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Ghana’s Secret Society

HOMOSEXUALITY IS ILLEGAL IN GHANA. A leading international travel guide states that “a gay scene in Ghana does not exist.” And yet gay men and lesbians are becoming increasingly visible in the capital, Accra. David McGillivray travelled there to find out how this is possible

At the Shisha Lounge, an upmarket dance club that plays thumping Europop for its cosmopolitan clientele, I’m told by my new friends that I must check out the action in the toilets. On the dance floor I’m approached by a man with a beaming smile. “Hi! I’m Kevin from Surinam!” he says. “Can I buy you a beer?” I could be in a gay bar anywhere in the West. But what makes the evening worthy of note is that the Shisha Lounge is in the capital of Ghana, where homosexuality is illegal and, according to the Spartacus International Gay Guide, “a gay scene does not exist.” Perhaps even more remarkably, the Shisha Lounge is not the only bar of its type in Accra. Over two evenings I visit five of them.

In and around Accra it’s almost impossible for a gay man not to be aware of a vibrant gay scene. But put gay rights, Pride parades and homo culture out of your heads. Ghana’s gay scene is that of the West prior to decriminalisation. Homosexuality is endemic in Ghanaian society, but it’s rarely discussed. A sizeable proportion of husbands and fathers lead secret gay lives. The underground circuit of bars is known only to the gay community. It’s a shock to step back in time; but as many men who knew the British gay scene when homosexuality was illegal will affirm, it’s also rather exciting.

Ghana’s gay society is secret because of a single piece of British legislation which, just over 150 years ago, changed the lives not only of Ghanaians but millions of gay men throughout the world. Its knock-on effects are apparent in the headlines about discrimination and abuse that we read to this day. The ancient legislation was brief. Section 61 (“Sodomy and Bestiality”) of the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861 stated that “Whosoever shall be convicted of the abominable crime of buggery, committed either with mankind or with any animal, shall be liable to be kept in penal servitude for life.”

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