Pride month is observed every June in order to honor the Stonewall Riots which many people claim to be the catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States. This year’s Pride month celebrated the 50th anniversary of Stonewall which took place June 28 to July 1, 1969. The Stonewall Inn was filled with many Queer and transgender people of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Riviera who were at the forefront of the fight for gay rights that people in Ghana strive to attain today. Being able to celebrate Pride month in a country where being openly gay could lead to many social repercussions has inspired me to look further into the social norms that continue to oppress queer individuals in Ghana.
Studying abroad in Ghana as a member of the queer community has allowed me experience first-hand the discrimination that queer individuals face both in the workplace and regarding family dynamics. Hearing about cases where people are fired from their jobs due to their sexuality as well as situations where family members kick out their queer relatives has been a daily occurrence in Ghana. However, being here has also put me in contact with members of the vibrant and supportive LGBT community who act as each other’s chosen family when their traditional families are unaware or not accepting of their sexuality.
These actions have become part of the social norm in Ghana which pressures queer individuals to cover their identities. Kenji Yoshino explains this phenomenon of covering one’s identity to better assimilate the norm by stating that “the courts will not protect mutable traits, because individuals can alter them to fade into the mainstream, thereby escaping discrimination” (Yoshino). Covering ones sexuality in Ghana influences some gay men to marry a woman in order to appease their family or to improve their chances of being hired for a job.
Since being in Ghana, I have been put in contact with MICDAK Charity Foundation which is a non-profit organization based in Kumasi that offers public health outreach programs for men who have sex with men (MSMs) and both educate and provide resources to prevent the transmission of HIV within this community. MICDAK also puts individuals who have been targets of hate crime and workplace discrimination in contact with human rights organizations in order to better represent them in court.
Through my work at MICDAK, I was able to interact with inspiring individuals like my friend Panix has been fighting for LGBT rights in Ghana for almost 10 years now. Learning about the struggles and violence he has overcome while advocating for gay rights all while refusing to seek asylum in a more accepting country has made be respect and appreciate his work even more. Many queer individuals who experience violence in their home country seek asylum to more accepting countries in order to live as their true selves. To learn more about the discrimination that influences members of the queer community to seek asylum, click here.
In order to attempt to understand the social factors that influence the discrimination of queer people in Ghana one must analyze the religious context of this country. Most Ghanaians take religion very seriously and some can even be seen preaching on the side of intersections in attempts to spread the word of their religious leaders. Religion has been a major point of conversation when discussing LGBT issues as many people use it as a justification for discriminating this community. It is also fascinating to see how some members of the queer community continue to worship and follow religions that disapprove of their sexuality. However, it is important to understand that religion is a very personal matter and is up to the interpretation of the individual and is not the ultimate cause of anti-LGBT sentiments.
As we prepare to return to the United States in the upcoming week, I am filled with mixed emotions. On one hand I am happy to be returning to a place where I feel less pressure to cover and conceal my identity as a cisgender Hispanic gay man. On the other, I am left with feelings of guilt that those who I have made life-long connections with will stay in a country where most people do not understand or respect them. I hope to continue to advocate for gay rights in Ghana by helping facilitate upcoming outreach programs while I am still in Ghana and by keeping in contact with members of MICDAK when in the states.
“Ghana: Discrimination, Violence against LGBT People.” Human Rights Watch, 8 Jan. 2018, www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/08/ghana-discrimination-violence-against-lgbt-people.
Grinberg, Emanuella. “How the Stonewall Riots Inspired Today’s Pride Celebrations.” CNN, Cable News Network, 28 June 2019, edition.cnn.com/2019/06/28/us/1969-stonewall-riots-history/index.html.
Yoshino, Kenji. “The Pressure to Cover.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2006, www.nytimes.com/2006/01/15/magazine/the-pressure-to-cover.html.