An openly gay man is running an historic campaign for the presidency of Tunisia, even though the country’s laws still punish people accused of homosexuality with up to three years in jail.
Mounir Baatour, a 48-year-old activist who founded Association Shams, the country’s top LGBTQ rights group, has announced he will run for president on the Tunisian Liberal Party ticket.
While the party is thought to not be widely popular enough to win, Baatour’s status as a sexual minority seeking the presidency has brought him attention — and given him a megaphone on certain issues.
For example, part of Baatour’s platform includes abolishing Article 230 of the penal code, which criminalizes same-sex relations, increase penalties for those convicted of homophobic attacks, and allowing transgender people to change their legal identity, reports Reuters.
“I will open a debate about LGBT rights,” Baatour told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview. “I saw there is no progress on this matter in Tunisia: there is no politician who is endorsing these cases and in my opinion I am the best person who can change the Tunisian society.”
Article 230 is frequently used to prosecute men accused of engaging in gay sex, with 127 total convictions in 2018, an increase of 60% over the number of convictions the year prior.
Thus far, 25 people have been prosecuted under the country’s anti-sodomy laws.
Baatour says the next president of Tunisia should take action to improve LGBTQ rights, even if it is not widely popular.
As an example, he points to the government’s decision to ban polygamy in 1956 — a move that was not supported by the populace in the Muslim-majority nation.
“It isn’t a mater of acceptance by the population,” he says. “I think 60 years after independence we need to have the political will to impose reform and to tell the people that it is abnormal to put homosexual people in prison.”
November’s presidential and parliamentary elections will be only the third election since the 2011 revolution in which Tunisians will be able to vote freely.
Baatour will likely face a host of other candidates for the seat, which is open after President Beji Caid Essebi announced he will not run for a second term.
Of course, Baatour does not only want to be seen as dealing with LGBTQ issues. According to International Policy Digest, his platform includes reducing unemployment, changing the national currency to eliminate underground economies, eradicating fraud in the dissemination of taxpayer dollars used to pay for social programs, normalizing relations with Israel, and legalizing cannabis.
“I am a politician, I have a program,” he says. “I am a Tunisian citizen and I have the right to be a candidate without a problem with my sexual orientation.”