Faris Gezahegn: ‘I was forced to flee my country because of my sexuality’

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Faris Cuchi Gezahegn is an LGBT rights activist who lives in Austria after fleeing his home country of Ethiopia. He was brutally beaten like a punching bag because of the work he does for the LGBT community in his home country and also for being queer.

“I was not only commititng a crime of being a queer in Ethiopia but also on top of that I was advocating for the rights and dignity of the queer community.”

Faris started fighting for LGBT rights in Ethiopia in 2013. But things got worse during the 2016 Oromo protests. 

The government declared a state of emergency and shut down the internet. Raids became a regular occurrence during this time.

“The police came in unannounced, arrested some others and I. They took us to the police station. When people saw that the police were also actively attacking us, they joined and after we constantly got a lot of attacks and threats.”

“It became all of a sudden very imminent for us to evacuate.”

Before fleeing Ethiopia Faris suffered a brutal attack.

“I remember being in a taxi, crying hysterically and saying ‘that’s it, I can’t be here any longer.’ I was hit in multiple places, I cracked a bone on my shoulder. I remember crying and saying to my attackers, ‘congratulations you have succeeded in convincing me to leave my own space. A space I called home.”

Faris left Ethiopia for Austria to attend a conference. He decided to seek asylum after, which was granted. 

“I asked the people who were helping me ‘where do I go to ask for asylum?’ and then they said I should go to the police station.”

“When that information hit me, I remembered my relations, my lived experience and the dark memories I have of my hands and body being attacked by the police.”

Faris says he couldn’t sleep when he was told to seek help from an institution that almost cost his life, despite the fact it was a different country altogether. 

“Overnight I couldn’t sleep. I was really worried sick. It was a very triggering and emotional experience to go through.”

Now living in Vienna in Austria Faris says he would tell any younger person discovering or finding themselves to be kind to themselves and to keep presenting the best version of themselves because despite the unfortunate circumstances that took him to Austria, he never let go of who he was.

“Be tender to yourself, who you are is valid. How you are is valid. How you express yourself is valid. How you move through the world is valid.”

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