Tunisia's first LGBT 'queer film festival' gets underway

Tunisia's first LGBT 'queer film festival' gets underway
The Mawjoudin film festival kicked off in Tunisia on Monday to show films exploring themes of 'sexuality, identity and gender affiliation'.
2 min read
17 January, 2018
Homosexuality is punishable by up to three years in prison in Tunisia [AFP]

Tunisia's first ever film festival celebrating LGBT communities opened on Monday, in defiance of the country's laws that prohibit homosexuality.

The four-day "Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival" will show twelve short and medium-length films produced in Tunisia and across the Middle East and North Africa.

The event is organised by Mawjoudin, Arabic for "We Exist", a Tunisian non-governmental association which defends the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

It is the first event of its kind in Tunisia and the organisers say the "festival conceives of itself as audacious".

The films "speak of sexuality, identity and gender affiliation," Senda Ben Jebara, a member of Mawjoudin, told AFP.

"Through this festival we would like to give a space to queer people in general in order to escape a bit from social pressure, and also to identify with something, find a means to express ourselves," she said.

"We are trying to fight not only in the courts but through art."

Ben Jebara said the messages which the festival would like to get across are that "we are different but we exist and differences are welcome".

Mourad, a 21-year-old festival-goer, said the film fest "helps to strengthen the LGBT community and brings together people who are considered different".

Gay rights activists have emerged from the shadows in Tunisia since the revolution in 2011, but their position remains precarious in the North African country's conservative Muslim society.

Article 230 of the penal code includes a punishment of up to three years in prison for homosexuality and young men are regularly detained and prosecuted.

An online radio station catering for the LGBT community, believed to be the first of its kind in the Arab world, started broadcasting in Tunisia on December 18.

But Shams Rad, which was set up by LGBT rights group Shams and promotes "dignity, equality", is now facing legal procedures aimed at shutting it down.