LGBT rights in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia (Africa orthographic projection).svg
PenaltyUp to 15 years to life in prison
Gender identityNo
Discrimination protectionsNo
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo recognition of same-sex unions

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Ethiopia face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the country,[2] with reports of high level of discrimination and abuses against LGBT people. Homosexuality has been held as a sexual crime under religious law until the Derg regime overthrew monarchy system of Haile Selassie in 1974, the end of Solomonic dynasty.[3] Ethiopia has been described by pundits as the most socially conservative country free from liberial ideology with the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church led contribution in social milieu. Thus, LGBT people would face systemic discrimination among broader population.

Homosexuality gained significant concern during Meles Zenawi administration where many human rights activists appealed their right to Council of Ministers and resulted in subsequent rejection. Since then, Ethiopia saw legal effort regarding LGBT rights and LGBT people become slightly visible in urban areas, such as Addis Ababa, in nightclubs and drinking establishments. Various big star hotels such as Hilton Hotel alleged to provide lobby for LGBT person. Majority of Ethiopians are hostile toward LGBT culture and believe to "pervert the society by the West" while also blaming them for causing HIV/AIDS and sexual transmitted disease. Discrimination and stigma are therefore commonplace and some Ethiopian LGBT people suppress their identity and preferred to living as asylum seeker.

According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent[4] of Ethiopians believe homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept. This was the second-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.[5]

Gay and lesbian people do not openly serve in the Ethiopian National Defense Force despite the lack of a law regarding service in military. Despite this, many LGBT people suppress their sexual identity and feared their dismissal from military employment. Opposition likely comes from adherent of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church as well.

Unlike neighbouring countries such as Somalia, the Ethiopian laws do not prescribe capital punishment for homosexuality, though persecution is prevalent in lower-class, more rural communities.[6] There is no same-sex union recognition in the country.


Homosexuality and sodomy were initially criminalized after the Kingdom of Aksum and laws were adopted from the Solomonic dynasty in thirteenth century.

At around of 1240, the Coptic Egyptian Christian writer Abul Fada'il Ibn al-'Assal compiled a legal code known as Fetha Nagast. Written in Ge'ez language, Ibn al-'Assal referred his laws from apostolic writer and former laws of Byzantine Empire. Fetha Nagast was written in two parts: the first dealt with the Church hierarchy sacraments and connected to religious rites. The second concerned laity, civil administration such as family laws. The code was effective in Zemene Mesafint because it was enacted as a supreme law. There is no evidence that homosexuality prevailed from ancient times to Early modern period. Fetha Nagast was repealed from the monarchy in 1931, at the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie, fearing that the laws were making unusual punishments such as amputations and criticized crime against humanity. Religious laws were halted when the Derg regime abolished state religion and brought secularism and separation of church and state. However the Derg regime, with Marxism-Leninism ideology, harshly prevented homosexuals to identify their orientation, and doing so would face capital punishment, extrajudicial killing by the militias. Following the Derg regime collapsed in 1991, the EPRDF transitional government was formed. Their 1995 constitution regarding human rights and equality is progressive, the vicious human rights administration of the Derg replaced with liberal democracy, and mitigated the legality to imprisonment up to 15 years under the constitution. The TPLF party were dominant left-wing party at that time. Since 2008, subjects about LGBT people drastically emerged where hundred homosexuals petition for equal rights and appealed to the prime minister Meles Zenawi. However, it became blocked en route to prime minister office. In the same year, an unofficial gay marriage took place in Sheraton Addis. In January 2009, the semi-official gay marriage organized in Addis Ababa. In early 2010s, some media outlets with cooperation of government imposed restrictions over LGBT ideology. The country does not seriously enact the law yet, but LGBT people may face discrimination among the society.[7]

Researches and observations[edit]

In 1920, American psychoanalyst Irving Bieber observed homosexual practice among Semitic Harari people. Sodomy was commonplace between Harari people, whereas it was rare for Oromo and Somali people. Mutual masturbation was practiced between adult men and boys.[8] Meanwhile sodomy was practiced between Cushitic-speaking shepherd boys of Qemant people. The research was documented by Professor of University Massachusetts Frederick C Gamst.[9]

Donald Donham suggested that small minority of males performed feminine roles amongst Maale people. In this ethnic group, male perform feminine roles, donning dresses and act like feminine characteristics [10]

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Under Article 629 of the Criminal Code, both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Ethiopia. The penal code confirms:

Whoever performs with another person of the same sex a homosexual act, or any other indecent act, is punishable with simple imprisonment.

