The Blue Nile Falls in Ethiopia.
News that a group of gay tourists will be visiting Ethiopia has been met with outrage and death threats from the nation’s religious leaders.
Toto Tours, an American LGBTQ travel company, is promoting a 16-day ‘Treasures Of Ethiopia’ package to the country in October and November.
It promises travellers “an historical and cultural journey to some of the most remote areas of Ethiopia for the adventure of a lifetime.”
Religious groups heard of the plans through social media and are now calling for the government to block the visitors. They are especially incensed that the itinerary includes some religious sites.
The trip was condemned by Tagay Tadele of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia, who said that “tour programmes and dating programmes that try to use our historical sites and heritage should be immediately stopped by the Ethiopian government.” Tadele also urged Ethiopians to “stop supporting these sinful and evil acts.”
Dereje Negash, from the Sileste Mihret United Association, told AFP that “Homosexuality is hated as well as being illegal in Ethiopia. Toto Tours are wrong to plan to conduct tours in our religious and historical places.”
He warned that “If Toto Tours comes to Ethiopia where 97% of Ethiopians surveyed oppose homosexuality, they will be damaged, they could even die.”
Dan Ware, the president of Toto Tours, appears determined to go ahead with the trip. “We come with only the greatest respect and humility,” he said, adding that when the tour group arrives in October, “the eyes of the entire world will be on the people of Ethiopia to see what happens to us.”
Countries that criminalise and reject LGBTQ people risk losing out on the burgeoning LGBTQ travel market. In 2016, this was estimated to be worth over US$211 billion in consumer spending per year.
Both male and female homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia and those found ‘guilty’ face between 7 to 15 years in prison. According to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 97% of Ethiopians believe that homosexuality is not acceptable. It is said to be among the countries with the highest anti-gay sentiment in the world.