'Ghana Pavilion': Winnipeg LGBTQ refugees call for action during Folklorama
The unofficial Ghanian Pavillion is hoping their petition will help change the Ghanaian government's anti-LGBTQ policy.
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Ghana doesn’t have an official pavilion as part of Winnipeg’s Folklorama events, but that didn’t stop a handful of LGBTQ Ghanians from capitalizing on the spotlight shone on Canada’s largest multicultural festival to further their rights back home.
Wearing bright pink shirts with the words “Ghana Pavilion” printed on them, Sulemana Abdulai and five of his fellow countrymen, all asylum-seekers, are using the Folklorama stage—or rather, sidewalks near those stages—to solicit signatures on a petition urging the Ghana government to give LGBTQ minorities equal rights.
“We’ve got a lot of signatures, so we are having support from (Winnipeggers) so far,” Abdulai said Tuesday after two days of protesting.
He recounted his decades of struggle, how he and others in the LGBTQ community lived closeted lives in Ghana for fear of violence or imprisonment.
“They are beating, killing, stabbing LGBTQ,” he said. “If you run to any village, they catch you, the only thing to do is leave the nation… as long as you’re in Ghana, you’ll get killed… (or) police arrest you, and you’ll go to prison.
“Even your family is going to disown you… we need equal rights.”
In 2015, Abdulai, a former business owner, said his shop was burned in Ghana after he was outed. He fled the country, eventually ending up in the United States, where he and others were detained.
“Some of my group (spent) two years in prison,” Abdulai said.
While awaiting deportation, and without “freedom to talk in America,” Abdulai said they had to make a decision.
“(If) we get sent back home, we would get killed, so that is why we run away and come to Winnipeg,” he said, explaining how they crossed the border on foot near Emerson after winter had ended.
While awaiting Immigration and Refugee Board hearings – which immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said are delayed due to a major influx of asylum seekers – Abdulai said he saw Folklorama as an opportunity to raise awareness of their plight while garnering support.
“We get some good treatment here, we feel human rights are working here in Canada, the people know,” he said.
The unofficial Ghana Pavillion is asking Winnipeggers to sign the petition, which aims to repeal Section 104 of its criminal code outlawing same-sex activity. It also asks the federal government to support the cause by putting diplomatic pressure on the Ghanian government.