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, with reports of high level of discrimination and abuses against LGBT people. Ethiopia has persecuted gays and lesbians from ancient history, and homosexual practice was outlawed during Zemene Mesafint period, in presence colonial ambitions. Homosexual practice has been considered a felony since the 1995 FDRE constitution. Opinion polls largely indicate opposition to homosexuality due to religious affiliation and political viewpoint. Christianity is the most followed religion of which followers are concerned about homosexuality and are resistant to Westernized mores.

According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97 percent[2] 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.[3]

Gay and lesbian people do not openly serve in the Ethiopian National Defense Force despite the lack of a law regarding service in military. As such, LGBT people are terrified to express their interests and think they will face discrimination by military personnel, and ultimately be dismissed. Many Ethiopians are intolerant of LGBT people. LGBT people are commonly stigmatized by the broader population.

Unlike neighbouring countries such as Somalia and Sudan, the Ethiopian laws do not prescribe capital punishment for homosexuality, persecution is prevalent in lower-class, rural communities.[4] 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 complied 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 into two parts: the first was 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. Outside the code, people's attitudes were disapproving of homosexuality. 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 administration approved some legal changes regarding sexual orientation. Mengistu Hailemariam addressed homosexuality and usually mocked them during several press conferences. He reportedly criticized the troops and peasants of neglect controls through military and rural areas as a result of practicing same-sexual activities and residing in camps. In 1995, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was formed at the rule of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Homosexual and sodomite laws mitigated the punishment of past government systems, into imprisonment less than fifteen years. The current law is secular and fulfills all human rights. However, in the early 2000s, homosexual incidents were reported through cities and brothels, attacking minors are the first case which also the constitution been criticized for neglect control. An LGBT advocacy group flourished both internationally or nationally and established its headquarters to provide freedom of speech and spread LGBT culture extracted from Western Stonewall riots. The expansion of five-star hotels often have been accused for cover-up gay people to live in the country. Hotels such as Sheraton Addis and Hilton Hotel are alleged to disseminate LGBT culture.[5]

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.[6] Meanwhile sodomy was practiced between Cushitic-speaking shepherd boys of Qemant people. The research was documented by Professor of University Massachusetts Frederick C Gamst.[7]

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 [8]

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".[9]

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".

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.[10] 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."[11]

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

In March 2014, an anti-gay rally was organized by Christian groups and there were widespread homosexual incidents. The head of the group and anti-gay activist Dereje Negash said homosexual practices have reached an alarming rate and mentioned same-sex crimes against children. Furthermore, he stated that if the practice continued, it would devastate the Ethiopian culture, religion and eliminate the natural law of sexuality. In the same month, efforts to add homosexuality as a non-pardonable offence under the Ethiopian amnesty law was proposed. 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".[12]

In April 2014, a government spokesman Redwan Hussein dropped the anti-gay rally that includes homosexuality as non-pardonable offence. Redwan responded that:[12]

[Homosexuality] is not a serious crime… The government thinks the current jail term is enough

Living conditions[edit]

Homosexuality remained a taboo subject in Ethiopian history until People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Even though the current governing system is a secular, the major population are dominant to Orthodox Church and Islam whereby homosexual acts are strictly condemned matter. They also count it as effect of children sexual abuse. Moreover the term LGBT is used by some Christian denominations as rape of same-sex, male offender upon another, especially targeted on children are underreported in Addis Ababa. In recent years, several accusations are increasing for children pedophilia.

