Gay conference in Ethiopia may face ban


Religious leaders and government authorities in Ethiopia have ended a meeting on November 29, with an apparent dispute over how to and whether or not ban an upcoming continental gay conference scheduled to be held in Addis Ababa.

Just a day before the 16th International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STIs) in Africa (ICASA) opens, about 200 gays as well as UN and U.S. officials are expected to gather at Addis Ababa’s Jupiter International Hotel, on December 3 to discuss what the organizers call men having sex with men (MSM) issues.

Gay conference in Ethiopia may face banOrganized by African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR), the meeting dubbed ‘Claim, Scale-up, and Sustain’ seeks to increase attention on MSM and HIV related issues in Africa, to reflect on the state of the response in MSM communities in Africa and to identify ways forward for scaling up MSM and HIV interventions, according to News from Africa website.

Religious leaders from Ethiopian Muslim Council, the Ethiopian Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches have called a press conference to oppose the gay conference. While they were expected to ask for the banning of the conference Health Minister, Tewodros Adhanom, showed up for what later turned to be an hour long meeting behind closed doors.

“The Minister came to convince the religious leaders to call off the press conference as the government believes it would affect the ICASA turnout,” an informed source said. “In return, the minister may offer to quietly cancel the gay conference.”

At the end of the meeting neither the minister nor religious leaders spoke about what they agreed on. With signs of disappointment on their faces, religious leaders told journalists “the press conference has been postponed to undetermined date.”

If not cancelled, a number of speakers including UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe, United States Global AIDS Coordinator, Eric Goosby, and current Chairperson of the Committee for the Protection of the rights of PLHIV, Reine Alapini – Gansou, are expected at the gay conference. They are set to discuss health and human rights issues facing gays, including criminalization of same-sex practices.

Ethiopia’s criminal law strictly prohibits any form of homosexuality on grounds that they are against country’s cultural norms and astray normal sexual practices. Homosexual or same sex marriage and unethical activities in the country are considered as criminal and the person who is engaged in such activity would be imprisoned from 3 to 10 years.

Exactly three years ago, Ethiopian religious leaders gathered to lobby lawmakers to enact a constitutional ban on homosexuality. The clerics said the current laws were inadequate.

Abune Paulos, head the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said then that Ethiopia’s special place in biblical traditions means a firm stance is warranted. “We strongly condemn this behaviour. They have to be disciplined and their acts discriminated, they have to be given a lesson,” he said.

His idea was shared by other religious leaders who attended the December 2008 meeting.

Dr. Seyoum Antonios, Executive Director of United for Life Ethiopia – a local NGO – had said a tough stance is timely as some visitors come and engage in sex tourism and the prostitution business is also experiencing changes. According to him, the practice was a new phenomenon brought about with the increased exposure to globalizing trends, adding that orphans are especially at risk as they do not have proper family protection.

The religious leaders deemed homosexuality part of “cultural colonization” and a sign the new generation is “loosening”. They cited preaching in religious institutions, schools, societal institutions and societal out-casting as key to ensuring the practice does not become widespread.

The final resolution of the meeting had called on Ethiopian lawmakers to act forcefully against homosexuals: “We urge parliamentarians to endorse a ban on homosexuality in the constitution.”

Homosexuality is illegal in about 80 countries throughout the world and nine countries prescribe death as a punishment.

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