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After the Arab Spring, no bloom for Arab LGBT rights

Mounir Baatour, the leader of one of Tunisia’s secular opposition parties, was arrested in March for having sex with a man.

The Tunisian authorities subjected Baatour to a “rectal examination” to verify the charges purported by staff at a Tunis hotel that he had committed the “illegal act” in the hotel spa. He was sentenced to three months in prison for breaking the law against sodomy, and the prosecution has since appealed for an even longer sentence.

The sodomy law in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring in 2011, stands as a stark reminder of the discrimination the gay and lesbian community continues to face in the Arab world. Baatour has refused to challenge the law. He says he was falsely convicted, and has declined legal support from gay rights organizations out of concern for the political repercussions that would arise from associating with such groups.

“Up to now, the revolutionary cries of the Arab uprisings – ‘freedom,’ ‘justice,’ ‘dignity,’ and so on—have been directed mainly against regimes,” Brian Whitaker, the author of Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East, writes in an email to TIME. “It’s easy to see how these same buzzwords might also be applied socially… but it’s going to take a long time because Arab societies are traditionally authoritarian and conservative.”

Even as many Americans celebrate last week’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and Gay Pride parades sweep through cities across America, gay and lesbian Arabs are forced to live secret lives.

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