by Leander Milbrecht
What is it like to be a gay man in Ghana – a country where sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years imprisonment? Alex Kofi Donkor (29) is one of the most famous faces of the local queer community. He is head of the organisation LGBT+ Rights Ghana and also chairman of the Facebook page “Ghana Gay Blackmail List” – the queer community here is actively fighting against blackmailers, violence and homophobia for the first time. We spoke with the 29-year-old activist about the situation of the community, about his life and loving and about what needs to change.
You have been head of the organisation LGBT+ Rights Ghana since its founding last year. What are the tasks you have to fulfil in your position?
As a leader you are the first person that others contact when they have problems. I constantly get calls about violent attacks, blackmail attempts and other difficulties. Apart from that it takes a lot of time and energy to get us to the level we want to get to. And it’s a volunteer position for which I don’t receive any salary or allowance and which I do in addition to my paid work.
But do you love doing it?
Absolutely. My love for the community drives me. The fact that despite all the challenges we have to face, we are still able to love ourselves and others, to meet and celebrate together – that is something I admire very much about our community. Add to this the fact that things have to change for the better. We are equal citizens of this country and should enjoy the same rights and privileges as all Ghanaians! That is what drives me to keep on fighting. Because we cannot live in fear, and we cannot be second-class citizens in our own country forever.
You live openly gay, you do educational work and are also active as a model – are you often recognised in the streets? Have you experienced active discrimination or abuse directly?
The reactions are mixed: There are people who are really open-minded – and those who are openly homophobic and mean. But I have not yet experienced any negative reactions from friends and family. I don’t care about what strangers think – and I don’t think I have to.
In early August, you and your partner made your relationship public on social media. What were the reactions?
It wasn’t the first time for me – but he was very concerned about what people would say. It was a bit overwhelming for him, because he received a lot of calls and messages. Before that he had come out to some friends, but not to the whole country.
How was your childhood and youth as a gay boy in Ghana?
I come from a family that holds on to its religious beliefs. It was difficult for me not to confide in anyone regarding my homosexuality. In 2016, I came out, or rather, I was outed. Since then, I have dealt with my sexuality and managed to accept myself as a gay man. This has been a process for me. Today I am happy with myself, my life and the fact that I have come out and I don’t have to apologise to anyone for my sexuality. There is nothing about me that I would like to change.
What is the situation for queer people in Ghana?
Not good – queer people are blackmailed, abused or attacked because of their alleged sexual orientation. In addition, homophobic politicians, leaders or public figures spread their anti-queer views in the media. The situation must change in any case – and we are ready to fight for it. It is up to us as a community to take action against laws that discriminate against us – and in turn to push forward laws that protect us as LGBTIQs. We are full of hope that we will achieve change in the near future.
With such posts, the community warns each other of blackmailers chasing gay men in dating apps.
How has the community developed in recent years?
Our queer community in Ghana is in the process of building up, it is growing steadily. In the past, there was hardly any visibility. Now we finally have pages in social media where we talk openly and frankly about our problems and other things that concern us. We are not ashamed of the things we post there. And the fact that we claim spaces, even virtual ones, like all the other citizens of the country, is a great step forward.
Nevertheless, it is of course an ongoing process that will take time – and financial resources that we do not have yet.
How do you organise yourselves, where do you meet?
Because of the still high level of homophobia in the country, we do not dare to make a clearly visible appearance. We do not yet have a fixed place where we meet.
It is a precautionary measure. If it becomes known that many LGBTs meet at a certain location or place, there is a high probability that people will attack this place. There have been several such attacks against locations known as LGBT meeting places in the past. At some point we hope to have a permanent place where we can meet and learn from each other as a community.
As a movement we are still in the process of organising and building up. It really is a challenge.
Have you ever thought about leaving Ghana?
No. I have travelled to many other countries in the course of my work, I have been to Europe three times – each time I enjoyed coming back. Of course I would be happy if, as a gay man, I didn’t have to look over my shoulder every time I walk down a street in the country where I was born. But I cannot just leave the situation behind and live in another country. Things have to change. Here. I feel responsible. When I travel, I come back to carry on with what we have started. I concentrate only on Ghana – and on what I can offer. So that one day we can reach the point where we can live as equal citizens of this country.
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