One trans woman’s fight against a bill that would criminalise Ghana’s LGBT+ community


KUMASI, Ghana (Reuters) – In a dimly-lit room with racks of girls’s clothes, Ghanaian artist and LGBT+ activist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi flipped by means of photograph self-portraits illustrating her transition to womanhood.

Transitioning shouldn’t be unlawful in Ghana, however it’ll develop into so if a new legislation is handed, meant to tighten already strict anti-LGBT+ laws which render same-sex relations unlawful.

Homophobia is pervasive within the West African nation and trans individuals are typically thought-about to be homosexual.

Fiatsi first exhibited the images, dubbed “Rituals of Becoming”, in 2017. Supportive audiences flocked to see the present in Ghanaian galleries.

Her work displays how LGBT+ individuals in Ghana have navigated authorized and social constraints to carve out a area to specific their identities.

But Fiatsi fears that even that restricted area might now be closing with the brand new bill, which if it passes would see her danger prosecution each time she places on a costume.

“To say I’m afraid is an understatement, however I’m what I’m,” stated Fiatsi, who runs an artist residence in Kumasi, Ghana’s second metropolis.

“It seems like ready to be slaughtered,” she stated.

Ghana is one in all greater than 30 African international locations that outlaw same-sex relations. Guilty verdicts carry as much as three-year jail sentences.

A gaggle of lawmakers from Ghana’s opposition launched what they referred to as a “Family Values Bill” in November, which would impose jail phrases of as much as 10 years for advocacy of LGBT+ causes and between three and 5 years for individuals who “maintain out” as lesbian, homosexual, non-binary, transgender and transsexual, or who bear or carry out surgical procedures for gender reassignment.

The bill, which has broad backing amongst lawmakers however has but to be voted on, additionally contains a provision that would power some to bear conversion remedy. Amnesty International stated this might violate Ghana’s anti-torture legal guidelines.

No politician has come out publicly against it. President Nana Akufo-Addo urged civil debate and tolerance when the bill was launched however didn’t take a stance on its content material.

Opponents say its passage would be a main setback for a nation whose popularity as a pleasant and secure democracy attracts vacationers and traders.

Its backers say LGBT+ actions threaten the idea of household which is central to the construction of all Ghana’s ethnic teams. No voting date has been set.

“I name it the ‘Anti-Human’ bill,” stated Fiatsi, who’s a former Christian pastor. “It takes away from our household values of being a tolerant nation, and being hospitable and loving.”


There have been no nationwide opinion polls on the bill. Advocates say LGBT+ individuals are typically topic to bodily abuse and blackmail in Ghana, and those that come out or are outed are steadily ostracised by family and friends.

“There are a few of my siblings and cousins who, for over 5 years, we by no means spoke, despite the fact that I like and miss them a lot,” stated Fiatsi. “Most of them suppose I’m simply a demon.”

So do a lot of her former colleagues. Christian leaders have been among the many most outspoken champions of the bill.

When public hearings started in November, Abraham Ofori-Kuragu, a spokesperson for the influential Pentecostal-Charismatic council, stated he had by no means seen a legislation “so daring in its presentation of the Ghanaian agenda.”

More than 70% of Ghana’s 30 million individuals are Christian, and billboards with the faces of standard preachers adorn most road corners within the capital Accra. Some religion leaders condemn advocacy for LGBT+ rights as a Western imposition.

No longer welcome on the church buildings the place she used to evangelise, Fiatsi channels her evangelism into artwork and activism.

Her studio compound, the place she hosts LGBT-friendly artist residency programmes, is crammed with sculptures carved from tree trunks or formed from previous electronics. Murals and affirmations like “We Are All The Same” line the partitions.

She has a world community of allies however she insists she is going to keep in Ghana out of solidarity with these unable to go away.

Even because the perils of life as a trans girl rise, Fiatsi takes consolation in small acts of humanity.

Shortly after the bill was launched, she travelled for a funeral to her household’s village, her first time again in 20 years.

She stood nervously in her costume and heels. Some individuals exchanged pleasantries, whereas others darted their eyes and quietly sniggered.

Before too lengthy, the awkwardness gave solution to familial heat. A relative patted her again. Another requested how life was going. When somebody made a snide remark, Fiatsi playfully caught her tongue out earlier than persevering with her dialog.

“There are many extra of us that will probably be born, even far after I’m gone,” she stated. “What I do right this moment shouldn’t be for me, and even for these residing right this moment. It’s for the long run era.”

(Reporting by Francis Kokoroko; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Aaron Ross, Alexandra Hudson)

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