Coming Out in Africa

The lead story in a recent issue of the Daily Graphic , Ghana's most influential newspaper, was designed to shock: "Four Gay Men Jailed." Homosexual acts are crimes in Ghana - and across much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Uganda's leader, Yoweri Museveni, is vehemently opposed to homosexuality. So is Zimbabwe's embattled Robert Mugabe. Namibia's President Sam Nujoma complains that the West wants to impose its decadent sexual values on Africa through the guise of gay tolerance.

Indeed, the global movement to fight discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS - which first surfaced as a "gay disease" in the United States - has elicited little sympathy for homosexuals in sub-Saharan Africa. Only in South Africa have gays and lesbians won significant legal protections.

The arrests in Ghana, while typical of African bigotry towards gays, were all the more shocking because gays and lesbians actually thrive in Ghana's capital, Accra. A country of 20 million people, Ghana is unusually tolerant. Whites, Asians, and Middle Easterners mix well. Ghana has never had a civil war - a badge of honor in conflict-prone sub-Saharan Africa - and three years ago staged a peaceful transfer of power from one elected government to another.