Kelly Sans Culotte


AFRICA

Gay in Ghana
From gay-bashings to AIDS.
By Prince


Sentenced to prison for being gay.

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JUNE 24, 2004. Growing up as a gay man in Ghana is really hard. People imagine that gay people are pedophiles and criminals. You are taunted and harassed even as a child. At school, if people think you are gay, no one wants to play with you, or even talk to you unless it is to call you names. Anybody that does befriend you risks being harassed, too, at any age. I had a friend who was recently told that he was evil and would never go to heaven because he talked to me. Pentecostal churches perform exorcisms on people seen as being gay. We're blamed for AIDS. You get the picture.

I was evicted from the first room that I rented because my landlord said no woman visited me and that meant I was gay. On the street once, when I defended myself to a woman who insulted me, I was beaten up by her husband. He wanted to know how I dared answer back, "Who are you, a homosexual, to talk to my wife like that?"

Muggers and thieves prey on gay men because they know the police won't do anything about it, and most victims are too ashamed to report it.

Gay Bashed
It happened to me a couple of years ago. I met this guy on the beach. When we hit it off, I agreed to meet him at the market where he sold shoes. There, several men and women accused me of forcing their friend to have sex. They beat me and took everything I had, while loudly blaming gay people for causing AIDS in Ghana. We were evil people, they said, who made God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. They would not allow this to happen in Ghana. They would beat out of me the evil spirit of homosexuality.

When others at the market asked what was going on, they told them that I was a thief, and they all wanted to beat me, too. I prayed to God to save me. I was sure I was going to die.

Afterwards, I naively went to the police. My attackers told them I made a pass at their friend. The police took their statement, but sent them away when they couldn't show any evidence. Then the officers offered to write my statement for me, but I quickly took the pen and started writing my own because I knew they might try to implicate me in some crime.

When I asked them to do something to get back my money and the other things that had been stolen, they threatened to lock me up. There aren't any laws specifically against homosexuality in Ghana, but it is common for the police to use other laws against us, like one forbidding "unnatural sex."

I let the matter drop, but then I was afraid to leave the police station. My attackers would probably have been waiting for me outside. The police let me leave by a back door. I was too ashamed to tell to anyone for a year that I had been beaten and robbed. I even tried to have "normal" sex, but it didn't work.

Poverty and Violence
Every now and then, in a gay-friendly bar, I see the guy who arranged the bashing. I tried to talk to him, but he's never apologized, even though he is gay, and what he did to me could easily happen to him.

In Ghana, male homosexuality is lumped in with bestiality, and gay activity brings misdemeanor charges at minimum. The police have been known to arrest gay men, rape them, and let them go. Last year in August, four young men were convicted of "indecent exposure" and "unnatural carnal knowledge" and sentenced to two years each in prison.

Gay people in Ghana live in such a state of fear it is a form of violence. We are isolated, harassed, and beaten. Friends commit suicide from despair. Poverty is a big problem because a lot of us have been thrown out of our houses by our families. Many don't have any education past elementary school. Those few gay men who do have good jobs are deep in the closet and won't have anything to do with gay associations, though they still want gay sex.

Almost one third of the population in Ghana is below the poverty line. People come to the capital, Accra, hoping there will be more opportunities. When they don't find work they turn to prostitution. Some gay men become professional sex workers, but most do it to help ends meet.

HIV/AIDS
AIDS is blamed on foreigners, gay men, and the devil. Last year, school children staged a demonstration in the New Juaben Municipality in which they demanded that all tourists visiting the country be forced to get an HIV test. Homosexuality itself is also blamed on foreigners, though most gay Ghanaians, if you can find them, will tell you their first experiences were with local friends, and sometimes relatives.

When the devil is seen as the cause of AIDS, God is seen as the solution. A significant amount of gay men believe they are protected from HIV by a combination of spiritual practices and herbal medicine. Last November, Joseph Amponsah, Chairman of Hope Association of Nkoranza, an association of persons living with HIV/AIDS, went public to beg pastors to quit making HIV/AIDS patients fast for days on end because it was killing some of them.

Though a number of politicians and clergymen publicly blame gay men for AIDS, the only form of transmission the government mentions in official reports is heterosexual sex. There are few, if any, HIV prevention or awareness campaigns targeting the LGBT community, even though a substantial amount of work is directed to heterosexuals.

Because of the silence, a recent study found that while most gay men in Ghana knew HIV was sexually transmitted, many thought the risk was greatest with vaginal sex. As a result, they were more likely to use condoms with women than men, if they used them at all.

Young men are especially at risk. If they have an older partner, they will do anything the adult says. Respect for your elders is an important part of Ghanaian culture. Besides, young men prefer older partners because they think they will get more presents or will be paid more.

Shame
When they do get sick, gay men in Ghana don't go to the hospitals for health care, especially if they might have a sexually transmitted disease. One reason is that hospitals will not treat you unless you come in with your sex partner. Gay men who can't afford a private doctor rely on over the counter drugs, or go to herbalists. Some have died of treatable STD's because they were too embarrassed to see a doctor.

Talking about HIV is almost impossible here. Since we are considered criminals, where can we feel safe getting tested? Even if there were health services specifically for gay men, many say they would be afraid to use them.

To those of us that struggle with self-hate, HIV seems like one more blow. If you tell a sick person to get tested, they get very angry at you and call you names like the devil and Satan. AIDS in Ghana is terrible even before death. Besides despair and illness, it can bring terrible poverty. We lose our incomes when we become ill. Already ostracised by our families, the only people we can rely on are our friends.

You can contact the newly formed Gay and Lesbian Association of Ghana at gaytourghana@yahoo.com or popeducation@zwallet.com.


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