I’ve been doing this thing on Twitter called the Ghana Heat Check, where I attempt to come up with clever ways of letting my followers know how warm I am finding the Ghanaian weather. It started out that way, at least. Nowadays, I’m pretty much acclimatized and actually find the temperatures quite pleasant. Perhaps the one area where the heat has not died down, however, is the topic of homosexuality.
Much of the Ghanaian mindset regarding homosexuality comes from the country’s deeply religious roots; roughly 95 per cent of Ghanaians identify as Christian or Muslim, two religions that have historically opposed homosexuality.
“It’s not natural,” says Reverend Dr. Steve Asante, vice-chairman of the Ghana Christian Council. “God created a man to be with a woman, but homosexuality goes against this holy design.”
Alhaji Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Deputy Imam of Kotokoli in the Ashanti Region, echoes his religious counterpart, calling the act of homosexuality “totally haram.”
“These people have lost their humanity,” says Abdul Wahab. “If they change, God can forgive them. It they do not, they will go to the fire.”
Daniel Asare Korang, programs manager at the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC), says his centre recognizes that Ghana is a religious country, but maintains that doesn’t change anything in respect to rights for homosexuals. The HRAC is one of Ghana’s only organizations that has taken a strong stance for homosexual rights.
“How about those who don’t believe in any religion,” says Korang. “Are they also not Ghanaians? People have rights to believe what they believe… we don’t expect everybody to agree with our opinion, but if you express yours, I can also express mine.”
Hillary Afful is a gay Ghanaian. The 26-year-old Accra native says he knew early on that he was gay, and that he accepted the fact because it was how he was created.
“We’ve tried, we’ve done everything we could, but I can’t change,” says Afful, an HIV counselor with the West African AIDS Foundation. “This is who I am.”
Rev. Asante, however, isn’t so sure.
“Nobody is created a homosexual, it is a choice,” he says. “You aren’t born a thief or a murderer. You choose to do those things, and homosexuals choose to engage in homosexuality.”
This, Afful says, is the same mentality that led his family to cast him from the house over a decade ago.
“Only my younger sister partially understands,” says Afful, who now lives with his friend in Jamestown, Accra. “Sometimes she visits and she talks to me. For my mother, I spoke with her the last two months. But my daddy doesn’t even know how I look like. We’ve not met since seventeen years now.”
“I tried to make contact but he said to be a homosexual, it’s evil and it damages the image of the family so he wants nothing to do with me.”
Fear of similar rejection is what has kept Jessica Acheampong, a self-described “reformed homosexual,” from telling her family about her past homosexual activity.
“Thank God my family never found out,” says Acheampong, a coordinator affiliated with the African Businesswomen Network. “I would never tell them. The way my parents are, and how Christian my mother is – I can’t imagine what they would say.”
Acheampong says the level of condemnation towards homosexuality in Ghana is misplaced.
“Those condemning it have no experience with it,” says Acheampong. “Are they also without sin? It’s not worse than any other sin, so why are people saying that gays and lesbians are Satanic? I don’t get why people consider homosexuality to be so much more evil.”
It’s this heavy condemnation that is starting to take its toll on Afful, who says he finds comfort in going to church but is getting tired of the judgment from people he says are supposed to be his brothers and sisters.
“The pastor was preaching against it and people were laughing and saying all kinds of bullshit and I got quite furious,” says the self-professed Anglican. “Even if you say it’s evil, you don’t need to condemn it. Sometimes I ask myself, what are they trying to tell God? Are they trying to challenge God? God created every human being in His own image.”
In this vein, Afful says that despite the discrimination he faces every week, he will continue to attend church.
“I’m there to worship my God, so I don’t look at them, I don’t care about what they do, what they say, and all that. I am just there to worship my God.”
Outside of church, however, Afful says he generally goes to work and then straight home out of concern for his personal safety.
“Even in my community, I can’t walk freely without people insulting me and throwing stones at me,” he says. “Sometimes people even connive with the police and blackmail us… it’s really difficult here. It’s like we are in hell.”
Afful said things got so bad a while ago he even tried to leave Ghana, but was denied a visa at immigration. Applications for asylum also went unheard. Despite this, he said he would not stop fighting.
“I want to see a time when you can be yourself,” said Afful. “Even if I don’t get out of Ghana, I just want to be free.”
Coming from Canada, where homosexuality has currently never enjoyed more acceptance and I have numerous friends who identify as LGBTQ, I was shocked to see how much of an issue it still is in Ghanaian society. The topic dominates headlines and radio programs, with politicians and religious leaders going head to head against human rights advocates in the debate over whether homosexual Ghanaians should have the same rights as their heterosexual peers. Consider that it’s a virtual non-issue in Canada, where gay marriage has been legalized and homosexuality is openly celebrated, and you can see how I’ve experienced culture shock.