Fighting Ghana’s Anti-LGBT+ Hate Bill

The struggle for freedom continues on Ghana’s Independence Day

It has been a very long and arduous journey in the quest for freedom and justice (the motto of Ghana’s republic) for LGBT+ people in the country.

The LGBT+ community has faced various levels of persecution, abuse and discrimination for decades and today, we’re at a crucial moment in Ghana’s history since Ghana’s parliament ‘unanimously’ approved of the draconian Anti-LGBT bill titled “Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Act 2024”.

The bill threatens to jail LGBT persons and allies for up to 5 years for simply identifying as such, mandates every citizen to have the duty to report any person or persons that violates the Bill, takes away access to housing, healthcare, education, jobs, freedom of association and freedom of speech, etc to anyone deemed to be a person who is “involved in the promotion of, propagation of, advocacy for, support or funding of LGBTTQAP+”.

Despite the opposition of the Bill by LGBT activists who have put their lives on the line, allies and CSOs, the proponents of the Bill have forged ahead with blatant lies, propaganda and far-right, bigoted rhetoric to impose their religious ideas and put fear and intimidation on Members of Parliament.

For years’ influential people such as the former speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Prof. Michael Ocquaye and Lawyer Foh-Amoaning have written articles and spoken in public gatherings advocating for the punishment and continued bashing of LGBT people in Ghana. This was so much so that, Mr. Foh-Amoaning started a coalition with the same name as the original title of the bill, “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values” and went on a campaign to promote it through the media and in 2019, they hosted the first anti-LGBT conference in partnership with the World Congress of Families, an American Far-Right Christian extremist group tagged as a HATE group. The WCF was added to the list of organizations designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBTI+ hate groups in February 2014 for its involvement with the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law and opposing LGBTI+ rights internationally. The WCF have been notorious for imposing their fundamentalist ideas of patriarchy, misogyny, Islamophobia, white supremacy and homophobia in the United States of America and other parts of the world.

Come January 2020, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an LGBT advocacy group championing the rights of LGBT persons in Ghana and working to support victims/survivors of physical, social and mental abuse, acquired a space and invited some members of the diplomatic corps to Commission the space. However, upon hearing of the event, The Coalition called for the closure of the LGBT advocacy center but failed to mention how so many other Ghanaians also spoke up about their support for the Center and their disappointment of its closure. The Center, which was the first of its kind was to support the various NGOs and individuals get the much needed help from our education, healthcare and security agencies to curb the constant abuse and discrimination of real and perceived LGBT+ persons against blackmail, stigmatization, lack of employment, high suicidal rates, domestic abuse, sexual assault, mob lynching and emotional abuses, etc. that are prevalent in the country and have been researched and documented by Human Rights Watch. This Bill was therefore borne out of the homophobia and fear of the Coalition without the proper understanding of the event for the Office Opening, the work of LGBTI groups or without engaging with the participants and stakeholders of the LGBT+ Community. The police raided the Center and it was closed down.

A year later, the Anti-LGBT Bill was born and with the support of the current Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Alban Bagbin, who gave the go ahead for the sponsors of the bill made up of 8 MPs led by Sam George (MP, Ningo-Prampram), alongside Emmanuel Bedzrah (MP, Ho West) Della Adjoa Sowah (MP, Kpando), John Ntim Fordjour (MP, Assin South), Alhassan Sayibu Suhuyini (MP, Tamale North), Helen Adjoa Ntoso (MP, Krachi West), Rita Naa Odoley Sowah (MP, La Dadekotopon) and Rockson Nelson Dafeamekpor (MP, South Dayi).

Soon after the introduction of the Bill in Parliament, the Committee on Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs of the Parliament of Ghana requested feedback from the general public, and hearings were heard for days from concerned citizens and the international community, including the then-UN special envoy for Gender Equality and other CSOs such as the ‘Big 18’ made up of renowned Ghanaian scholars and legal practitioners against the bill. Those for the bill were mainly from the religious community.

Prior to and since the inception of the bill, abuse cases against real and perceived LGBT persons have significantly increased such as the arrest and detention of 21 alleged LGBT people, beatings and suicide rates have gone high, most of which are not reported as the police tend to also act as perpetrators of abuse on victims.

It has been a tough back and forth with the media, religious leaders, entertainment icons, politicians and academics debating and arguing to and for the Bill for the last 3 years. In a highly religious country like Ghana, It came as a bit of a surprise to many that the Bill took this long and faced such strong opposition. However, with the Speaker of Parliament declining the request for a secret ballot to be held amongst the MPs, it was unfortunate that last Wednesday, the 28th of February 2024, the Bill was passed supposedly unanimously even though it’s alleged that less than 50% of the quorum voted verbally with seemingly no opposition, leaving the decision on Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo to assent to it or not before it becomes law or is thrown back to Parliament. Incidentally, Parliament has threatened to override the President’s veto decision if he doesn’t assent to it.

Immediately following the passage of the Bill in Parliament, the backlash towards the government soared both locally and internationally with Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the US Department of State, saying in a statement that the United States is “deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament’s passage of legislation, officially called the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill …The bill would also undermine Ghana’s valuable public health, media and civic spaces, and economy. International business coalitions have already stated that such discrimination in Ghana would harm business and economic growth in the country,” Miller said.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the bill is a barrier to ending AIDS.
“If it becomes law, it will obstruct access to life-saving services, undercut social protection, and jeopardize Ghana’s development success,” she said in a statement.

The International Monetary Fund also voiced its vigilance over the passage of the bill. The IMF said it’s monitoring events in Ghana after lawmakers passed a bill seeking up to three years in jail for people identifying as an LGBTQ person. “Diversity and inclusion are values that the IMF embraces,” the Washington-based lender said in a statement. “Our internal policies prohibit discrimination based on personal characteristics, including but not limited to gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Like institutions, diverse and inclusive economies flourish.”

Soon after these statements, Ghana’s Ministry of Finance pleaded with President Akufo-Addo not to assent to the recently passed anti-LGBTQ bill by Parliament. In a press release on Monday, March 4, the Finance Ministry cautioned that approving the bill could result in significant financial consequences for Ghana. According to the Finance Ministry’s statement, Ghana stands to lose a substantial amount of World Bank financing, estimating a potential loss of USD$3.8 billion over the next five to six years. Specifically, the impact for 2024 includes a loss of USD$600 million in budget support and USD$250 million for the Financial Stability Fund, adversely affecting Ghana’s foreign exchange reserves and exchange rate stability.

On the 4th of March 2024, The President issued a statement speaking for the first time since its passage in Parliament. He said Ghana will not backslide on its human rights record, and added that the bill had been challenged in the Supreme Court. “I have learnt that, today, a challenge has been mounted at the Supreme Court,” Akufo-Addo said in a statement. “In the circumstances, it would be as well for all of us to hold our hands and await the decision of the Court before any action is taken,” he added.

Given that Ghana was the first African country to gain Independence on the 6th of March 1957, there would be protests online and in-person in Ghana, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany and Denmark to demonstrate against the Anti-LGBT Bill and to plead with the President not to assent to the Bill. The show of love and support from the International community in solidarity with the LGBT Community in Ghana and with the quest to save Ghana’s Democracy and secular constitution has come with much appreciation, admiration and love.

This marks an historic moment and we hope that reason and compassion will win over dogmatic bigotry. Long live Ghana!!!

#queerghanaianlivesmatter
#killthebill
#nanaaddokillthebill
.

Roslyn Mould
Vice President, Humanists International
President, Accra Atheists

This blog ©2024 Geoff Allshorn. All rights for this article returned to writer Roslyn Mould.