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This article was published 6/8/2017 (1374 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
You won't find the LGBTQ "Ghana Pavilion" at a school gym or church hall. It's not a place but a group of Ghanaian men wearing pink T-shirts that say Ghana Pavilion on the front with a call for "LGBTQ rights now!" on the back. Rather than performing a cultural dance at Folklorama, which started Sunday, they're circulating a petition outside various pavilions to put pressure on Ghana to decriminalize homosexuality.
"We need help from the Canadian government," said Sulemana Abdulai, a bisexual man who fled persecution in Ghana.
"It's very bad," said Abdulai, 42, who tried to hide his sexual orientation for decades. "When somebody finds out, that's when problems started," said the man who wants Canada to give him protection and pressure Ghana's government to strike down its homophobic laws and respect LGBTQ rights. "They burned my shop," said the former fashion designer who had to leave Ghana in 2015 because he was outed and under attack. He took off to South America where he began a months-long trek toward freedom in the U.S.
Ghana's treatment of LGBTQ men is so bad that Saalu Taahiru Osman has the scars to prove it. In August 2014, he was leaving a club in the capital Accra when he was jumped.
"These guys thought I was dating their brother." One of the attackers had a knife and hacked at Osman, who was beaten, bloodied and left for dead. He was taken to hospital and treated but couldn't report the attack to police because of his sexual orientation. In Ghana, gay sex is a crime and he would not be treated as a victim. He got a Mexican visa with a plan to seek refuge in the U.S.
Neither Abdulai nor Osman — nor the six other members of the so-called Ghana Pavilion — were granted asylum by the U.S. Far from being a land of freedom where they could be themselves, as soon as they arrived they were handcuffed, shackled and put in detention jails for more than half a year. Without money for a lawyer or resources to make phone calls and obtain documents, they all appeared before judges and all were rejected and released to await their removal from the U.S. The threat of being sent back to Ghana, where in 2015 homophobes had tried to burn him out, terrified Abdulai. "I would be dead," he said.
Abdulai and each of the LGBTQ Ghanaians headed north to make the well-worn crossing on foot to Canada near Emerson, Man. After reading about what happened to fellow countryman Seidu Mohammed, who lost his fingers to frostbite last winter, Abdulai said many Ghanaians decided to wait until the weather warmed up.
"I saw what happened to Seidu in the news," he said. Seidu Mohammed, who is also bisexual, was granted refugee protection and applied to become a permanent resident of Canada. Mohammed was invited to join the Ghana Pavilion for the opening of Folklorama but the group wasn't sure if he could attend. They planned to start outside the Caribbean Pavilion at the Centre Culturel Franco-Manitobain and move to other pavilions throughout the two-week multicultural celebration to collect signatures, said their spokesman, Abdulai.
The asylum seekers from Ghana arrived at various times in recent months and are waiting to get temporary work permits and for their Immigration and Refugee Board hearings. They've reached out to the Rainbow Resource Centre and signed up to volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest, said Abdulai. While waiting for hearings, which have been postponed indefinitely because of a major influx of asylum seekers this spring that resulted in a backlog of applications, the Ghanaians had little to do until Abdulai found out about Folklorama online.
They decided that during the Winnipeg festival, they could raise awareness about Ghana's persecution of its LGBTQ citizens with laws that have driven many to seek asylum in Canada and the U.S. The refugee claimants could ask the Canadian government to push for their rights in Ghana with a petition they'd circulate during Folklorama.
"That is where I think we can get a lot of people," said Abdulai.
He said he respects that Folklorama doesn't allow politics into its cultural events so he and the other activists wearing the pink shirts designed by him will stick to public sidewalks outside pavilions. All of the Ghanaian men said they'd rather be back in their home country if it was safe to be LGBTQ there.
"We love our country," said Faisal Mohammed.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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