Reviews | Ghana’s tragic turn towards anti-LGBT extremism

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Under the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo, Ghana has meticulously exported an image of the country as a safe destination for black people and Ghanaians in the diaspora. For years, the nation known as the Black Star of Africa has been seen as a beacon of tolerance and peace.

But no matter how bright the stars shine, they all fade and eventually die. A horribly repressive anti-gay bill in Ghana is a tragic example of how my father’s homeland is rapidly succumbing to the gravitational pull of fundamentalist hatred of LGBTQ people.

First, a little background. Many African countries still have anti-gay laws on the books from their colonial days. Ghana, a religiously conservative country and a former British colony, has long banned “unnatural carnal relations”. although the law was rarely enforced. In recent years, a few African countries have begun to remove these colonial-era laws. Mozambique did so in 2015, followed by Botswana and Angola in 2019.

This is not the case for Ghana. Local LGBT activists told me things took a dark turn in 2019, after the World Congress of Families, a US-based Christian group, held a conference in Ghana. The group’s goal was to impose tough criminal penalties for LGBTQ behavior because it succeeded doing in Uganda and Nigeria A few years ago. “They said with confidence that they were going to do the same in Ghana,” said Alex Donkor, executive director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an advocacy group, who was present at the conference.

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In 2021, through fundraising and donations collected, LGBT+ Rights Ghana opened a community resource center for LGBTQ people in Accra. “We wanted a safe space, a place where we could support each other,” Donkor told me. When the center opened and word spread, it was raided by law enforcement, after they claimed it was a recruitment center for a gay program. The center was quickly closed.

A few months later, a coalition of religious leaders introduced a bill titled the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values ​​Bill. It is one of the toughest and most extensive anti-LGBTQ legislation I have seen in my career as a human rights journalist.

The the bill promises prison terms and fines for anyone who goes against “human sexual rights”, which includes “sex between or among people of the same sex”, and who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, non-binary, queer, ally “or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”. Those who engage in homosexual relations could spend three to five years in prison. It bans LGBTQ organizations. The bill provides state support for conversion therapy. Cross-dressing and same-sex affection, such as holding hands, can be punishable by a prison sentence of six months to a year.

At present, the bill is still at committee level in parliament and in private deliberations. The bill enjoys bipartisan support among the two major parties. Many churches and other religious institutions also openly support anti-gay measures.

This case affects me. I started my career as a journalist in Ghana almost 15 years ago. I am amazed to see current and former journalists, including some I have worked with, using their platforms to help spread this hatred and misinformation against LGBTQ people in Ghana. Some journalists even went so far as create an organization called Journalists Against LGBT.

They allow charlatans like Samuel George, MP and one of the Bill’s co-sponsors, to get away with lies and ridiculous claims, like the fact that the government pays for anal repair procedures for gay people. The bill poses a serious threat to media freedom and freedom of expression in Ghana, as it also criminalizes any form of advocacy in print, broadcast media or speech on LGBTQ issues – with a penalty of up to go up to 10 years in prison.

So yes, under the new bill, I could go to jail for writing this column.

Ghana was not always like this. But now I fear for my LGBTQ friends out there — and the bill isn’t even in effect yet. A friend told me that she now stays out of sight, avoiding crowded places. She got a car because she doesn’t trust Uber drivers she doesn’t know. Last year, in the city of Ho, 21 people were stopped for completing legal support training for activists. They were imprisoned for three weeks. This week, LGBT+ Rights Ghana installed billboards calling for equality and freedom. Anti-LGBTQ politicians called on the police to shoot them.

What or who motivates Ghanaian politicians to push this agenda forward? They should spend their political energy on things that really matter, like improving roads, building better health care systems, and solving Accra’s annual flooding problem. Ghanaians are suffering from soaring commodity prices, with inflation at its highest highest level in 18 years. Yet politicians focus on oppressing Ghanaian citizens simply because they are themselves.

If Ghana were to pass this law, Africa’s dark star would set an insidious precedent for state-sponsored abuses. Ghana wants members of the diaspora to come back, but the message is clear: only come here if you are straight.

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