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LGBT rights in Ethiopia

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LGBT rights in Ethiopia
PenaltyUp to 15 years to life imprisonment
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex unions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Ethiopia face significant challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.[2][3] Both male and female types of same-sex sexual activity are illegal in the country,[4] with reports of high levels of discrimination and abuses against LGBT people.[5][6] Ethiopia has a long history of social conservatism and same-sex sexual activity is considered a cultural taboo.[7][3]

The majority of Ethiopians remain hostile towards LGBT identities and believe them to be a "Western perversion of their societal values".[8] Homosexual men are widely blamed for the claimed HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ethiopia. Discrimination and stigma are therefore commonplace and some Ethiopian LGBT people suppress their identity or flee as asylum seekers. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent[8] of Ethiopians believed that homosexuality is something society should not accept. This was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.[9]

Gay and lesbian people do not openly serve in the army despite the lack of a law regarding service in the military. Booshtee is a derogatory term of gay person in Ethiopia, often interchangeably used as an insult for despicable being.[10]



Notable reference of same-sex activity in Ethiopia was in hagiography The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672). Walatta Petros (1592–1642) and her fellow student Ehete Krestos from Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, were friendly nuns "lived together in mutual love, like soul and body" until death whereas other nuns depicted as lustful each other. The book is the first requiring in "queer reading" style in the earliest Ethiopian literature.[11]

In 2008, LGBT people became increasingly visible in Ethiopia when hundreds of homosexuals petitioned for equal rights and appealed to the prime minister Meles Zenawi. However it became blocked en route to the prime minister's office. In the same year, an unofficial gay marriage took place in Sheraton Addis. In the early 2010s, some media outlets with the cooperation of the government imposed restrictions over the discussion of "LGBT ideology". These policies of censorship have yet to be enacted into law.[12]

Gender roles in Maale culture


Donald Donham suggested that a small minority of Maales who are apparently male occasionally adopt feminine societal roles, donning typically female attire and occasionally having sex with men.[13]

Gender Fluidity and Acceptance in Nuer Society


Nuer researcher Brian MacDermot initially believed same-sex relations didn't exist. However, he encountered a transgender woman accepted by the village. This person, formerly a man who dressed as a woman, received spiritual approval to change status and marry a husband. This suggests precolonial Nuer society had some acceptance of gender fluidity.[14]

Same-sex practices among the Harari


Traveling in Ethiopia in the 1920s, Bieber encountered " Uranism " among the Harari and noted that "sodomy is not foreign to the Harari.  He also noted mutual masturbation of both sexes, of all ages and between peoples, and specified that among the Harari "Uranism" was practiced as often between adult men as between men and boys.[14]

Sexual behavior among the Amhara and Qemant peoples


According to David F. Greenberg, shepherd boys of the Amhara and Qemant developed homosexual relationships with one another, engaging in anal and intercrural intercourse up until the time they married.[15]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity


The previous Penal Code of the country, enacted in 1957, encompassed a dedicated chapter addressing "sexual deviations." Contained within this chapter, Article 600 prescribed punitive measures for engaging in sexual acts or any other conduct deemed "indecent" with a person of the same sex. The prescribed penalties ranged from imprisonment for a period of 10 days to three years.[16] The current Penal Code, enacted in 2004, continues to proscribe same-sex sexual activity as a criminal offense. As per the provisions outlined in Article 629, individuals found involved in such activities may face imprisonment, with a minimum sentence of one year, as explicitly delineated in Article 630. Additionally, under Article 630(1)(b), “making a profession” of such acts aggravates the penalty to up to 10 years.[16]

In Ethiopian law, the wording of the penal code treats a homosexual act as an act of an aggressor against a victim. Consequently, the offense of the aggressor is considered aggravated, when it results in the suicide of the victim for reasons of "shame, distress or despair".[17]

Enforcement of criminalizing provisions


According to reports compiled by ILGA World, in various incidents in Ethiopia, individuals suspected of being LGBT have faced arrests, harassment, and mistreatment. In some cases, police conducted raids on private residences without warrants, based on accusations from neighbors. One reported incident in 2014 involved the arrest of a young gay man who was denied legal representation and subjected to rape and assault by fellow inmates while in custody. Trials for such cases are rare, and the whereabouts of the young man remain unknown.[6] There have also been several documented instances where individuals were arrested simply for their perceived appearance or "looking gay." They were subjected to beatings while in detention. In one tragic case, two men detained in January 2021 were later released but were then outed by the police to their families, leading to the suicide of one of the individuals.[6]

