"With My People": Tunisia’s LGBT NGOs and Activists

Meagan Burt, SIT Study Abroad

Tunisia: Emerging Identities in North Africa


The Tunisian Revolution brought a sharp increase in the number of NGOs in the country, as well as a plethora of new rights which were unprecedented during the reign of former leader Ben Ali. Among these new organizations were those which specialized in progressing LGBT rights. The current laws in Tunisia, established during the French protectorate era, criminalize homosexuality and vaguely worded disgraces to public dignity. The revolution has allowed these organizations to exist and politically oppose these laws, yet LGBT Tunisians still experience a harassment, arrests, and intrusive anal examinations.

This study compares three LGBT NGOs – Damj, Mawjoudin, and Without Restrictions – through interviews of their leadership, revealing stark differences in strategy and the types of activism employed. These organizations are capable, and have in the past, formed coalitions and worked together. However, maintaining their membership depends on remaining separate and keeping to their own methods of activism.

The study also analyzes the personal, day-to-day experiences and perceptions of seven LGBT activists, through reports of their involvement, harassment, and the difficulties of existing as LGBT within public space. There were commonalities among reasons for becoming activists, as well as experiences which are reflective of both the poor state of public opinion on LGBT matters as well as the staunch public life-private life dichotomy in Tunisia.