Death threats force a Chicago-based gay tour group to cancel an upcoming trip to Ethiopia.
“One of the emails was you cannot come here you are not even human,” expressed Dan Ware, owner of Toto Tours. “You are less than human. So that, it’s like a blow to the heart.”
Ware said he was devastated he had to cancel his upcoming trip because they accused them of promoting a different lifestyle, “of trying to pervert their youth…this being sex tourism,” after publishing the itinerary online.
“We had descriptions of buried alive, burned alive; I had an ISIS-type video with a guy with a mask on his head, brandishing his sword saying we are going to cut your throat," Ware explained. “It was not something to ignore.”
The Rogers Park-based tour company has been serving the LGBTQ community since 1990 and has traveled around the world, including to countries where homosexual activity is illegal.
Despite its reputation, his well-traveled clients had hoped to experience Ethiopia’s rich history but there were even calls for the government to ban the tour, according to the BBC.
“We weren’t going to raise the gay flag at the holy sites, which is what I think they thought we were going to do,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia said "safety and security of U.S. citizen travelers is of paramount importance."
"We stand ready to be of assistance as needed and as appropriate," Public Affairs Officer Amanda Jacobsen said in a statement. "Our country specific information for Ethiopia notes the challenges American citizen LGBTI travelers to Ethiopia may face, including the fact that consensual same-sex sexual activity between adults is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. There is no law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTI persons. Ethiopians do not generally identify themselves as LGBTI due to severe societal stigma."
Ware decided to cancel the October trip after unreturned correspondence with government officials and recent killings, but says he hopes the situation brings awareness to the greater cause– acceptance around the world.
“Many people have reached out and said, ‘thank you for raising this to consciousness,’ for getting the world talking about the issue of what’s going on,” Ware said.
The group still hopes to travel to Ethiopia one day but under a name that will perhaps draw less attention and Toto Tours said they would refund customers.