A trans woman, originally from Qatar but with Ethiopian citizenship, faced deportation from Germany to Ethiopia in July 2021 despite her claims of criminal enforcement against her. She was exposed when someone discovered her male identity in her passport, leading to blackmail and subsequent reporting to authorities. After paying to keep the situation quiet, she was imprisoned in an Ethiopian men's prison for around a year, enduring physical and sexual violence from both staff and inmates. Her lawyer distanced himself from the case, possibly fearing accusations of homosexuality and legal consequences. German officials argued that she would be safe in Ethiopia as she could "pass" as cisgender, using the lack of explicit criminalization of diverse gender identities as justification for deportation.[18]

Zim Anlem anti-gay campaign


Zim Anlem (Amharic: ዝም አንልም) is an anti-gay organisation which campaigns the government's efforts to decriminalize homosexual acts. The campaign was originally founded around 2014 by Dereje Negash, who is affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[19] The movement gained publicity in 2019 after telecasting incidents of child-rape.

Public opinion


Traditional attitudes around sex and sexuality are prevalent in Ethiopia, with many Ethiopians holding that homosexuality is a choice and not innate. Arguments are made[by whom?] of it being an import from the West and that Ethiopian society should not accept it as a legitimate orientation. A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project found 97% of Ethiopian residents said that homosexuality should be rejected by society. This was the second-highest percentage among the countries surveyed, exceeded only by Mali.

Ethiopians tend to be disapproving of homosexuality, but attitudes vary by regions depending on the local cultural norms. Opposition is generally greater in predominantly Christian regions such as among the Habesha people of the Ethiopian highlands. This is because of the historical influence of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its teachings. Ethiopian Muslims such as the Harari, Afars and Somalis are also generally hostile to the LGBT community.[20]

The US Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report found that,[21]

There were some reports of violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals; however, reporting was limited due to fears of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. Persons did not identify themselves as LGBT due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. In early December 2011, Christian and Muslim religious leaders attempted to derail a seminar on sexual health that was targeted at men who have sex with men. The government intervened, and the seminar went ahead, although at a different location. The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported that the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, the majority of whom were male, requested assistance in changing their behavior in order to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.[22]

The same report found that stigma and discrimination toward persons living with HIV/AIDS impacted residents' ability to receive an education, find employment and integrate into the community. In 2017, the US Department of State reported that there were certain violence toward LGBT people across the community, but unable to conduct deep research due to feared discrimination and retribution.[23]

Living conditions


Since 2008, human rights campaigners have increasingly shown concern for the wellbeing of LGBT people in Ethiopia. According to a 2008 Human Rights Watch report, there was widespread violence against people who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The US Department of State accused the Ethiopian government of unlawfully killing citizens, as well as carrying out acts of torture and arbitrary detention. According to several surveys and reports, homosexuality caused a moral panic in Ethiopian society and many Ethiopians felt "it was brought by the West to pervert society". Ethiopians who hold traditional views or are religious devotees, especially Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo followers and Muslims, are generally intolerant of LGBT people. This leads LGBT people to face social stigma among the broader population. Internet censorhip has limited the ability of LGBT people and their allies to organize campaigns and petitions.[24][25]

In December 2008, nearly a dozen Ethiopian religious figures (including the leader of Ethiopian Muslims and the heads of the Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic churches) adopted a resolution against homosexuality, urging Ethiopian lawmakers to endorse a ban on homosexual activity in the constitution.[26] This included Ethiopian Catholic Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel.

They also held homosexuality responsible for the rise in sexual attacks on children and young men. Abune Paulos, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, said, "This is something very strange in Ethiopia, the land of the Bible that condemns this very strongly. For people to act in this manner they have to be dumb, stupid like animals. We strongly condemn this behaviour. They (homosexuals) have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson."[27]

In 2012, a pro-gay conference was scheduled to be held in Addis Ababa. The conference was cancelled due to pressure from fundamentalist Christians and religious groups, who protested against the conference and called its organisers "missionaries of evil".[28]

In June 2012, an anti-gay conference was held at the headquarters of the African Union concerning the alleged "consequences of homosexuality as a causative agent for HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted disease and several psychological disorders".[29]

Dr Seyoum Antoniyos, President of United for Life and influential activist organised a national conference in 2013 attended by politicians and religious leaders. He argues that homosexuality is the result of a "deep psychological problem", often caused by abuse or some form of "social crisis".[30]

In March 2014, the Council of Ministers proposed a bill for LGBT rights protection, but parliament did not enact it because of public opposition.[31]

On 26 April 2014, an anti-gay rally was organized by Christian groups. The head of the group and anti-gay activist Dereje Negash said:[32]

Children are being raped by gay people in this country. Just yesterday we have met a woman whose boy was raped by two other men. All in all, gay acts are against health, the law, religion and our culture, so we should break the silence and create awareness about it.

