Gay people in Algeria : an invisible community
In Algeria, the law can punish ‘any person guilty of an act of homosexuality’ with a prison term of two months to two years and a fine of 500 to 2,000 dinars (4 to 14 euros). Indeed, homosexuality is considered a crime, incompatible with the moral, societal and religious values of the Algerian people. There is no actual repressive campaign against homosexuals. However, acts of violence against them are not unusual. To this day, there are yet no figures or statistics that would reveal the number of victims of homophobic acts. And for good reason, this community lives in denial, in a country where homosexuality is an ignominy.
While homosexuality is easily welcomed in the nightlife, gay people have to hide during the day. This process of making them invisible causes many problems when it comes to the construction of their own identity. How can you build yourself up when you think you are the outcast of society, suffering from a serious mental illness? Some people choose to erase themselves in order to live happily. Others assert themselves, but are forced into exile.
After moving to Tunisia in 2011, I. (wants to remain anonymous) left the family home in 2015. He moved to France to pursue his higher education. At the outset of the 2019 academic year, this 24-year-old Algerian will begin his final year of English Master’s degree in Media and Cultural Mediation. Even if he was not forced into exile, strictly speaking, I. is aware that his departure was the only way to free himself from a heavy cultural burden, and to live his sexuality fully, without hiding.
“In Algeria, if you are gay, it necessarily means you were raped as a child” (I., about the situation of gay people in Algeria. June 2020.).
Algeria is a conservative country where Islam is the prevailing religion. Marriage and family values are at the very heart of Algerian culture. Homosexuality is not. Considered a psychological disorder, caused by rape in childhood, requiring therapy. I. says: “In Algeria, if you are gay, it necessarily means you were raped as a child“. Raised with these customs, I. once thought himself to be suffering from this so called mental illness, before coming out at the age of 16. “I consulted a psychologist in order to find out if my attraction to men was normal“, he says.
Because gay people are hiding and everything related to homosexuality is censored in the country, gay people believe they are alone, abnormal, marginalised. They are made invisible, so that their existence is denied or ignored by the population. But today, thanks to the Internet, they realise they are not alone. On the contrary, they are part of a vast national and international community. “In order for young LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) people to feel less alone, it is important to talk about it, to say that it exists. At least if someone in my family is gay, they’ll have someone to turn to. It’s also one of the reasons why I told my parents.“, says I.
“I know that in France, I’m not going to end up in prison” (I.)
In Algeria, revealing one’s homosexuality is not easy. Following the coming out of her son, I.’s mother found herself in a complicated situation. On the one hand, worried that something might happen to her son, aware of the traditions of her country, and on the other hand, faced with the rejection of her husband. “In Algeria, there are two types of people: those who harass, and those who ignore. My father ignored me for months“, says I. “I couldn’t eat at the table. One time, at dinner, my father intentionally served himself a large amount of food, so that I had nothing left to eat.”
Leaving for France seemed obvious. Now, he saves his mother from much worry and his father from disgrace. But more than that, he spares himself the risk of ending up in prison, or worse. Honor killings, even if they are not legal, can easily go unnoticed. Hay people are sometimes murdered by their relatives, so that the family’s honour can be washed away, and the crime can go unpunished and remain secret. It is indeed easy to hide a homophobic crime when the victims are invisible in everyday life. In countries where the LGBT community is recognised, it can defend its rights by turning to justice in case of moral or physical attacks – which is not the case in Algeria.
“In the face of such behaviour, we must not remain silent. Speaking out is the only way to make the LGBT community visible.” (I.)
For a community, being invisible is therefore not desirable while facing such acts and threats. I. states: “Facing such behaviours, we should not remain silent. Talking is the only way to make the LGBT community visible“.
Unfortunately, it is the culture as a whole that should be questioned. Algerian people are attached to their values, which are the very foundation of their country. Some people prefer to put their happiness on hold in order to meet society’s expectations. I. testifies: “In Tunisia, I had an affair with a boy who told me that once he reached thirty, he would stop ‘all this’, as if it were youthful nonsense. He told me that he would marry a woman with whom he would have children, that he had no choice.”
It is interesting to notice that homosexuality is actually tolerated in the nightlife. It is almost considered debauchery, close to prostitution ; as if what happens at night is short-lived, almost unreal. “It’s hypocritical“, says I., “it suits everyone to pretend it doesn’t exist !“. For I., there is a tendency to blame everything on religion – impurity and sin, fear of hell. “Why do we deserve hell ? We haven’t done anything wrong. On the other hand, the sale of alcohol is allowed in Algeria, whereas it is prohibited by Islam !“, offends I. “We’re upsetting, that’s all.”
Admittedly, Algeria is far from being the country most affected by homophobia, compared to Eastern Europe and Middle East countries. October 10, 2007 marks the first celebration of the LGBT community in Algeria. Since then, this day has been called ‘TenTen’. Nevertheless, this day of celebration and recognition of Algerian LGBT people – just like any other event of this kind – is discreet and is never covered by the media. “That’s why I say we have to talk about it. That’s how my relationship with my father improved. We need recognition, we need to exist. It’s not by remaining silent that our condition will change.“