Lawmakers in Ghana are seeking to make it a crime to identify as LGBTQ or advocate for their rights. Laws in the West African country already criminalize gay sex by forbidding “unnatural carnal knowledge”. But the country now wants to do more in what would be its first major step in criminalizing sexual minorities and their supporters. People of the same sex who engage in sexual activity could be fined or jailed for between three to five years if the bill is passed.
The bill, entitled “The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021”, was submitted to Ghana’s parliament in June. It is seeking to make it a crime to be LGBTQ. Any individual who identifies as lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, queer, pansexual or non-binary could be jailed for five years. Those who support the rights of LGBTQ people also face jail sentences of between five and ten years.
The bill would also make way for conversion therapy, which attempts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of people. This is in spite of warnings by health experts that the practice is “unethical” and “potentially harmful.” What’s more, “media companies, online platforms and accounts which publish information which could be deemed to encourage children to explore any gender or sex outside of the binary categories of male and female could face 10 years in prison,” according to the Guardian.
Scores of lawmakers including Ghana’s parliamentary speaker, Alban Bagbin, have thrown their weight behind the proposed law. Sam Nartey George, an MP who led a group of lawmakers who drafted the bill, has described gay rights as a “perversion”.
“Homosexuality is not a human right. It is a sexual preference,” he said on Twitter. “We shall pass this bill through.”
But some Ghanaians and foreign diplomats have expressed concern over the bill and are calling for its review before it gets put to a parliamentary vote. And though there may be some amendments before it is passed, it has sparked outrage and growing fear among activists. “This is something that we cannot have because we have Ghanaians that deserve to live safely and at peace at home and not forced into exile,” Nana Yaa Agyepong, a member of a transnational queer feminist group known as Silent Majority Ghana, told DW.
Activists facing jail sentences also “squashes conversations and dissents around the bill so people would not be able to do public education or media appearances or even on social media,” she said.
In Ghana, though no one has been prosecuted for same-sex relations in years, human rights activists say LGBT+ people are discriminated against, and often face death threats and abuse. In May, 21 people were arrested for attending an LGBTQ event in the southeastern city of Ho. A court in the Ho district ordered the accused, who were charged with “unlawful assembly”, to be remanded in police custody. They were released on bail last month. Following their arrest, an online campaign with the hashtag #ReleaseThe21 went viral on social media.
Earlier in February, a community center for LGBTQ+ people in the West African country was shut down by security forces just three weeks after opening. Religious leaders, politicians and anti-gay organizations had called on the government to close the center, which was operated by local charity LGBT+ Rights Ghana. Ghana’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said same-sex marriage will not be legalized under his presidency.
Actor Idris Elba and model Naomi Campbell recently joined some 65 other British celebrities, designers and politicians, mostly of Ghanaian heritage, in signing an open letter in support of gay rights in Ghana. The 67 signatories of the open letter published on social media said they were worried about the developments in Ghana and called on the country’s president and other political leaders to provide protection to the LGBTQ+ community.
Although some African countries are slowly accepting same-sex marriages, many are still very categorical in their denunciation of the idea. Some have even made it a capital offense punishable by death – Mauritania, Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria.