By Nellie Peyton
DAKAR, Nov 28 (Openly) - Gay sex may be illegal in Ghana - dancing isn't. So rappers and singers are using music videos to embrace LGBT+ life and fight homophobia in this conservative West African nation.
"Definitely this is the strongest way to create change," said Emmanuel Owusu-Bonsu, part of the rap duo FOKN Bois.
"The main thing the youth consume is music videos."
In one new video, young men dance provocatively in a gay club. In another, a singer wanders through a wonderland populated by scantily clad women and drag queens.
Same-sex relations are illegal in the West African country, and it's too dangerous for celebrities to come out as gay.
Hence the stealth attack on homophobia.
Although the colonial-era law is rarely enforced, activists say it means that violence and abuse against the LGBT+ community are condoned and that attacks often go unreported.
Known for controversial social commentary, the group FOKN Bois was offered $100,000 by an investor this year to tone down its "gay vibe", Owusu-Bonsu said, referring to its pink album cover showing the two artists, bare-chested, sharing a smile.
They refused, instead releasing a music video that addressed the "gay vibe" outright, filmed with members of the LGBT+ community in a gay-friendly nightclub in Ghana's capital Accra.
"We are friends with many people in this community, and we need to show our solidarity," said Owusu-Bonsu by phone.
The song, featuring Nigerian pop star Mr. Eazi, is called "True Friends".
In YouTube comments, some viewers disparaged the group, but others discussed how homosexuality used to be accepted in traditional Ghanaian culture and had only became stigmatised with the arrival of Europeans and Christianity.
"People are having real conversations and it's been more positive than negative," said Bondzie Mensa Ansah, the other member of Fokn Bois.
"I feel like that's the most important thing. Once people start talking about it, some change will happen," he said.
Singers around the world have often been at the vanguard of efforts to smash gay prejudice, from an LGBT+ punk band breaking taboos in Muslim-majority Malaysia to a London rapper tackling homophobia through his lyrics.
PROGRESS AND PUSHBACK
Many West African countries have anti-gay laws on the books and some enforce them more ardently than Ghana, which has not prosecuted anyone in recent years. Ghana is also ahead of the pack in discussing LGBT+ issues, in contrast to countries such as Senegal where the topic remains taboo.
"There is huge progress in promoting inclusion," said Davis Mac-Iyalla, a Ghana-based LGBT+ activist and head of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa.
"Now you can see people that will address LGBT issues and say, 'Listen, LGBT people are human beings and deserve equal rights.'"
The push for greater acceptance has though hit a backlash.
Plans to introduce inclusive sex education in schools were met with outrage earlier this year, and the U.S.-based Christian group World Congress of Families held a conference in Ghana last month to push an anti-LGBT+ agenda.
Most of the anti-LGBT+ rhetoric in Ghana comes from Christian groups who say homosexuality is a sin. There is also a belief that the promotion of homosexuality is part of a Western agenda to spread European and U.S. values in Africa.
LGBT+ people in Ghana face frequent abuse and discrimination, including blackmail, extortion, and violent attacks, according to global rights group Human Rights Watch, which interviewed dozens of victims in 2016 and 2017.
Singers hope music will translate into change on the ground.
R&B singer Amaarae said the normalisation of different sexual and gender expressions on young people's smartphones has already had an impact in real life.
"Androgyny has become a big thing in music videos now, and that's helping to broaden people's perspectives," the 23-year-old said. "You see more people start to become flexible in the way that they present themselves."
After releasing a song called "Fluid" last year, Amaarae released a video last month featuring men in drag.
"What I'm trying to do with my art is just teach respect and understanding," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The response in Ghana? "Surprisingly positive," she said.
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton, editing by Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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