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Tunisian LGBTI rights activists can celebrate their success in organizing the country’s first Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival.
Tunisia’s first ever film festival celebrating LGBT communities opened on Jan. 15 in defiance of the country’s laws that prohibit homosexuality.tunisia
The four-day “Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival” showed twelve short and medium-length films produced in Tunisia and across the Middle East and North Africa.
The event was 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, said.
“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 [that radio station] 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.


The idea for the festival was generated by Mawjoudin’s film club, “Cinexist,” which screens movies and promotes positive debate on their content.
For security reasons, the locations for the festival’s cultural activities were revealed only by word of mouth. The organizers say this was a necessary measure because police and security officers weren’t expected to attend the events.
Tunisian documentary “Under the Shadow” screened on the opening day, with half of the audience standing because there were not enough seats for the assembled crowds.
Directed by Nada Mezni Hafaiedh, it features the stories of several LGBTQI Tunisians, most of whom have left the country. The film debuted at last years’ Carthage Film Festival and was generally well-received.
The festival also included panel discussions about art and queer resistance. “These discussions between specialists allow the public to understand better what being queer means, as well as the link between politics and the LGBTQI community,” said a Mawjoudin spokesman.

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