11 Dec 2011- Ever since the news of the gay conference went public, Ethiopians have been discussing the issue mainly on digital platforms such as Facebook.
Most of the statements on the social networks reflect public loathing based on religious and cultural values. A 2007 Global Attitudes survey on the subject revealed that almost all (97 percent) Ethiopians believe homosexuality should be rejected by society, which was the second-highest percentage rejecting homosexuality among the 44 countries surveyed, exceeded only by Mali with 98 percent.
On Tuesday, a press briefing called by religious leaders to denounce the conference led to a dispute with government authorities later leading to the cancelation of the news conference. It has been replaced by a meeting between Health Minister, Tewodros Adanom, and religious leaders from the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, the Ethiopian Orthodox, Catholic and Evangelical churches that ended with dispute over whether or not to ban the continental gay conference.
Ethiopia's criminal law strictly prohibits any form of homosexuality on grounds that the behavior goes against the country's cultural norms and is not a sexual practice or lifestyle that should be condoned.
"Homosexual or same sex marriage and unethical activities in the country are considered criminal and the person who engages in the activity would be sentenced to three to 10 years imprisonment."
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 gaining momentum. According to him, the practice is 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.