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ADDIS ABABA: Halle and Salma are typical university students in Ethiopia. They love to hang out with friends, watch the Olympics and be happy. But they are separated from the rest of society as a result of their being lesbians.
“Life is hard for us,” began 22-year-old Salma, a Muslim, “because our parents have thrown us out of our homes and we face violence and attacks because we love each other.”
The pair, sitting at Salma’s brother’s house in the Ethiopian capital, hand in hand, watches the athletics competition in London, where Ethiopia female runners have shown their world-class status.
“It is great for Ethiopia to show we are proud of our runners,” Halle, a Christian 21-year-old, told Bikyamasr.com. “It is just unfortunate that we face discrimination because we are not straight.”
The pair has been together for three years, since meeting in university, but their struggle has seen few supporters, which makes Mohammed, Salma’s brother, the only outlet for their safety.
“Mohammed has been amazing,” began Halle, “without him we would not have been able to be safe and be with each other.”
For Mohammed, he believes that much of the antagonism toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Ethiopia and Africa is a result of “the fact that so many people just are scared because they have never met a gay person. Once you do that and realize they are not much different from us all, it isn’t a big deal.”
He doesn’t tell his parents, especially his father, that he houses the couple, fearing that if he did, his father would take action.
“I think he would probably kill me or them, so I don’t say a word and they never ask about Salma,” he admitted.
Halle and Salma are hopeful that perceptions of the gay community are changing in the country, but it is slow and they face an uphill battle against the government and the media.
“All we want are our rights as citizens. To love who we want. We are not dangerous and we don’t destroy society as the reports say,” Salma argued.
Their worries over their safety were again heightened in June, when a local Ethiopian daily newspaper reported that the United States and Europe are looking to spread and promote homosexuality in the East African country.
The Yenga daily wrote, in a June 18 article, that “gayness” was growing dramatically in the country and the “infestation of those carriers” are now at least 16,000 people.
The “report” went on to argue that gay persons have an average of 75 partners annually and that this “promiscuous” nature sees some gay people have as many as 7 partners in one day.
The article described how such “practices” are being “imported” to Ethiopia through students who receive scholarships to study in the United States and Europe.
“I don’t know about the report and where they get their crazy statistics,” said Mohammed, “but as I have met more and more gay and lesbian people, I realize they have strong relationships than us straight people right now. They aren’t going crazy. They deserve their rights.”