Monday, 13 December 2010

First website for Ethiopian LGBT launches

Ethiopian flagImage via Wikipedia
By Paul Canning

'Peace [Selam] seeker' (pseudonym), an Ethiopian gay asylum seeker, has written to us to announce his new website, set up for Ethiopian LGBT around the world.

Homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia and the country is very homophobic. As elsewhere in Africa, he says, "homosexuality is perceived as being an evil disease or curse brought up on the white man for his wrong doings, hence any appearance of it in Ethiopia would then be attributed to just another shortcoming of globalization." carries news, a blog, stories of gay Ethiopians and a forum. It has "been getting very good feedback from the Ethio/Eritrean lgbt community". He says:
My aim is mainly to reach out to Ethiopian gay, lesbian,bisexual and transsexual communities at home and in diaspora, thereby helping to create a closer and stronger community. I strive to reach those with no one to talk to and find themselves in difficult situation due to their sexuality.
I myself have experienced all countless challenges and continue to do so, but after all, I have come to realize that it is up to me to face the facts, accept reality and find the solution to what ever the problem might be.
Main motive for this blog being that I as a gay Ethiopian came to realize that there is literally no means of gaining info, emotional support or general knowledge related to LGBT life as an Ethiopian and also, the only forums engaging in related topics are almost always derogatory and extremely homophobic.
Hence I have set about single-handedly to do my bit by creating this site not only as a let out for my own thoughts and principles, but for all of us, the Ethiopian LGBT community who are starved freedom and acceptance to contribute our share.
I strongly believe that by telling our stories of an impossible life as a gay Ethiopian, we could draw attention to this very personal issue and by sharing with others how a lesbian overcame the odds and attained her goals would most definitely bring hope to our sisters who hardly have a trickle of it left.

I am a 19 year old gay  Ethiopian currently residing in Europe. I use Selam (peace) seeker as a pseudonym as I am categorized as an  ''asylum seeker'' but really dislike the phrase and would never use it let alone call myself by it. I believe it is a gross label to people of countless issues yet doesn't apply to certain regular aspect of life. Hence not a lot of people would have any familiarity with it. 
My sole purpose is to attain peace! And so I am a peace seeker!
I was not always aimed and enthusiastic, in fact I was nothing but a purposeless lost soul drifting in suffering and pain every single day.
My sexuality, even though I was fully recognized, would never change I defiantly buried every instance of it to conform with the norm. To be a regular Ethiopian teen. For I had been raised to believe that any other form or life style is anything but natural.
Until about late in my teens I was convinced that I am probably the only gay Ethiopian and that I was either cursed or am a result of  some sort of witchcraft on my parents. Every single day of High School was anything but a happy growing period. I was very shy, very concious of my apperance and did every thing possible to camouflage my self in some way or another but thinking back now I realize it was all in vain as almost every one around  knew I was somehow different. Most just did not figure it out and some probably did but chose to hold back on it and  use it for their own purpose, but that's all a different story.
All in all, I was destined to perish without a doubt and for me it was all about when it would be. I knew for a fact that my sexuality would come out at some point and I would be stoned to death or languish in the filthy jails of Addis. Then only other option was to go quietly, end it! Take my own life. Every opportunity I analyzed to come up with the best means for suicide. I wasn't even 16 by the time I was trying to figure out how quietly and with minimum pain to my self and my family I could die, preferably with no corpse afterwards.
How ever grim, it was all true and every single day of my existance was plain indescribable.
But no matter how wretched and miserable my life was, there always seemed to be a greater force with in me helping me overcome it all and get on with life as it comes. And besides, just like every one else, I had dreams and ideal future  in my career. A family which I truly loved...

Ups and Downs
Life in the meantime took its own course and I was taken adrift in its wave.The political situation in Ethiopia was horrid and our family wasn't going unscathed.
Every one stood up against the ruling party, and I wasn't going to sit and watch. I jumped right in and started getting involved by distributing leaflets and attending demonstrations. More than the fact that I did agree with others in the need to restore peace and equality by changing the dictatorial leaders, it was like I was doing myself a favour.
I was taking my mind off my personal issues and for once I was not alone. I belonged to a mass. I had a purpose and to achive the goal I seeked, I didn't have to do it all by myself.
There is no measure of relative comfort and happiness that gave me. I had always thought I am worth nothing and that I should die before I mess up too much, and now here I was serving a purpose. I was blinded to the fact that I was playing with fire though. People were getting arrested, tortured and even shot but none of that deterred me, infact the worst outcome would be the best. If I died this way then at least I would be among the others, the martyrs, the heroes. But things took the wrong turn and I was detained for four months with no trial or conviction.
Those were without a doubt the most unbearable and painful four months of my life... the comfort of my family's home seemed distant as heaven. I was repeatedly tortured and had to survive on a piece of bread and a cup of filthy water a day. I was finally released having signed a letter of apology and caution not to ever be involved in any political activity.
I was soon back home, wounds healed and feeling stronger, life was getting back to the way it once was. Getting back to school made that obvious. One would assume that to be a favourable turn around and that I would get back on track of life but the opposite was true. High school being the starting place to realize once self and grow into the person they would be. Sexuality and all its baggage were everywhere every moment of every day.
Before I knew it, I found myself back in indescribable despair. All the pain I went through the last year or so seemed insignificant, mainly because all through that I was never alone. I was never different and my purpose was a shared goal. But now, it's almost as if I was the only one feeling what I am feeling in the whole wide world ....

