Report: Socio-Political Situation of LGBT people in Ghana, 2013

Prince Kweku
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Despite there being a significant number of LGBT people in Ghanaian society, Ghana continues to face challenges related to homophobia, hate crimes, and hypocrisy among its citizenry.

High Profile Incidents against LGBT People

In 2013, Ghana witnessed a large number of incidents related to homophobia and the violation of the human rights of LGBT persons. Below are a few key ones that should be highlighted.

In Jamestown, a neighborhood in Accra, there was a case in which LGBT people were beaten. The issue was reported to the Police who however took no action because of political influence. Additionally, there were high incidents of blackmail and extortion by people who claim to be gay but are not, against gay people. Further, there was an increase in homophobic comments in the media mainly by religious leaders and members of the media.

Also in 2013, a group of boys in the neighborhood of Lapaz in Accra violently attacked known gay people in the rented apartments in that neighborhood once they realized these men are gay.

There was the murder of a gay man in Sunyani in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana by an individual who is said to have visited from Kumasi, Ghana. The article embarrassed the family when it appeared in the press and thus they denied their son is gay. This ended the investigation by the police. Another young gay man hung himself in a room in Accra but there was no investigation because he accused his family of abuse and homophobia.

Religious and Political Hate Groups

Worryingly, there have been hate groups springing up on daily basis, led by heads of Christian and traditional religious groups. Other groups include prominent political and social figures who think it is time for the country to formulate a law that clearly states its position on homosexuality which they see as “immoral” and against the traditions and “culture” of the country. These groups have deliberately joined online social groups created by LGBT people to promote their hatred and troll on issues being discussed by the group members. They have also created juicy profiles on some dating sites to lure gay people into their homes to be robbed and sometimes violently beaten or subjected to other abuses. Five people reported such abuses in the year 2013 to the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana [CEPEHRG] office. These hate groups threaten to identify and attack any gay person they come across in Ghana. In the process, one person reported at the CEPEHRG office in Accra and was asked to contact HRAC for support. He has fled from Tamale in the northern region of Ghana to Accra for safety.

The involvement of religious leaders in promoting hate and homophobia within the society as well as in the media recently has also incited people to attack known LGBT people in their homes and meeting places. There are a few people whose sexuality is known within their religious group but these groups pretend not to be aware.  Religious leaders, instead of finding ways of encouraging young people to secure employable skills or even support people with psychological counseling, rather engage in condemnation of people because of their claims that the Bible/Quran says the act is “evil”.

Government Response

One would not expect that the Executive and Legislative branches of the government to play a role in all these happenings. Unfortunately the President, John Dramani Mahama, although knowledgeable on Human Rights issues, in February 2013 in response to attacks on his person saying that he supports homosexuality said, “The President is to execute the laws of Ghana. And the laws of Ghana are very clear on homosexuality. The laws of Ghana appall and criminalize homosexuality; there is no dispute about that. Homosexual conduct which is unnatural carnal knowledge of one person or another is criminal and punishable by the laws of Ghana.”

 

Although he did not speak in support of gay rights, his statement is a sharp contrast from his predecessor, the late President Atta Mills, who made categorical statements that Ghana will never support homosexuality in his lifetime.  Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice in collaboration with other state and non-state agencies have setup a texting system through which most-at-risk populations including LGBT persons can report any violent attack or incidents.

Church leaders and other religious heads have mounted pressure on government to pass a law to criminalize same-sex marriage even though there is an existing law that criminalizes certain same-sex activities.  The President has ignored these pressures and has even appointed human rights lawyer, Nana Oye Lithur, who has publicly advocated for gay rights, as the Minister of Gender, Children, and Social Protection. Her appointment sparked a lot of controversy on the airwaves, the media and other private discussions because of her stance on gay and human rights issues.

Civil Society Response

In addition, civil society organizations including HR organizations and coalitions do not say anything about the state of homophobia in Ghana. The media also perpetuates prejudice against LGBT people.  Some human rights organizations will say LGBT human rights are not Human Rights. Others will tell you their faith or religious beliefs do not permit them to work on the issue nor talk about it. Indeed, in Ghana talking about such issues is tantamount to involvement in the act.

 

Foreign Government and Intergovernmental Bodies’ Response

United Nations organizations are not proactive on matters of LGBT rights issues as they are with others such as those concerning women and children.  The UNAIDS Ghana remains the only agency in Ghana which supports the LGBT community, such as with funds for CEPEHRG to secure an office space through UNFPA. CEPEHRG continues to receive support from the UNAIDS office in a form of materials, technical support, etc.

The majority of Foreign Embassies in Ghana do not openly support any LGBT activities due to the fear of been victimized by society and those that support LGBT activities only provide condoms and lubricants for HIV prevention programs, creating a huge gap in the empowerment of the LGBT community and/or the realization of their Human Rights.  There has however been some appreciable support from the embassies of Germany, USA, and Netherlands to the LGBT community. The European Union has also shown support by involving LGBT organizations in some of their activities such as Human Rights meetings.

Local Environment for LGBT Ghanaians

There are few spaces for LGBT persons in Ghana to socialize and gather and these places have faced some form of discrimination from landlords and their agents once they realize the clients are LGBT people. There have been several blackmail cases and many unlawful evictions, but LGBT people are not ready to report these because of fear of exposure.  Additionally, there have been incidents of discrimination at clinics when LGBT people seek medical services.

In view of the situation in Ghana, this report recommends that:

  1. Human Rights education should be intensified and even included in the curricula of schools. The Information Service Department should prioritize and educate the citizenry on Human Rights.
  2. There should be diversity programs for young Ghanaian to help reduce ethnocentric behaviors among young people, tribes and religious groups.
  3. LGBT issues should be tackled and addressed within a human rights framework and not on emotions and name-calling.
  4. Religious leaders should find alternative ways to engage with the LGBT community and dialogue on areas of cooperation and support.
  5. There should be the establishment of skills building program for LGBT people in Ghana to help improve the life of young people who are part of the LGBT community.
  6. The National Youth Policy in Ghana should be implemented fully to help the youth achieve their aims and aspirations in life.
  7. Human Rights and International Organizations in Ghana should be more vocal about LGBT issues and speak up on behalf of sexual minorities in collaboration with local organizations.

 

Sexual rights will remain a myth if plans are not put in place to encourage diversity and tolerance.  “No one is free until we are all free” – Martin Luther