People also feared contracting HIV AIDS while doing so and sought asylum to avoid harassment. A number of anti-HIV organizations have proposed controlling homosexuality since the rise rise of HIV in Ethiopia in the 1980s. A longstanding opposing religion in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church – it warns sodomy represents the Antichrist and End times and proclaims it an evil act. Over 90 percent of people reject homosexuality and consider it a mischievous act and believe it to be imported from Western countries which legalized all homosexual activities. As a result, people are intolerant towards the LGBT people. In the early 2010s, a LGBTQ advocacy group has appeared in various locations, particularly in Addis Ababa to effort of inclusion of same-sex rights to the constitution as well as encouraging freedom of speech. The group is still assembled to drive the socio-political movement, seeking liberalism and anti-discrimination laws. Attitudes toward the LGBT varies by age. Young people are much tolerant of LGBT people, in contrast with elder people who condemn LGBT due to excessive chauvinism and proper etiquette. The middle class are a minority of LGBT people although they do not identify their sexual orientation owing to fear of being stigmatized, persecuted or tortured. Some Ethiopian expatriates have been proponents of LGBT people using virtual activism. Many self-identified gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have been discriminated against, beaten, or lynched or have received corporal punishment in the streets, night clubs, social events, workplaces and schools. In June 2019, an LGBT-affiliated community website Toto tour announced its visit to Ethiopia, specifically to Bahir Dar and Lalibela from October. The tour incited objections from thousands of Ethiopians, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church urged the cancellation their tour by distributing propaganda in church services. Due to public outcry and threats, the tour was cancelled shortly afterwards.[13][14]

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".[15]

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.[16]

Social status in regions[edit]

In the Islamic-majority regions of Somali, Harari and Afar, homosexual practice is outlawed due to influence of Sharia law. Discrimination and even serious physical abuse are commonplace. In Harar and Jijiga, LGBT people primarily face mob lynching.

In Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, Gambela and Oromia Region homosexual practice is seen as moral panic rather than religious views. Nevertheless, it is hazardous for LGBT tourists.

In northern predominantly Christian regions Amhara and Tigray, homosexuality and sodomy are considered immoral, sinful and satanic. Many conservative Christians are connected to religious groups. Historical and cultural heritages are mainly found in the regions of Lalibela, Axum and Fasil Ghibbi and influence the community and favour the status quo.

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

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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

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)[21]
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b State Sponsored Homophobia: A world survey of laws criminalising same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults, The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, edited by Lucas Paoli Itaborahy, May 2012, p. 28 Archived 17 October 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ ""Pew Global Attitudes Project", (pages 35, 81, and 117)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 February 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2009.
  4. ^ Overs, C. (April 2015). "BOOSHTEE! Survival and Resilience in Ethiopia". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ Debele, Serawit B. (1 April 2020). "Of Taming Carnal DesireImperial Roots of Legislating Sexual Practices in Contemporary Ethiopia". History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History. 10 (1): 84–100. doi:10.1215/21599785-8221434. ISSN 2159-9785.
  6. ^ Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, 1962
  7. ^ Gamst, Frederic C. (1969) The Qemant. A Pagan-Hebraic Peasantry of Ethiopia. New York: Holt, Rinehart And Winston.
  8. ^ Donald Donham, Work and Power in Maale, Ethiopia, 1994
  9. ^ Criminal Code of Ethiopia (2005) § 630.2.c.
  10. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State.
  11. ^ ""Ethiopian clerics seek constitutional ban on homosexuality", AFP, 22 December 2008".
  12. ^ a b "Ethiopia | Human Dignity Trust". Retrieved 6 April 2020.
  13. ^ "Why it is good that Ethiopians are debating homosexuality?". Retrieved 28 March 2020.
  14. ^ "Ethiopia religious anger over US gay tour plan". BBC News. 4 June 2019. Retrieved 18 June 2020.
  15. ^ "UNPO: Ethiopia: Sexual Minorities Under Threat". Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  16. ^ "Ethiopia LGBTI Resources | Rights in Exile Programme". Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  17. ^ "2011 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, pp. 33–34" (PDF).
  18. ^ "Ethiopia". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 13 October 2018.
  19. ^ "Ethiopia". Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  20. ^ "Interview with Beki Abi of DANA Social Club, Ethiopia". Retrieved 14 May 2020.
  21. ^ "Surrogacy law: regulated, unregulated |".

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