This month, an impending threat to criminalize advocacy in West Africa finds lawful traction. Currently, legislators in Ghana are pursuing a bill that would not only contribute to an already prevalent pattern of discrimination but one that would make advocating for sexual minorities punishable by law. While the storied history of systematic persecution in the country has been justified by national religious institutions, the Ghanian Parliament is effectively moving to gag the mouths of sexual diversity and anyone who stands in solidarity.
A PROMISE OF PREJUDICE
A proposed law, The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill entered Parliament this month and is scheduled for debate in October. The legislation would reimagine centuries of informal bigotry into a defined matter of legality — one that would invest generations of hate into an already hurting community of LGBTQ individuals in the region. The legislation itself includes specificity for offenses, including up to five years of imprisonment for identifying as LGTBQ and up to 10 years for active advocacy work. This is not only a death sentence for human rights in the country but a casting call for the criminalization of sexuality globally.
In addition to a resume of legal harassment, sentences for those LGBTQ inmates who opt to receive “treatment” — better known as conversion therapy — will be “rewarded” with reduced sentences. This practice, however, does not work and in many cases leads to irreversible damage, including mental health disparities, homelessness, and suicide. Yet, this form of abrasive medical/religious counseling has not been formally spurned by world leaders and is unlawful in only four countries. An entire federal government endorsing conversation therapy will send a deliberate message to the world, which is that homophobia is very much here to stay.
GHANA’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HUMAN RIGHTS
Since 1992, Ghana has maintained a democratic-constitutionally bound system of government, one that depends on the people to directly choose leadership and influence policy. Demographically, however, the nation leans heavily socially conservative as a result of 71% of Ghanaians identifying as Christian. This religious affiliation widely sways the actions of the federal government, for example, last year Christian protestors shut down an LGBTQ conference with vast support from lawmakers.
The nation currently sits at a point of potential economic development that may present room for decided human rights wins. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo was elected on the premise that legal homosexuality would never be a part of his agenda, and his success depends greatly on diverse immigration. Ghana has long had an interest in settling Black Americans in the country as part of their “Year of Return” campaign that began in 2019. President Akufo-Addo and national leadership offer incentives for settling in Ghana, including promises of citizenship and tourism investments. The challenge Ghana may face in this pursuit is its aversion to human rights legislation. More Americans than ever support the rights of the LGBTQ community, with over 75% of the country approving the highest level of anti-discrimination legislation domestically. If Ghanian leadership intends to create an attractive and inclusive environment for immigration, then this proposed bill should be reconsidered. Most recently, President Akufo-Addo has expressed his hesitation toward the bill, as a result of his drive for migration.
WHAT THE WORLD CAN DO
In cases of national human rights violations, there are clear paths of influence world leaders can take. The first being the release of statements in direct opposition to the legislation at hand. The UN has already made their dissent clear on the issue with a recent statement calling for President Akufo-Addo to veto the bill. Other world powers, specifically those who typically spearhead human rights internationally, need to relay a similar message and oppose the actions of the parliament. The US, under President Joe Biden’s leadership, has specifically voiced its intention to advise international authorities to push human rights. This commitment should be hold to a high standard of follow-through, especially in the case of Ghana.
The Ghanaian queer community, and queer people around the world, deserve a voice and an international commitment to human rights.
The second path is in the hands of the non-profit community. There are several high-capacity campaigns and activists currently highlighting the inequalities of these sexual minorities in Africa. LGBT+ Rights Ghana is a non-profit founded with the mission to champion freedom for these vulnerable people. The organization channels donations to propel messaging on the continent that humanizes the gay community and starts impactful conversations on diversity and equality. Their largest campaigns and protests are in opposition to legislation, including this Family Values Bill. These brave agents of change risk their lives for the mission of equality and deserve affirmation from advocates everywhere. This past year, a community center in the capital city of Accra, which focused on the well-being and gathering of LBGT+ individuals, was shut down soon after opening as a result of death threats to staff, government disapproval, and widespread protests. These leaders of social progress are being shunned and pushed to the borders of society. International vocal and fiscal support are needed to reinvigorate changemakers and reinvest in resources for these groups. Advocacy works, and affirming the actions of those willing to put their beliefs to tangible practice is imperative to moving the country forward.
The last course of action lies in our hands. Like-minded people across the world can move mountains when uniting under a common thread. As a gay man in the US, I write this piece from a perspective of clear privilege. While the US has a contested history with LGBTQ freedoms, there is no comparison to be made to the developing situation in Ghana. The US has seen observable gains in freedoms for the gay community in the last decade, from accomplishing the right to lawfully marry to continued federal pushes for anti-discrimination legislation. Ghana, while developing and growing in other facets including economically and diplomatically, has not enacted this same progressive trend.
It is time for a coordinated social movement, indicating organized disapproval of the actions of the Ghanaian Parliament. Social media campaigns and peaceful protests have impacted global leadership historically and the time has never been more primed to be loud about inequality, even across the ocean.
THE TIME FOR CHANGE
As human rights become a distinct political trend across the world, Ghana intensifies its desire to shut out certain demographics of its population. Communities of inclusivity can not let Ghana and other nations introducing lawful discrimination fall behind on progress. Currently, homosexuality is legal in less than half of the African continent. Nonetheless, there is promise in the region, with five African nations legalizing the identity of queer people in the last decade.
There is room for conversations on a path forward, but inaction by the global community will allow thousands of marginalized people to suffer. The Ghanaian queer community, and queer people around the world, deserve a voice and an international commitment to human rights.
Nick Fulton is a Communications Fellow at The Global Situation Room. Nick holds a BA in Political Science from Muskingum University and has previously served in communications roles at local, state, and federal levels.