I was out at dinner in Tamale the other night, and I was surprised to see our server wearing a shirt printed with the slogan "Love = Love".
I wondered if he knew what it meant. Most t-shirts purchased in Ghana (and much of Africa) are second-hand, and originate in the U.S. or Europe. The fact that many people are illiterate-- or unfamiliar with American catch-phrases-- can make for some interesting matches between t-shirts and wearers. A friend of mine once saw a very elderly, very traditional man in Kenya sporting a t-shirt with the phrase, "Fuck me, I'm in a Rock Band".
I decided to ask the server about it. He admitted that he hadn't understood it when he bought it, but he continued to wear it because it was a good quality shirt, even though he was embarrassed about the slogan. We assured him it was a good shirt and we supported the slogan.
In Ghana, homosexual acts are a crime, at least between males. (The law is vague about whether this applies to females as well.) There is no legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation, and some politicians have urged people to inform on their neighbors if they suspect they are gay. Those arrested for homosexual acts are often subject to police brutality.
(Ghana's laws have not succeeding in completely stamping out the gay community, at least in the most urban areas. I recently tried to attend Gay Night at a bar in Accra with some friends, but we were turned away at the door for not dressing well enough.)
Today, four American states (Washington, Minnesota, Maine and Maryland) voted to legalize gay marriage. Wisconsin elected America's first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin. I hope that these outcomes will encourage young people in Ghana to think critically about cultural norms, and to be tolerant of people who fall outside of them. Maybe if America can have a gay Senator, a Ghanaian can consider having a gay neighbor, or even a gay friend. I look forward to talking with my Ghanaian friends and colleagues about these election outcomes, and why they matter to me.
(On the downside, although I support decriminalization of marijuana, I'm not looking forward to discussing legalized pot with every wanna-be rasta on Oxford Street...)
I have worked in economic policy and research in Washington, D.C. and Ghana. My husband and I recently moved to Guyana, where I am working for the Ministry of Finance. I like riding motorcycle, outdoor sports, foreign currencies, capybaras, and having opinions.