04/01/2018 13:10 SAST | Updated 04/01/2018 13:10 SAST

Tunisia's First Queer Radio Station Plays On, Despite Mounting Death Threats

The station has received more than 4,000 hate messages and threats on social media since launching two weeks ago.

FETHI BELAID via Getty Images
Bouhdid Belhadi, director of Radio Shams, the first LGBT radio station in the Arab region, poses in the studio prior to doing a live broadcast during the opening of the radio station on December 18, 2017 in Tunis.

Only two weeks since launching Radio Shams, Tunisia's first LGBTQ+ radio station, the team has received more than 4,000 hate messages and threats on social media.

But this isn't stopping them.

Thomson Reuters reported on Wednesday that the team behind the pioneering initiative refused to stop their efforts to promote "tolerance" in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

"There is nothing out there that talks about the LGBTQ community honestly. This gives people a way to defend our community, and we need this for Tunisia and the Middle East," said Bouhdid Belhedi, the 25-year-old executive director of Shams.

Shams is the only officially organised LGBT rights group that fights for equality in Tunisia, where male and female same-sex sexual activity remains illegal.

"We have to change the mentality of Tunisian society –– they refuse (anyone) who is different from the (rest of) society," Belhedi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Tunis.

"I hope this will make a difference and create more tolerance. That is why we are here."