An openly gay candidate is running for president in Tunisia, hoping to become the country’s first LGBTQ leader.
Mounir Baatour announced his candidacy on Thursday for the September election, moved up from November following the death of 92-year-old President Beji Caïd Essebsi. In a statement on Twitter, Baatour said he is the first openly gay presidential candidate in the Muslim world.
Baatour is a lawyer and the leader of the country’s fringe Liberal Party. He also co-founded Shams, an LGBTQ rights group.
Though homosexuality isn’t illegal in Tunisia, practicing it is and can lead to imprisonment. Last year, the Human Rights Watch accused the country of snooping on gay men. In February, an alleged rape victim was sentenced to eight months in jail for participating in homosexual acts.
“I am openly gay,” Baatour told the UK’s Independent last month. “I came out 20 years ago. I was jailed for three months for sodomy in 2013. There’s no shame for me. There’s no shame for any of us.”
Seven percent of people in Tunisia view homosexuality as acceptable, according to a BBC News Arabic survey released in June.
That’s compared to 26 percent in Algeria, 21 percent in Morocco, and 17 percent in Sudan. Tunisia’s numbers are higher than Lebanon and the West Bank, which reported 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Pro-LGBTQ groups in Tunisia have come out against Baatour in the past
Baatour has faced criticism from fellow LGBTQ advocates, who say he “represents a big danger” to Tunisia. Last year, the Tunisian Coalition for LGTBQI+ Rights distanced itself from Shams and Baatour, citing “outing” practices by the group, and alleged sexual harassment by Baatour.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote September 15, a run-off election will be held November 3.
Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring in 2011 and has been one of the most successful countries at implementing democracy in the revolution’s aftermath.