In Ethiopia and the rest of the Horn, homosexuality is severely condemned – traditionally, religiously and legally – and remains a topic of absolute taboo. Don’t underestimate the strength of feeling. Reports of gays being beaten up or worse aren’t uncommon. To give you an idea of how widespread such feelings are, a 2007 study found that 97% of Ethiopians thought homosexuality was not something society should accept.
In Amharic, the word bushti (homosexual) is a very offensive insult, implying immorality and depravity. One traveller wrote to us to report expulsion from a hotel and serious threats just for coming under suspicion. If a hotel only offers double beds, rather than twins, you and your companion will pay more or may even be refused occupancy.
Women may have an easier time: even the idea of a lesbian relationship is beyond the permitted imaginings of many Ethiopians! Behave discreetly, and you will be assumed to be just friends.
Note that the Ethiopian penal code officially prohibits homosexual acts, with penalties of between 10 days’ and 10 years’ imprisonment for various ‘crimes’. Although gay locals obviously exist, they behave with extreme discretion and caution. Gay travellers are advised to do likewise.
Information on homosexuality in the Horn is hard to come by, even in the well-known gay publications. Try Global Gayz (www.globalgayz.com/africa/ethiopia) or the International Lesbian & Gay Association (www.ilga.org) for more information.