Gay for pay
by Mark S. Luckie
The female prostitutes stood outside of the "VIP" door of Chester's nightclub in Accra with their arms folded. The aqua blue light coming from inside revealed the agitated look on their faces.
David, an immigrant from Liberia, knew VIP was code for "gay only" and sauntered into the club, much to the chagrin of the high-heeled women outside. Dressed in a close-fitting leopard shirt and jeans and doused in a scent reminiscent of fresh-baked cookies, he danced wildly to a midtempo R&B song.
Within minutes, David made eye contact with most of the men in the club and decided who his next customer would be.
Ghanaians are known for their enterprising spirit and using their resources to sustain themselves financially. For some men that means selling the only resource they have—their bodies.
At clubs like Chester's and places like Labadi Beach, male prostitutes discreetly offer their services to willing gay customers. They perform various sexual services for a price though they may not be gay themselves.
Most charge about 200,000 cedi or roughly 20 bucks for oral sex and more for anal or unprotected sex.
"They can be very romantic and passionate and a lot of fun. But this is a job for them. A job that some are very good at, and others are not so much into anything except the paycheck," said Steve, a frequent visitor who brings much medical supplies to the area.
David, whose mother had long since passed and whose father died two months ago, uses the money he makes to support himself and his education.
"Since my father died I had to get away," he said. "I came to Ghana to get a fresh start and to find real friends."
Most Ghanaians are unaware that gay prostitution exists in the country, according to several gay community leaders. Homosexuality is considered "un-African" or a "White man's practice" that was brought to Ghana by white men or by Ghanaians who lived outside the country and introduced it to Ghana upon their return.
Most gay men and women adamantly refute that theory.
"Many of my gay friends I have chatted to discovered they had feelings for other men long before they ever set eyes on a white man or read about it," said K. Mensah, a Ghanaian columnist who uses a nom de plume to hide his identity.
"If there is anything that could be attributed to the influence of the white man, then it is the fact that gays and lesbians don't want to stay in their closet," Mensah said. "This time they want to come public and be recognized as legitimate members of the society."
The majority of male partners and customers of Ghanaian gay men are either Ghanaian or black, according to a study of gay men in Ghana authored by researcher Dela Attipoe. Foreigners make up about 37 percent of cases, the majority of whom are white.
The study was commissioned by the West Africa Project to Combat AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in 2004 to determine better ways of curbing sexually transmitted diseases among gay men in around Ghana.
"(Male homosexuality) can therefore not be said to be alien to Ghana and perpetrated by foreigners or Caucasians on Ghanaians," Attipoe wrote.
The sight of elderly white tourists walking the streets of Ghana with young black men in tow, however, helps foster the misconceptions.
Paunchy and sunburned white men frequent tourist spots like Labadi Beach and Coco Beach to admire the muscular black men who play soccer on the shore. Some enterprising young men who see lustful visitors as a way to make quick money often approach these men with invitations for sex, sometimes pushing aside their own heterosexuality.
A lifeguard at Labadi Beach, who one minute rescued swimmers from the water's deadly undertow, could be seen the next minute acting as a sort of prostitute waiter, taking orders from white male customers on the beach.
"That's their beach," said local salon owner Joyce Antwi, who often sees prostitutes soliciting customers around her shop.
Ghanaian prostitutes are proud, even as they hide out in corners and in streets, Antwi said. However the majority of sex workers are immigrants from Nigeria, most from the war and crime ridden areas of that country. They usually come with no money and no family to look down on them – drawn by Ghana's good reputation, she said.
Some savvy sex workers have turned to Internet sites like Mygaydar or Faceparty to discreetly advertise their services. Their online profiles differ slightly from those users who are looking for genuine companionship and are distinguishable by their glamorous photos of American porn stars and requests or hints for money and gifts.
"While there are a lot of players, scammers and crooks on Mygaydar and other such sites, I have been of the opinion that these guys are easy to spot," Steve said.
About half of Ghanaian men who have been in homosexual relationships have gay sex "for economic reasons," even though only about one percent regarded themselves as commercial sex workers, according to Attipoe's study.
Caucasians and foreigners from developed countries are the priority customers for men who have sex purely for economic reasons because of the belief they will pay more, and may be the key to "greener pastures," the study said.
Insight into Ghana's gay sex workers also can be gleaned from Weblogs and other Internet sites, where people describe their encounters.An anonymous poster on the online forum Afriboyz boasted corresponding with more than 40 Ghanaian penpals, the majority of who he later discovered were not really gay.
Almost all the men wrote sexually explicit letters, and about half included photos of themselves. After a few letters, the men whom he contacted eventually asked for financial assistance.
"I always write back and say that all I could offer may be some small money to help them with postage," the poster wrote. "Most of them do not reply."
"All the guys say in the first letter already that they love you," wrote another online poster. "In the second or third letter, they asked me for money, which makes me very angry, because I am not a bank. I am not rich and money has nothing to do with friendship! So I stopped the contacts."
Often these messages of love and solicitation originate from one of the many internet cafes in Ghana. In Achimota, an impoverished suburb of Accra, several men gather around computers to chat with or e-mail potential lovers.
Most are only seeking financial support, but some meet with tourists—or local Ghanaians—solely to rob them for their possessions.
Muggers and thieves prey on gay men because they know the police won't do anything about it, and most victims are too ashamed to report it, said Abraham, a gay university student whose name is changed to protect his identity.
Handsome conmen who are familiar with the law that makes homosexuality illegal in Ghana also demand money not to turn in unsuspecting suitors.
"Most people sleep with the wrong person," said Prince MacDonald, whose friend was recently arrested for having sex with a man. "They are blackmailed and told pay me or go to the police."
"Being gay here means being responsible," Abraham said. "You need to have money to defend yourself if something arises."
David managed to avoid arrest or harassment his first few weeks in Accra. The money he makes is enough for a small apartment and two to three meals a day, but not enough to pay his way out of jail should trouble arise.
"I don't have anyone else to turn to so all I'm worried about is today," he said.