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Fed up with both day after day of nasty newspaper headlines and one civil society leader after another abandoning them, last Friday Accra's gay community came out, one-by-one, at a major 'straight' forum.
Ghanian blogger Graham Knight described the collective coming out as "remarkable".
The forum was the 'Talk Parti', a monthly space for Accra's "dopest artists and media creatives". It "provides a space for young people to create innovative projects, exchange ideas about global art and politics."
"The event last week showed the [voguing] film Paris is Burning and they had invited [gay leader] Prince MacDarling and his crew," says Knight, "some of whom represented his Coalition Against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG). One by one, these guys stood up and announced they were gay (or gay but with girlfriend)."In a Facebook comment, Independent Filmmaker Akua Ofosuhene said:
"It was great to see such a self confident, articulate, sharin and stylish Accra Gay community. The discussions were great and testimony to all that is great in Ghana."Knight said that in the discussion gay people said that all the recent negative press had actually highlighted the issue to isolated MSM's (Men who have Sex with Men) and "showed they were not alone". As a result: "They didn't seem to have any strong views on the negative publicity."
The attacks on LGBT in the media began after a false but widely repeated report in May claiming that '8000 homosexuals had been registered' at an NGO.
The origins of the 'registered homosexuals' story are a humble USAID workshop, wrote Graham Knight in June:
"The workshop was attended by about 30 health workers. One of the doctors present made a wild guess that there were 8000 MSMs [men who have sex with men] in the combined Western and Eastern regions. It seems that this unsubstantiated opinion has been leapt upon by the media whilst refusing to give the background to the claim. It has led the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare to publicly state that no NGO is registering homosexuals in Ghana."This then led to a internationally reported call by the Western Regional Minister in Ghana, Paul Evans Aidoo, to arrest gays and then a steady stream of stories in Ghanaian media on homosexuality. Nana Ama Bonsu, writing for In Depth Africa:
"The real story is of a rather low-key workshop that has been sensationalised by the press, possibly with the collusion of a local doctor. The press reports are designed to create fear as are the unrepresentative group of Muslims claiming an imminent Sodom and Gomorrah for Africa."
"The issue of homosexuality has dominated the Ghanaian airwaves and print media for quite a while, which is unusual in a country where our attention span on issues is about the same as a butterfly, fluttering from one flower to another."Said CAHG:
"Reports are flying virtually every day on front pages of newspapers, promoting fear and hatred against homosexuality."And much of Ghana's well developed civil society fled because, wrote Abdul Musah Sidibe:
"Anyone who attempts to speak out against the apparent human rights violation and the seeming unconstitutional rallying cry is labelled a homosexual. And in a very homophobic society, that is enough to silent critics and continue the rage."The Ghanian AIDS Commission (GAC), the independent human rights commission and the local branch of Amnesty have all publicly abandoned LGBT people.
Laureta Vivian Lamptey, Ghana’s new Commissioner at the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), an independent body advising the government, disastrously explained to a radio interviewer why - unlike her predecessor - she wouldn't take up LGBT human rights because homosexuality is viewed as unAfrican in Ghana and “we (CHRAJ) should be wherever our country should be.”
"I don’t think we have to simply copy the Western world on everything," she said, "because someone can say this is where you should be in terms of rights of individuals."This followed an earlier statement that she made which was “misquoted”, she said, calling for decriminalization of homosexuality.
Her predecessor, Anna Bossman, said that gays and lesbians should not be condemned based on societal attitudes and that the Ghana constitution provides for freedom from discrimination.
Another - perhaps even more shocking - civil society abandonment of LGBT is the local branch of Amnesty International, whose Director, Laurence Amesu, told the Toronto Star Amnesty Ghana would "not take a position on the 'unnatural carnal knowledge' law" and whose website has not carried a statement on the arrest call put out by Amnesty's International Office.
CAHG say they are "deeply concerned" about a statement by Dr. Angela El-Adas, Director General of GAC, issued “in reaction to reports of gay activities”.
“It is important that all hands are on deck to reduce the number of young people who are lured into MSM,” El-Adas said. She called on “all religious leaders, traditional authorities, educationist, parents and NGOs working with young people to get involved in educating males on the dangers of being involved in sex with other men”.This was followed by a press conference by a member of the Ghana AIDS Commission (GAC) who is also a member of the Christian Council of Ghana to condemn homosexuals. Those in attendance called for everyone to fight against homosexual individuals and groups, plus "defeat any member of parliament supportive of homosexuals and homosexuality in the next election".
CAHG say that the failure of civil society leaders to defend LGBT "set the stage for the present homophobic attacks against gay and lesbian people who are just trying to live their lives on a daily basis like anyone else."
In particular they condemn the repetition of the widely belived myth in Africa (which originates with the activities of American Christian evangelists) of gay people 'luring' young people into homosexual behavior.
This myth was repeated by Uganda in their submission [PDF] to the forthcoming United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review. They write that:
"There is information of covert recruitment, of especially our children and youth, into such practices which we consider to be detrimental to the moral fabric of our society."Says CAHG:
"We feel the statement issued by the Ghana Aids Commission, has been inflammatory and seriously misunderstood by the general public as giving license to gay-bashing and other forms of discrimination against members of the LGBT community. We call on the GAC to clearly state how its position has evolved on homosexuality in Ghana to give the public and the LGBT community a clear idea on their position."
"The GAC’s job is to work in all areas of HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support; not to derogate or single out any particular population for further stigmatization and discrimination."
"Since over 90% of people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in Ghana to date are heterosexual, it seems particularly inappropriate to be calling on Ghanaian leaders to single out men having sex with men as culprits to be arrested or incarcerated in the midst of this serious epidemic."Both the HIV/Aids and the human rights commission bodies receive substantial funding from foreign donors.
The mass coming out and reported reaction by closeted MSM to increased media visibility marks a significant change from what was being said only in August.
Then, MacDarling Cobbina from Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights (CEPEHRG), said:
“It has brought about a lot of fear and stigma for the people. It is difficult to organize [HIV/Aids prevention] programmes. It is very difficult for people to walk freely on the street… The call for arrest has really pushed people down.”Cobbinah said that numbers had dropped at a regular HIV peer education programme that once had more than 20 people attending; "two weeks ago only half the people came, and last week no one came", he told IRIN on 27 July.
“They said, ‘If we come, we might be arrested'."Last Friday's events suggests that for some Ghanian gays at least that fear has now passed.