I remember that day as if it were yesterday, clear skies, beautiful weather and amazing scenery. Even though it was not a seat by the window, I leaned over the snoring old Japanese man not willing to miss any of the view. What lay miles down was nothing like I'd ever seen before. I was on a Boing 747  flight to Europe.
My family had decided it would not be safe for me to stay in Ethiopia due to the deteriorating political situations. Families and individuals that were known to have participated in anti government movements in the past were specifically being targeted and staying there would undoubtedly endanger my life. Not a lot of my school mates were lucky enough to have family that could afford the hefty fees for the agent. And not more than a week since I was first introduced by my uncle to a middle aged Somali/Kenyan man and told that he would take me out of Ethiopia to a safe place, I was on the plane and about to reach the destination.
My last week in Addis was the longest week I can ever think of. Of course I would be going to a safer place and more peaceful place and of course my life would be less in danger but none of that was in my thoughts. After all I had wished to die very long ago.
But now, there seemed to be light at the end of the tunnel. I would go to a place where I would live freely and as I wish(as I am) I concluded that this very day should be the one I celebrate for the rest of my life as the day I was reborn but that wasn't the case at all. In fact it wasn't before  over a year that that day would come.
After settling here and syncing with the day-to-day life, I quickly realized that I had changed a lot since I was back home. Now I was leaving almost freely and most of all I realized that I wasn't the only one going through what I was going through.. Thanks to (no longer working), I had realized that there lived other gay Ethiopians as well. Other LGBT individuals of Ethiopian origin most of whom are in diaspora and speak freely about themselves and tell their stories. And now that am here, I could be one of them.
But my joy was short lived as I could see that I was not completely free. I was living in a big city with thousands of Ethiopian immigrants and homophobia was almost as extreme and violent as back home, if not even worse.
I read forums that raised the issue and even though the majority was nothing but hate towards our very existence, I could also see that there was a minority few most who have lived outside Ethiopia long enough that have came to realize the importance of realizing sexuality and sexual freedom.
I first talked freely about my sexuality with a female friend who has lived here for longer than I and did not think it would affect our relationship at all as it was pure friendship and she had a boyfriend. When I told her that I am gay, she was not surprised at all and told me she had deduced that too but promised that it would not change her attitude about me. And in fact she was as good a friend as she’d always been, but others weren’t! She had told some common friends (other habeshas) and before I knew it word had spread around and I was a subject of malicious ridicule and hate. I was almost physically excluded from the church. The few friends I had made all became enemies in an instant, none wanted to have anything to do with me. Not even a good old hand shake.

Without a doubt, that was the lowest point of my entire existence. All of a sudden, my life back home seemed far better. At least back then I kept my self to myself and to my knowledge no one suspected anything. Even though I was young and no one would have expected me to get married at that age, maybe I should never have left. May be I should have just stayed and did what I thought was the right when the time came; to save my family from lifelong disgrace and stigma. Ending it had always seemed the only option but I never had the courage. After all I was a typical teenager full of ambitious dreams. I had gave in to Optimism and ended up in a much worse situation with no way out in sight.
It all dawned on me, infested with distress, suicidal thoughts which I had overcome started to resurface. I felt as if that was the end; if I can’t dare live as I am in my home country and if I face even greater threat in a place where human right is a given and equality taken for granted, then what's left for me.
I wanted to die there and then!
But after a period of utter misery and experiencing the lowest of lowest, I had a hunch.a period of transition nothing quite like I'd ever experienced before followed by a  transformation into the new me. Soon after,  I realized that I was giving in without a fight. I was not standing for myself but was surprised when no one did. In a moment of enlightenment I remember to this day, I decided to do whatever can to bring about a change of attitude in  society 'teach people to accept others (me and you) for who they (we) are; black or white, female or male, gay or straight.'
What changed me for good was realizing that I was always looking for the solution from with out and not with in me.
I was always seeking peace yet I had no peace in me.
But now that I have awakened, I can seek the peace I crave and attain it by teaching our society, by bringing about change in attitude and most of all by reaching out to other Ethiopians living what I lived through..
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