The rally objective was to produce a bill on homosexuality into non-pardonable offence. After heard by parliamentary, the inquiry was reached to failure.[32] The Ethiopian government maintains any individuals freedom of speeches, thus potentially allows the LGBT people to be secured and access propagandic movement and all encompassing human rights within the country (although Pride Parade is still illegal) – to same-sexual activity legislation. Under the proposed law, the law will no longer be applied to prisoners charged with homosexuality. The Head of Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Tirunesh Zena declined the law and stated the law "does not really affect the LGBT community".[33]

In April 2014, government spokesman Redwan Hussein dropped the anti-gay rally that includes homosexuality as non-pardonable offence. Redwan responded, "[Homosexuality] is not a serious crime… The government thinks the current jail term is enough."[33]

According to a report published by ILGA World in 2021, fear of stigmatization and discrimination within the LGBT community in Ethiopia prevents many individuals from reporting incidents of arrests, violence and discrimination. Mob justice is reportedly prevalent in Addis Ababa, with LGBTQ+ people often targeted and physically attacked based on their appearance. These incidents are rarely reported to the police due to the lack of justice and protection for LGBT individuals. The absence of inclusive laws and societal support perpetuates a cycle of silence and impunity, hindering progress towards a safer and more inclusive environment for the LGBTQ+ community in Ethiopia.[6]

2019 anti-LGBT protests


In June 2019, a Chicago-based LGBT community, Toto Tours, announced its visit to Ethiopia,[34] specifically to Bahir Dar and Lalibela from October. The tour incited objections from Ethiopians and the diaspora abroad, who organized protests in response. The organisation's owner Dan Ware said the controversy began in May 2019 when the group posted plans on social media.[35] On 8 September, Dereje Negash denounced "the government's indifference to helping the LGBT movement in the East African country." An anonymous LGBT activist told Associated Press of his concern that there are wide misconceptions in the country that gay people may be culpable for the increasing incidence of rape.[36][37][38]

2023 crackdown on hospitality


On 10 August 2023, the Ethiopian government began crackdown on hotels, pubs, bars and restaurants for alleged homosexual activities. The Addis Ababa Peace and Security Administration Bureau told that they are taking measures "against hotels, restaurants, guest houses, and other entertainment venues suspected of involvement in homosexual acts". Many Ethiopian LGBT people faced online harassment and stigmatized for coming out, especially they were threatened by TikTok users.[39][40]

LGBT organizations


In 2007, an LGBT group named The Ethiopian Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual & Transgender Committee was formed with the intention of campaigning for recognition and rights for LGBT people in Ethiopia.[41]

In 2013, an LGBT advocacy group Dana Social Club was founded by Beki Abiy. The group has a goal of supporting self-stigmatized and discriminated gays and lesbians to freely express their sexual orientation and to campaign for transgender people's rights to sex reassignment surgery. The group chiefly operates via online campaigning and they maintain an archive called the Ethiopian Gay Library.[42]

Summary table

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to 15 years imprisonment)
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No (Statutory ban since 2009)[43]
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No (Illegal for all couples regardless of sexual orientation)[44]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also



