Africa

LGBT+ tour company receives death threats over planned Ethiopia visit

A company that organises tours for members of the LGBTQIA+ community said it has received death threats for scheduling travel to Ethiopian religious sites. Source: AP

Religious leaders in Ethiopia earlier this week urged the government to block Toto Tours from touring the country's ancient sites.

A United States-based company organising tours for members of the LGBTQIA+ community said it is “shell-shocked” to have received a “tsunami of hatred and death threats” for planning a visit to Ethiopian religious sites.

Religious groups in Ethiopia have called on the government to prevent Toto Tours, which describes itself as “the only gay tour company in existence", from visiting the country's ancient sites as part of its 16-day “Treasures of Ethiopia” tour.

Toto Tour President Dan Ware said the company was sent a barrage of abuse after the planned tour was spotted by Ethiopians on social media.

 

“We are shell-shocked at the tsunami of hatred and death threats coming our way,” he told SBS News.

“People are convinced our purpose in coming to their country is to somehow spread homosexuality [and] that we have a hidden agenda. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The “Treasures of Ethiopia” tour, scheduled for October this year, was slated to include visits to the cities of Bahir Dar, the location of some of the world’s oldest churches and monasteries, and Lalibela, famous for its rock-cut monolithic churches.

One of the ancient underground churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia
One of the ancient underground churches in Lalibela, Ethiopia
AP

"Tour programmes and dating programmes that try to use our historical sites and heritage should be immediately stopped by the Ethiopian government and we urge Ethiopians supporting these sinful and evil acts to desist from their acts," said Tagay Tadele of the Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia.

Another group, the Sileste Mihret United Association, said harm could come to the group if the tour proceeds.

"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," said vice chairman Dereje Negash.

"If Toto Tours comes to Ethiopia … they will be damaged, they could even die," he said. 

Ethiopia, like several nations in Africa with strict anti-gay laws, punishes homosexual acts with prison sentences.

 

Twenty-eight out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have such laws, according to Human Rights Watch.

Mr Ware said Toto Tours has previously conducted tours in African nations, including in countries where homosexuality is illegal, but never experienced any backlash.

“Widows and divorced women travel together all the time to not have to worry about being hassled by men [and] sports aficionados travel together to share their common interest in a particular sport.

“Gay people travel together because there is a feeling of ease in not having to pretend to be something we are not.

“Usually we feel safer travelling together - but certainly not this time.”

Mr Ware said the group still wants to make the trip happen and is eagerly awaiting a response from the Ethiopian government.

“The eyes of the world must be watching what happens to our small and defenceless group of harmless homosexuals.

“If they incite mobs to turn against innocent people like us, who might be next?”

The Ethiopian government has been contacted for comment.

Travel advice for LGBTQIA+ Australians has been sought from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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