Ethiopia is one of the 54 countries in Africa where being queer is illegal and punishable by 15 years to life in prison. There are no discrimination protection laws in place and no institution recognizes same-sex union. The LGBTQ community on Ethiopia is always constantly battling with high level of discrimination and abuses. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent of Ethiopia residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that is unacceptable in society. This was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.
Many LGBTQ members in the country live in fear of being persecuted or jailed. Most of them have opted to flee the country in order to get a chance to live their authentic lives and be their true selves without the fear . Ethiopia is a deeply Christian traditional country, many Ethiopians believe that homosexuality is a choice and not innate. This is why they chose to punish anyone who decides to come out publicly. A few years back , church elders demonstrated against homosexuality. According to them, homosexuality was responsible for the rise in sexual attacks on children and young men. They publicly called for them to be disciplined adding that they have to be taught a lesson.
The living conditions of the LGBTQ community in Ethiopia is disheartening to say the least. Most of them don’t report the abuse or discrimination they go through on a daily basis. They have no choice but to remain silent or face more violence or imprisonment. For most of them, it is easier to not identify as queer. This has created anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts among the LGBTQ community in the country. The community is ill-equipped with the tools to be empowered and proud of who they are.
Although international supporters and local activists have stood up for the LGBTQ community in Ethiopia, the odds are seemingly not in their favor. Just last year in March, the government decided to tighten its already strict anti-gay laws. Ethiopian council of ministers adopted a change to the country’s “Pardon and Amnesty law,” which made sure that homosexuality, along with terrorism and a few other serious crimes, will become a criminal assault that can no longer be pardoned.
In the past, there was a history of pardoning convicted homosexuals who demonstrated a “sincere repentance” for their crimes, in addition to good conduct. This right has now been stripped and homosexuals are considered to be a terror to the society. The bad news is that LGBTQ rights in Ethiopia is now being politicized which only means that more strict laws are on the way. Politicians are using this as a part of their manifestations. They have discovered the populist value of the issue, increasingly focusing on the minority to gain popular support.
The LGBTQ community in the country faces another big issue, which is medical inclusion when it comes to sexual health. Queer members can not seek medical help or counselling in case of suspected sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS in fear of prosecution. For instance, in Ethiopia, the HIV/AIDS protection program and Medical experts seem to ignore the implication of excluding homosexual persons from protection and care programs. This continues to make it harder for anyone who wants to come out. The stigma against being HIV positive and gay has led to many opting to commit suicide.
Even tourists who identify as queer are included in these homophobic laws. In 2019, a gay tour operator who was planning to visit the country found himself in major trouble. The man was trolled by Ethiopians online who accused him of “trying to poison them with the weird ways of the West.” The tour operator and his clients received death threats and his visit was publicly protested. In the end, he was devastated that he had to cancel his upcoming trip because they accused them of promoting a different lifestyle, “of trying to pervert their youth…this being sex tourism.”
As much as many people are trying to raise awareness of the challenges the Ethiopian LGBTQ community faces, there have not been any victories. Activists have been left more frustrated as they battle with a government that finds new ways to take away the rights of the LGBTQ community. Queer individuals in Ethiopia are considered animals and are treated as such. With most Ethiopians against anything that remotely even looks like giving a leeway to the community.
The journey to get LGBTQ rights to be recognized still persists. It is definitely not a journey for the weak-willed. Hopefully someday the LGBTQ community in Ethiopia will have the same rights as straight people . It is a long shot but who knows what the future holds.
About the Author:
Judy Bokao is 20 years old and was born in Ethiopia but relocated to Nairobi two years ago. She is passionate about everyone having equal rights and is also big on conservation and speaking up for our planet. Judy loves reading and photography and is just a free-spirited young lady trying to grow into a woman her mom can be proud of.