  1. ^ Itaborahy, Lucas Paoli (May 2012). "State Sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws criminalising same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults" (PDF). The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 October 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  2. ^ Billson, Chantelle (12 August 2023). "Ethiopian authorities raid hotels over 'gay sex tip-offs' in anti-LGBTQ+ crackdown". PinkNews. Retrieved 12 August 2023.
  3. ^ a b Schwikowski, Martina. "LGBTQ+ Ethiopians flee in the face of sudden crackdown". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  4. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  5. ^ "Gay Friendly Hotels Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Top 3 (Updated 2021)". Kiki Journey. 7 January 2021. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d Botha, Kellyn (2021). Our identities under arrest: A global overview on the enforcement of laws criminalising consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults and diverse gender expressions (1st ed.). Geneva: ILGA World. pp. 66–67.
  7. ^ "Ethiopia". Human Dignity Trust. 15 February 2019. Retrieved 3 January 2024.
  8. ^ a b The number of adults (all were 18 to 64 years of age) surveyed in Ethiopia was 710, yielding a margin of error of 4 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.
  9. ^ ""Pew Global Attitudes Project", (pages 35, 81, and 117)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2009.
  10. ^ Overs, C. (April 2015). "Booshtee! Survival and Resilience in Ethiopia". Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  11. ^ Belcher, Wendy Laura (2016). "Same-Sex Intimacies in the Early African Text Gädlä Wälättä P̣eṭros (1672): Queer Reading an Ethiopian Woman Saint". Research in African Literatures. 47 (2): 20–45. doi:10.2979/reseafrilite.47.2.03. ISSN 0034-5210. JSTOR 10.2979/reseafrilite.47.2.03. S2CID 148427759.
  12. ^ Iddo Balcha, Daniel (22 April 2021). Homosexuality in Ethiopia (Thesis). Lund University. p. 35.
  13. ^ Donald Donham, Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia, 1994
  14. ^ a b Murray, Stephen O.; Roscoe, Will, eds. (2001). Boy-wives and female husbands: studies of African homosexualities (1. ed. (paperback) ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-312-23829-2.
  15. ^ Greenberg, David F. (29 October 2008). The Construction of Homosexuality. University of Chicago Press. pp. 66–67. ISBN 978-0-226-21981-3. Retrieved 12 June 2024.
  16. ^ a b Mendos, Lucas Ramón; Botha, Kellyn; Carrano Lelis, Rafael; López de la Peña, Enrique; Savelev, Ilia; Tan, Daron (2020). State-Sponsored Homophobia (PDF) (13 ed.). Geneva: ILGA World. p. 116.
  17. ^ Criminal Code of Ethiopia (2005) § 630.2.c.
  18. ^ Klein, Jeja. "BAMF will arabische trans Frau nach Äthiopien abschieben". queer.de (in German). Retrieved 7 June 2023.
  19. ^ "Ethiopia groups to stage anti-gay protest". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  20. ^ "Country Policy and Information Note Ethiopia: Background information, including internal relocation". Archived from the original on 4 February 2021. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  21. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  22. ^ "2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, pp. 33–34" (PDF).
  23. ^ "Ethiopia | Human Dignity Trust". www.humandignitytrust.org. Retrieved 20 March 2022.
  24. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org. Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  25. ^ "afrol News - Ethiopia tightens its already strict anti-gay laws". www.afrol.com. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  26. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State.
  27. ^ ""Ethiopian clerics seek constitutional ban on homosexuality", AFP, 22 December 2008". Archived from the original on 9 February 2009.
  28. ^ "UNPO: Ethiopia: Sexual Minorities Under Threat". unpo.org. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  29. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". www.refugeelegalaidinformation.org. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  30. ^ Stewart, Colin (15 June 2012). "Ethiopia balks at Western pressure for LGBT rights". Erasing 76 Crimes. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  31. ^ "UNPO: Ethiopia: Sexual Minorities Under Threat". unpo.org. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  32. ^ a b "Ethiopia groups to stage anti-gay protest". www.aljazeera.com. Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  33. ^ a b "Ethiopia | Human Dignity Trust". www.humandignitytrust.org. Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  34. ^ "Ethiopia tour for gay, lesbian travelers in jeopardy amid backlash from faith groups". Religion News Service. 14 June 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  35. ^ "Gay Tour Group Stirs Controversy in Ethiopia". Voice of America. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  36. ^ "Africanews | Ethiopia govt condemned for silence on 'creeping' homosexuality". Africanews. 9 December 2019. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  37. ^ "Why it is good that Ethiopians are debating homosexuality?". GenderIT.org. Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  38. ^ "Ethiopia religious anger over US gay tour plan". BBC News. 4 June 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  39. ^ "LGBTQ+ people in Ethiopia blame attacks on their community on inciteful and lingering TikTok videos". ABC News. Retrieved 11 August 2023.
  40. ^ "Ethiopia Crackdown on Gay Sex: Authorities Raid Hotels, Bars and Other Venues to Stop Homosexual Activities in Addis Ababa | 🌎 LatestLY". LatestLY. 11 August 2023. Retrieved 11 August 2023.
  41. ^ "Ethiopia". www.lgbtnet.dk. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  42. ^ "Interview with Beki Abi of DANA Social Club, Ethiopia". www.ids.ac.uk. 24 June 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  43. ^ "Ethiopia: Religious Marriage" (PDF). Library of Congress. Retrieved 21 April 2024.
  44. ^ "Surrogacy law: regulated, unregulated | Whereivf.com". 13 June 2022.