed, tall, short& I am Human.'

Another Facebook user asked people who 'liked' the page to openly affirm their sexuality.

'If you want to ask for rights,' it said, 'you have to be there i.e. Tunisian queers should come out to show society that they're numerous and that there are many supporters for such a cause.'

Twitter accounts reportedly retweeted articles on LGBT rights several hundred times.

'@lebanesegringo: @abuhatem The Minister of Human Rights himself is the one making misguided statements. This debate is long overdue. #tunisia #lgbtme #lgbt,' one Twitter user commented.

One poster warned that the controversy might enhance Dilou's popularity among Tunisian conservatives.

'Criticizing Dilou (the minister) for his homophobic statements will only polish Dilou's reputation among conservative Tunisians. They will support him even more now,' it said.

According to Global Voices, a YouTube video, entitled 'Open Your Heart to Gays,' has been viewed more than 60,000 times. The main Tunisian LGBT Facebook page, Tunisia Gays, now has about 2,300 'likes.'

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