The Article 630 defines the punishments into two ways:

1. The punishment shall be imprisonment for not less than one year, or, in certain grave cases, rigorous imprisonment not exceeding ten years.[1]

2. The punishment shall be rigorous imprisonment from three years to fifteen years.

Homosexual and other indecent acts performed on minors[edit]

In Article 631, homosexuality performed on minors is punishable:

1. From 3-5 years; where the victim is between 13-18 years old
2. From 15-25; where the victim is below thirteen years old
3. A woman performs homosexual acts with minor of the same sex is punishable with not exceeding ten years
4. Indecent acts performed on minor of same-sex shall be punished with simple imprisonment.
5. If the victim is pupil, apprentice, child entrusted while in custody shall be aggravated than crime that he commits.
6. It will be rigorous imprisonment from 3-10 years

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".[11]

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.

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".[12]

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.[13] 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."[14]

In March 2014, the Council of Ministers proposed a bill for LGBT rights protection, but parliament did not enact it because of public opposition.[15]

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:[16]

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.[16] 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".[17]

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."[17]

Zim Anlem anti-gay campaign[edit]

Zim Anlem (Amharic: ዝም አንልም) is an anti-gay campaign aims against government administration relating to the legality status of homosexuality and sexual crimes within the country. The campaign was originally founded around 2014 by Dereje Negash, who affiliate with Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in order to organize.[18] The movement became noted in 2019 as publicizing itself in several media, when it attracts various media personalities and celebrities about galvanizing raping incidents among lower class community and children. Zim Anlem incorporated volunteer celebrities, including Yegerem Dejene, Tigist Girma, Mekdes Tsegay and open-ended entertainment professionals as of 2020.

Living conditions[edit]

Prior the modern Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia era, homosexuality was limited and cumbersome for thriving due to political, cultural and religious pressure. Most Ethiopians adopted to the law of Fetha Negast and Kibre Negast during the monarchical rule.

Since 2008, concerns about homosexuality become noticeable by civil rights activists. Appeal trial attempted through courts and rejected by Council of Minister subsequently. The first unofficial gay marriage took place in Sheraton Addis at the same year and in January 2009, several LGBT events were organized in Addis Ababa. According to Human Rights Watch report in 2008, there were violence against people who identified themselves gay, lesbian and bisexual. This also includes with other human rights issues relating to gender and disablities. The U.S. Department of State accused Ethiopian government for unlawful killing of citizens, including, torture, arbitrary and detention. According to several surveys and reports, homosexuality held as moral panic in the Ethiopian society and many Ethiopians respond "it brought by the West to pervert society". Many Ethiopians strongly associated with cultural and historical background and religious devotees, especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo believers and Muslims. Thus, they are intolerant to LGBT people and may face social stigma among broader population. In contrast with Eritrea, Ethiopia doesn't offend homosexuals toughly instead of seeing them mentally disordered threatening people, but recently public attitude shows slightly more welcoming to LGBT people, especially in liberial social class. Online community furthermore developed among Ethiopian diaspora, while internet has censored such discussion.[19][20]

In 2012, a pro-gay conference was scheduled to be held in Addis Ababa. The conference was cancelled by fundamental Christians and religious groups, protesting the conference and calling it "missionaries of evil".[21]

In June 2012, an anti-gay conference was held at the headquarter of African Union concerning about homosexuality consequences and causative agent for HIV AIDS and sexually transmitted disease as well as several psychological disorders.[22]

In June 2019, Chicago-based LGBT community Toto tour announced its visit to Ethiopia,[23] specifically to Bahir Dar and Lalibela from October. The tour incited objections from Ethiopian and the diaspora abroad, including organizing marchs in some locales. The company owner Dan Ware said the controversy began in May when the group posted plans on social media.[24] On September 8, Dereje Negash denounced "the government’s indifference on the issue is helping the LGBT movement in the East African country." An anonymous LGBT activist told his concern on AP that there are wide misconception in the country of gay people culpable for increasing rape incidence.[25][26][27]

