‘A homophobe’s dream’: Ghana draft law could criminalise LGBT+ people, allies and advocates

Leaked legislation would make it illegal for citizens not to report sexual minorities to the police

Andy Gregory
Wednesday 28 July 2021 01:26 BST
President Nana Akufo-Addo has previously spoken out against certain LGBT+ rights
President Nana Akufo-Addo has previously spoken out against certain LGBT+ rights (Nipah Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Politicians in Ghana have submitted a draft bill which would make it a crime to be gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary or an ally, punishable by up to five years in prison, in what could become one of the most draconian pieces of anti-LGBT+ legislation anywhere in the world.

Not only would the bill criminalise LGBT+ people, it would also see anyone deemed to be advocating for sexual minorities or promoting “sympathy” face five to 10 years imprisonment.

Introduced to parliament by eight politicians on 29 June, the proposed Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill is reported to have cross-party support among lawmakers in the largely conservative Christian country – with political analysts suggesting it could gain enough backing to become law, albeit with some amendments.

“This bill is a homophobe's dream law,” Danny Bediako from local LGBT+ group Rightify Ghana told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The community is shocked at how wide-ranging it is. People are even scared to go out now and some members say they will leave the country if the bill is passed into law. Even those who want to help us will be afraid.”

While gay sex is already punishable by up to three years in jail in Ghana, the draft legislation would usher in sweeping clampdowns on the very existence of sexual minorities.

It was described by Rightify Ghana as “the most homophobic document the world has ever seen”.

With campaigners already warning that homophobia is on the rise in Ghana, the bill – leaked online and confirmed as genuine by politicians and diplomats – would make it a crime for citizens not to report LGBT+ people to the police or other figures of authority.

The proposed laws could even force LGBT+ people to pay “compensation” to someone they engage in sexual activity with, which campaigners warn would put individuals at risk of blackmail.

It also promotes so-called conversion therapy by allowing flexible sentencing for an LGBT+ person if they request “treatment”, and could enable the government to force intersex children to undergo “gender realignment” surgery.

In line with recent attempts by politicians, religious leaders and some of the country’s media to crack down on those supporting LGBT+ people and promoting their rights, the bill would result in a five to 10-year sentence for anyone taking part in, hosting or funding LGBT+ groups, or promoting LGBT+ rights in print or on social media.

Anyone deemed to be an ally – defined in the bill as “a non-queer person who supports or advocates for the queer community, or is an individual within the LGBTTQQIAAP+ community and identifies with another member of the community” – could also face between three to five years behind bars.

The bill is framed as an attempt to uphold “Ghanian family values”, and would also criminalise the use of sex toys, and anal and oral sex, among the entire population. 

While Ghana's parliament is yet to appoint a committee to review the draft legislation, which will be subject to various amendments before it can be passed into law, the bill comes after a number of attacks on Ghana’s LGBT+ community in recent months.

The country’s first LGBT+ community centre was raided and shut down just weeks after it was opened in January – with these efforts to galvanise support for sexual minorities sparking an uproar which resulted in MPs pledging to introduce legislation prohibiting pro-LGBT+ advocacy.

“A wave of homophobia was expected, but not on such a large scale,” Abdul-Wadud Mohammed of the group LGBT Rights Ghana told Agence France-Presse at the time. “We’ve been communicating about our activities for a long time, but it had never become a matter of national interest.”

Months later, in May, some 21 gay activists were arrested for attending a training session in rights advocacy, in what police said was an “unlawful” gathering, held by Rightify Ghana. The individuals have since been released on bail, but many are reported to be living in safehouses, with some having lost their jobs or been disowned by family members.

Despite the proposed bill outlawing verbal or physical abuse against LGBT+ people – making it punishable with six months to three years in jail – campaigners say that some people fear talk of the legislation is already emboldening homophobes.

Sam Nartey George, an MP from the opposition National Democratic Congress party – and among the eight sponsors of the bill – claimed on Twitter that since the draft was leaked, he had “been overwhelmed by the massive support” he had received over it.

He had written: “Homosexuality is NOT a human right. It is a sexual preference. Preferences are not absolute or unregulated. We SHALL pass this bill through.” The tweet appears to have since been removed by moderators.

While The Guardian reports that some officials have sought to allay fears that the bill will pass, there are figures within president Nana Akufo-Addo’s government known to support harsher clampdowns on LGBT+ people.

Meanwhile, the local LGBT+ community is said to be reeling. Nana Ama Agyemang Asante, a journalist in the Ghanian capital, Accra, told the newspaper that she was “stunned by the contents, the crudeness of the language, and the cruelty behind the intent” of the legislation.

“I have spent all my time as a journalist advocating for gay rights so I can’t believe that we have arrived at this point where they want to criminalise everything and everyone including the existence of allies, intersex and asexual folks,” she said.

Alex Kofi Donkor, director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, the organisation that ran the now-closed community centre, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “People are horrified, outraged and scared.

“Some people are avoiding going out in certain public spaces as they feel even the conversation of the bill is stirring up homophobic sentiment and empowering homophobes.”

Mr Donkor, who has set up a campaign called “Kill the Bill”, added: “If this is the feeling now, can you imagine what it will be like for the queer community if the bill is passed?”

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