Dan Pneuman, Columnist
As a queer individual, I was elated and deeply moved to be caught up in a moment in history that will forever change thousands of lives and is a step forward in changing millions more throughout this country and world. I was fortunate to be staying with a friend in Manhattan the weekend of the passing of the Marriage Equality Act by the New York State Legislature, and to be able to celebrate with everyone at the Gay Pride Parade. That whole weekend lower Manhattan was exploding rainbows everywhere! It was an emotional and “gay” time for many, especially as the surprise hero of the Marriage Equality movement here in New York State, Governor Cuomo, marched arm-in-arm with his family, while many in the parade and crowd were holding signs saying “Thank you Governor Cuomo.”
For those who were under a rock during the summer, the NYS Legislature and governor passed the Marriage Equality Act on June 24 with all but one Democrat and four Republican votes for its passage through the Senate in a close 33 to 29 senate vote. A very contentious issue that had failed passage before, it turned progressives against conservatives, and ideology against ideology, both within the legislature and throughout the state. This was the culmination of years of advocacy of gay rights groups building up the issue.
Christian Jones, a senior, related to me in response to the bill’s passing: “Marriage equality means more than can be expressed thoroughly through any combination of words; it is beyond expression. Perhaps the most salient of its implications is that this law takes us one step closer towards widespread acceptance by and integration into a modernized conventional society. It means being able to walk down the street or in a shopping mall holding hands because that form of relationship is now legitimized by this law. The fact that marriage equality has been established in New York State alone plants an enormous seed that will hopefully come to grow and bloom nation-wide.”
At the same time that there is an effort around the nation to pass marriage equality bills, there is also a movement among many in the nation to specifically ban gay marriage in their states, either by law or constitutional amendment. South Carolina, with a GOP lead legislature and the only state in the southeast not to ban gay marriage so far, is facing a vote to do so soon.
A month after the bill’s passing, I was very fortunate to be invited to a close friend’s wedding, it was a beautiful ceremony. Long time partners, this law has truly changed their lives. Their commitment and love for one another is now recognized by the state. They have the ability to visit one another in the hospital and one’s health insurance can cover her spouse when before it could not, even when she had health issues.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to design my own study abroad experience. I interned with the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, a State Agency promoting its namesake throughout the nations of Ghana. My primary roles were in Children’s Rights and Prisoner’s Rights. I would give lectures in primary and secondary classes, sit in on mediations with families that were charged with not allowing their children to attend school (often due to economic situations, sending them to work on the streets or farms) and investigate prisons for human rights abuses.
I also chose to spend much of my time with the LGBTIQ communities in Ghana. The United Kingdom’s colonial legacy left Ghana with a law similar to the anti-sodomy laws of the south. Through the introduction of conservative versions of Christianity and harmful Western mores, it has turned into a society that is unaccepting and occasionally hostile towards Queers (also similar to regions of the US) when before colonialism, it had not been. In a similar way that a few elitist Ugandan parliamentary members are quoting Western religious and political conservatives like Jerry Falwell who preach hatred here in the USA to create anti-gay laws in their country, a few Ghanaian politicians or preachers take up the issue in order to motivate what would be an otherwise apathetic constituency to vote or worship in their favor (distracting from other far more important economic and political issues that developing nations face).
Despite this, the queer community in Ghana is able to survive, and in many cases thrive. But they do so differently than the very individualized gay communities here in the US. “We are, therefore I am” is a catchphrase for the AALANA Program here on campus and I take great pride in this saying. It indicates communitarianism and cooperation, a huge part of the AALANA student’s cultures here on campus. This is also very true for the LGBTIQ community in Ghana. Ghanaians lead very communitarian lives that rely upon incredibly strong bonds interwoven between families, friends and neighborhoods. In a similar way that gender, sexual, ethnic, and racial minorities form multicultural student organizations and fraternities to practice their identities in an accepting environment here on campus, they do the same, but far more strongly, in Ghana. Communities rely upon each other for their very livelihoods, and validation of their ways of life.
I had the great fortune in participating in and being embraced by this community. I was honored to be invited to a spiritual and extralegal lesbian wedding between two strong and beautiful women in Accra. There was a great coming together of the supporting families, friends, and LGBTIQ communities. Everyone contributed funds and time to have a beautiful nighttime ceremony and reception by the ocean. The brides both dressed in traditional Nigerian dress and as the waves crashed onto the beach they committed their love to one another. Many wept tears of joy.
In many ways, this was the realization of gay and lesbian communities represented by two nonprofit organizations: Brother to Brother in Unity and Diversity, and Sister to Sister for Social Justice and Equality. Dr. Kathleen O’Mara, of the Department of Africana and Latino Studies, plays an integral role in collaborating and advising both NGOs by grant writing and visiting Ghana often to assist these organizations. Successfully winning USAID grants, they promote community building, AIDS awareness and safe-sex practices.
Seeing the joining of two lesbian couples, one in the United States and one in Ghana, truly demonstrates the universality of love; it does not matter who is doing the loving or where you are. Just as many in Ghana take their lead from the American hatred-spewing blowhards, so do many take inspiration from the successes in marriage equality. We must all strive to be aware of, and allies to, international queer communities, just as we support movements here in the USA.