Social status by regions[edit]

Attitudes from regions of Ethiopia tend disapproving homosexuality and vary from regions in the basis of their cultural norms. Opposition likely generated from predominant Christian influenced regions, from Ethiopian highland inhabitants called Habesha people. This is because of the historical Ethiopian Orthodox Church intervention to public life and often teach in their church service as precaution of moral panic. Aside from these people, homosexuality is dangerous to Islamic majority people, such as Harari, Afars and Somali.[28] Therefore, LGBT people may face persecution up to and including murder.

The U.S. Department of State's 2011 Human Rights Report found that,[29]

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 persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. In early December[,] 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 to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.[30] 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. There is anecdotal, but not statistical evidence to demonstrate the scale of the problem.

LGBT organizations[edit]

In 2007, the first LGBT group named The Ethiopian Gays, Lesbians, Bisexual & Transgender Committee was formed with roots of initiating LGBT stability and peace and the group has opposed government activities that prohibits the protection status and freedom of speech.[31]

In 2013, an LGBT advocacy group Dana Social Club was founded by Beki Abiy whose ambition to proliferate the group throughout regions. The group has a goal of supporting self stigmatized and discriminated gays and lesbians to freely express their sexual orientation and transgender people have a right to change their biological sex through sex reassignment surgery. The group efforts through online campaigning and they published an archive named Ethiopian Gay Library.[32]

Summary table[edit]

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
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)[33]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b 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. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  3. ^ "Gay Friendly Hotels Addis Ababa Ethiopia: Top 3 (Updated 2021)". Kiki Journey. 7 January 2021. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ ""Pew Global Attitudes Project", (pages 35, 81, and 117)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2009.
  6. ^ Overs, C. (April 2015). "BOOSHTEE! Survival and Resilience in Ethiopia". Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  7. ^ Iddo Balcha, Daniel (22 April 2021). Homosexuality in Ethiopia (Thesis). Lund University. p. 35.
  8. ^ Beiber, Irving (1962). Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. Basic Books.
  9. ^ Gamst, Frederic C. (1969) The Qemant. A Pagan-Hebraic Peasantry of Ethiopia. New York: Holt, Rinehart And Winston.
  10. ^ Donald Donham, Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia, 1994
  11. ^ Criminal Code of Ethiopia (2005) § 630.2.c.
  12. ^ Stewart, Colin (15 June 2012). "Ethiopia balks at Western pressure for LGBT rights". Erasing 76 Crimes. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  13. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State.
  14. ^ ""Ethiopian clerics seek constitutional ban on homosexuality", AFP, 22 December 2008".
  15. ^ "UNPO: Ethiopia: Sexual Minorities Under Threat". Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  16. ^ a b "Ethiopia groups to stage anti-gay protest". Retrieved 30 July 2020.
  17. ^ a b "Ethiopia | Human Dignity Trust". Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Ethiopia groups to stage anti-gay protest". Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  19. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  20. ^ "afrol News - Ethiopia tightens its already strict anti-gay laws". Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  21. ^ "UNPO: Ethiopia: Sexual Minorities Under Threat". Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  22. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  23. ^ "Ethiopia tour for gay, lesbian travelers in jeopardy amid backlash from faith groups". Religion News Service. 14 June 2019. Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  24. ^ "Gay Tour Group Stirs Controversy in Ethiopia". Voice of America. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  25. ^ "Africanews | Ethiopia govt condemned for silence on 'creeping' homosexuality". Africanews. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  26. ^ "Why it is good that Ethiopians are debating homosexuality?". Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  27. ^ "Ethiopia religious anger over US gay tour plan". BBC News. 4 June 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  28. ^ "Country Policy and Information Note Ethiopia: Background information, including internal relocation". Retrieved 30 January 2021.
  29. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  30. ^ "2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, pp. 33–34" (PDF).
  31. ^ "Ethiopia". Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  32. ^ "Interview with Beki Abi of DANA Social Club, Ethiopia". Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  33. ^ "Surrogacy law: regulated, unregulated |".

External links[edit]