Being Gay in Ghana

 Posted by Matthew Cutler at 7:29 pm  Ghana
Feb 112013

Yesterday, I went to Boti Falls. it was a 2 hr trip north and east of Accra. It was in the Eastern region thru some very different terrain that I have seen in Ghana; unique because of the lush forests and mountains as well as a new ethnic group of Ghanaians. When I got there and paid my 10 cedis, the site guide took me to the Falls. But when I got there, the Falls were dry. “it isn’t the season,” he said. I laughed and I asked him to walk me around anyway. He said that most westerners get annoyed or angry when they hear that the Falls aren’t flowing except thru the rainy season. I guess that is the American way, we expect things to be working when we get there. If not, we express our displeasure. The African way is to go with the flow (if the was a flow–) and the American way is a sense of order and perspective as well as continuity and justice.

I have run into this internal culture clash between my beliefs and what I experienced on occasion. It was the cause for personal reflection of what is going on here and asking why is it so, rather than outrage. There was no greater sense of that then some conversations about homosexuality. Gays and lesbians are viewed as criminals and social deviants. That is appalling to me– considering how I firmly believe that gays and lesbians deserve equal rites and should be extended every sense of equality that a heterosexual is bestowed. But this is Ghana, they operate with a different core essence.

This issue of homosexuality was retweeted by Nick Kristof on Sunday. It seems that the issue has made the US press. Here is the back story: President John Mahama appointed 2 controversial candidates to his ministries– both women and both outspoken on the issue of homosexuality. The first was a woman who was nominated for the office of women and children’s services. She said that gay individuals deserve services because they are human beings. The other is the head of the ministry of justice, a woman who has fought in courts to overturn the laws making homosexual acts a crime. The issue played out in America. It made the NYTimes. President Mahama is being accused of advocating Homosexuality. His political opposition charges him as being pro-gay because of his contacts with a certain Andrew Solomon, a political fundraiser who is gay. Mr. Solomon hosted the then Vice President Mahama over the summer when Mr. mahama’s book came out– excellent book, I read a copy thanks to the Moshbachers! President Mahama has distanced himself from Andrew Solomon and Mr. Solomon wrote a piece about this in the NY Times.

To understand this issue from a Ghanaian is not a justification I offer just an observation. Forget the concept of separation of church and state. This is a highly religious country with a strong Evangelical Christian bend. The Ghanaians are very literal and what they see is what they expect– remember my butterfly posting? They interpret the Bible literally and their constitution as well– as the new minister of justice said, if Ghana wants to address the rights of gay Ghanaians, it must be thru the courts since the constitution is silent on the issue. The standing logic is that since it is not mentioned, it must be forbidden. Hmmm, I don’t agree with that logic– especially as a liberal American and a Reform Jew!

My disapproval represents my American Jewish perspectives. But I am cautious not to assert too strongly these opinions because it is not my country. There is a difference between sharing my perspective willingly and judging the other side. We liberal Americans can do the latter so easily here– think of the tour guide’s attitude about Boti Falls.

America and most of western countries are very progressive in their attitudes on this issue. But remember how we got here– debate, campaigns, court decisions. And all over years and years of discourse; we are still not at a point whe Gays and Lesbians are given equal rites and they are still not at a point where they face discrimination. Pastor Manu sees the issue thru a religios lens as most Ghanaians. It is not a scene Asa human rites issue here.. Well, at least not yet. Even in America, there are those who shutter at such a concept. I think back to 2008 and Preisnt Obama’s election. Tha same election brought the issue of same sex marriages in California to the forefront because of an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriages. The African American religious community vote for the amendment in a large percentage– giving Comedian/poltical commentator Jon Stewart the ability to chastise by saying to the Black community “Free at last, free at last.. Except for you” and then inserting a picture of Star Trek actor and gay advocate George Takei.

So let’s not judge Ghana too harshly yet. Let’s encourage President Mahama who appears to be a social reformer. The issue is now raised because i believe Mahama is taking baby steps and maybe he is doing so a bit too discreetly here. But culture change is hard, harder when they are rooted in religious values. Let’s applaud the efforts to educate about non discrimenation — such as the thru te campaign on domestic violence and HIV testing and not alienating those who are HIV positive. Let’s encourage people to see this as a human rights issue. And we should live up to this standard ourselves, then we can hold it up to Ghanaians.

Being gay in Ghana is not the crime. Society says the act is. It is a clear cut issue here for Ghanaians. Thus we who a liberal and who want to see this issue change here should start not thru confrontation but thru education and supporting small steps that moves a culture in a new direction.


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