Unbridled Homophobia in Ethiopia

For days, the hunters have been gathering in their thousands on Telegram groups and TikTok live sessions, devising ways to capture their prey. They exchange notes about how to spot the “homosexual”. They agree that any person whose gender expression slightly deviates from their “perceived” gender is a homosexual. Any person with a rainbow: Check. Who defends homosexuals: Check. Who does not support the hunter’s genocidal intentions: Check.

They start by roaming people’s social media. They pick on a well-known influencer who is in a heterosexual marriage and has a young child. She is outed as a “homosexual”. The hunters claim to have done extensive research. This amounts to them having gone through her Instagram and Facebook accounts and taken screenshots of images that supposedly show her in “compromising” situations. These include her hanging out at a party with female friends with colorful hair. Her husband is livid and expresses his rage about the dangers of her being targeted and the potential risk this puts on their young family. The hunters aren’t moved; they continue their extensive research by searching his social media and establishing that he supports homosexuals. The husband, too, becomes the hunted. 

The hunt intensifies. The hunters release videos from a party that was held months ago as “proof” that the homosexuals are living in this country, in peace, as if this land is their natural habitat—the audacity. The horror ensues.

With their alleged evidence, they move to the streets of Addis Ababa. They want blood on their hands. They are determined that the hunting should move to each neighborhood in the city to cleanse this “holy” land of the homosexuals. They encourage people to hunt anyone they perceive to be a “homosexual”. A masculine woman is stopped on the streets by a young man who takes issue with her short hair and the “masculine” way she is dressed. He asks her why she does not “dress like a girl”. She has cracked the code and blurts out that she has a boyfriend. He lets her go. She shares this story in private so that those of us who present as masculine can be careful.

The hunt continues.

TikTok videos and Telegram channels tell the hunters what to do after they catch their prey: Kill, hang, burn, and mutilate.

A young man who presents in a feminine manner is caught on the streets of Addis Ababa, and the hunters release videos of him beaten up. The hunters congratulate each other in the comments section and during the ensuing strategy sessions broadcast live on TikTok and disseminated on Telegram.

The city police and tourism bureau soon issue a statement providing a hotline to report “suspicious” activity and opposing those who act in ways that are “outside” of our culture. Homosexual hunting is effectively established as ‘our culture’. The hunters have been given more ammunition to continue hunting aggressively.

And the hunted? We watch. We hide. We fear. We resist. We write. We organize. And we report the multitude of videos, even as TikTok repeatedly responds with “video does not violate our Community Standards” to content that is explicitly calling for the killing of “homosexuals”. We lament the fact that the hunted are yet again made powerless by powerful social media platforms that serve as a vehicle for disseminating vicious hate. The hate that hasreal life consequences in real time.

Sadly, survival demands that we don our camouflage and walk among the hunters even as we are left baffled by the irony of this land. 

Ethiopia is a country gripped by multiple conflicts on top of the two-year war in Tigray. All this is happening when Ethiopia declared a state of emergency in Amhara, and a full-fledged war seems imminent, effectively with the ability to displace more than 20 million residents in the region. 

Three of the main airports in the region are currently closed; people in the region’s capital city – Bahir dar – are rushing for the last remaining water resources.  Residents in another city, Debre Berhan, have reported hearing gunshots every minute or so. But yet, the elusive “homosexual” continues to capture the collective attention of Ethiopians.

As I write this, millions of people in Tigray displaced by a two-year war have yet to return to their homes. Schools, healthcare facilities, and almost all of its infrastructure lie in ruins. Thousands of girls and women have been raped during the genocidal war. But yet again, it is the “homosexual” that is making Ethiopians lose sleep. Although there are 20 million Ethiopians who need food assistance, in June, the United Nations and USAID suspended their food assistance to Ethiopia as they were concerned about aid diversions. Read that again. USAID said it stopped food aid to Ethiopia because it said the Ethiopian government was “systematically stealing” food meant for its own citizens. 

Despite the dire situation that Ethiopia is currently experiencing on so many fronts, all eyes are focused on the “homosexual” whose biggest crime is loving another human or expressing gender in a way that makes sense to them.

Ain’t that some shit.


Bisrat Awet* is a staff of Queer Ethiopia, an organization based in Ethiopia that works to support the LBQ community. She is using a pseudonym to protect her identity.

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