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A transgender woman’s fight against Ghana’s bill criminalizing the LGBT+ community

IA dimly lit room with racks of women’s clothes, Ghanaian artist and LGBT+ activist Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi flips through self-portraits illustrating her transition to womanhood. Miss.

Conversion is not illegal in Ghanabut it will become so if a new law is passed, aimed at tightening strict anti-LGBT+ regulations making same-sex relationships illegal.

Homophobia is rampant in the West African country and transgender people are often seen as gay.

Fiatsi first exhibited the photographs, Ritual of becomingin 2017. Supportive audiences flocked to see the show in galleries in Ghana.

Fiatsi holds two photos showing her transgender journey

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Fiatsi wears dresses at her home and studio

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Her work reflects how LGBT+ people in Ghana have overcome legal and social constraints to create a space to express their identity.

But Fiatsi is concerned that even that limited space could now end up with a new bill, which, if passed, would put her at risk of prosecution every time she wears a dress.

“To say I am afraid is an understatement, but I am who I am,” said Fiatsi, who runs an artist residence in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. “It feels like waiting to be slaughtered.”

Ghana is one of more than 30 African countries that ban same-sex relationships. The guilty verdicts carry sentences of up to three years in prison.

Artwork seen in Fiatsi .’s studio premises

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Fiatsi visits local beautician, Lydia Kissiwaa, 33 years old, to style her hair

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

A group of lawmakers from Ghana’s opposition introduced the so-called “Family Values ​​Bill” in November, which would impose prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who support causes. LGBT+ and three to five years for those who are “obstinate” who are lesbian, gay, non-binary, transgender and transgender people or those who undergo or perform surgical procedures to sex change.

The bill, which has broad support among lawmakers but has yet to be voted on, also includes a provision that would force some people to undergo conversion therapy. Amnesty International said this could violate Ghana’s anti-torture law.

No politician openly opposes it. President Nana Akufo-Addo called for debate and civil tolerance when the bill was introduced, but did not take a stance on its content.

Opponents say its passage would be a major setback for a country known as a friendly and stable democracy that attracts tourists and investors.

Fiatsi talking on the phone at home with a member of the LGBT+ community

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Fiatsi poses for pictures while reflecting on personal relationships

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Its supporters say LGBT+ activities threaten the concept of family, which is central to the structure of all of Ghana’s ethnic groups. No voting date has been set.

“I call it the ‘Against Humans’ bill,” said Fiatsi, a former Christian pastor. love”.

‘WE ARE ALL THE SAME’

There is no national opinion poll on the bill. Advocates say LGBT+ people are often subjected to physical abuse and blackmail in Ghana, and those who have gone out or are out are often ostracized by friends and family.

“There are some of my brothers and sisters and cousins, for more than five years we never spoke, although I love and miss them very much,” said Fiatsi. “Most of them think I’m just a demon.”

So did many of her former colleagues. Christian leaders are among the bill’s most outspoken supporters. When the public hearings began in November, Abraham Ofori-Kuragu, spokesman for the influential Pentecostal-Charismatic panel, said he had never seen a law “so bold” present the Ghanaian agenda”.

More than 70% of Ghana’s 30 million population is Catholic, and billboards with the faces of famous preachers adorn most street corners in Accra. Some faith leaders condemn advocating for LGBT+ rights as a Western imposition.

Fiatsi standing inside her wardrobe

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

A portrait of Fiatsi hangs on the wall at home

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

No longer welcome at the churches where she preached, Fiatsi turned her evangelism into art and activism.

Her studio, where she hosts LGBT+-friendly artist stays, is filled with sculptures carved from tree trunks or shaped from old electronic devices. Murals and affirmations like “We are all the same” are on the walls.

She has a global network of allies but she insists she will stay in Ghana out of solidarity with those who cannot leave.

Even as the risks in a transgender woman’s life increased, Fiatsi was comfortable with petty human actions. As soon as the bill was introduced, she went to her family’s village funeral, the first time she has returned in 20 years.

Fiatsi and her brother, Prince Fiatsi, 47, greet people as they arrive in their family village for the funeral of one of their grandmothers

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

Fiatsi talking to family members during a return home visit

(Francis Kokoroko / Reuters)

She nervously stood wearing a skirt and high heels. Some people exchanged cheerful sayings, while others stared into their eyes and silently sneered.

Before long, clumsiness gave way to family warmth. A relative patted her on the back. Another asked how life was going. When someone made a cryptic comment, Fiatsi playfully stuck out his tongue before continuing the conversation.

“There are many more of us who will be born, even long after I am gone,” she said. “What I do today is not for me, or even for those who are alive today. It is for future generations”.

Photography by Francis Kokoroko, Reuters

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/photography/ghana-trans-woman-lgbt-b2017221.html A transgender woman’s fight against Ghana’s bill criminalizing the LGBT+ community

Tom Vazquez

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