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Photography Stephen Tayo

Ghana’s LGBTQ+ community is under attack – here’s how to help

TextMatthew Blaise

The LGBTRightsGhana centre – an essential meeting place for queer people – was recently raided by the police, leaving people isolated and in fear

Back in 2019, Angola, a country in southern Africa, decriminalised the Victorian laws that punished LGBTQ+ affairs in the country and many African activists saw it as a big step, the first of many towards queer liberation in other parts of Africa.

The situation is complicated in itself, why should queer Africans have to fight for space on the continent in the first place? There is a vibrant queer culture and there are practices that existed in pre-colonial Africa prior to Victorian laws that criminalised them. ­While you’d hope Africa would be the next continent where queer people can be free to live as they are, the continent takes one step forward and 20 backwards – what we’re currently seeing in Ghana. 

Just like other post-colonial African countries, in Ghana, there is no law that explicitly criminalises being gay or LGBTQ+ advocacy. The only law that exists is section 104 of the state’s criminal code – adopted from the British colonial era which talks about ‘unnatural carnal knowledge’ and ‘having any other form of sex aimed at anything other than a vagina’ – though, this law is rarely implemented by the state in court. Rather, it stands as a means to justify the discrimination against LGBTQ+ Ghanians by legal and religious officials.

In early 2018, LGBTRightsGhana (LRG) gave a glimmer of hope to queer activism in Ghana. Alex Kofi Donkor started LGBTRightsGhana as a cyb­­er activism blog as a way of bringing more visibility to LGBTQ+ folks in the country. “We didn’t have a space where we could hear lessons learned from each other and grow as a community,” Kofi previously explained. “I created social media pages to share LGBTI news and we eventually moved from a Facebook group to a WhatsApp group.” By the end of the year, the group decided to meet in person and strategise on becoming a movement to lead LGBTQ+ conversations and liberation in the country. The group mobilised and every Sunday, they gathered to bond through an event called ‘Here and Beyond’ which gave queer people the opportunity to see themselves in a physical space, inform, and educate one another. 

The importance of physical spaces for queer people is paramount; it allows to connect with a tangible community. In African countries, where LGBTQ+ identity is seen as ‘un-African’ by homophobes, a physical location presents an African presence that would allow queer Africans to re-establish their identity. When the only way you can access community is away from your land and your people, it can create a dissonance between a person and their cultural identity. It should go without saying, but LGBTQ+ Africans have just as much of a right to African identity as their heterosexual counterparts. 

After launching from humble beginnings, LRG became the leading advocacy group in Ghana and with the help of the public – through crowdfunding endeavors like GoFundMe, help from the European Union, Australian embassy, and Danish embassy – they were able to get a permanent space that would serve as a community centre for LGBTQ+ Ghanaians, opening at the end of last month. It was hoped that the space would bring the community LRG had already formed to a central location. “I always looked forward to the last Sunday of every month because I know I’ll get to meet and socialise with my community who make me feel like I'm accepted and safe,” says Abdul Wadud, communications director for LGR. “I have healed, lived, and empowered myself during these sessions.”

“The raid by the police has made the community conscious of how exactly the Ghanaian society feels about them. The community feels unsafe and the media keeps putting out content that places a target on their backs” – Abdul Wadud, communications director, LGBTRightsGhana

The opening of the centre opened the group up to the hate from Ghanaian media as well as religious and political officials. Catholic Bishops in Ghana put together a conference to compel the government, “not to succumb to pressures to legitimise (LGBTQ+) rights in Ghana.” They urged for the space to close, supported by political leaders like Sarah Adwoa Safo and Kojo Oppong Nkrumah who said it went against Ghanaian culture. In addition to the actions of the Church, countless biased and sensational articles have continued putting queer people at risk. 

On February 24, in response to mounting religious, political, and media pressure, the building was raided by the police and LRG has since lost access. “The community had this feeling of finally accomplishing something, our issues were being discussed on a national scale and for the longest time, we could finally hope for change,” says Wadud. “The raid by the police has made the community conscious of how exactly the Ghanaian society feels about them. The community – especially those associated with LGR – feel unsafe and the media keeps putting out content that places a target on their backs.” 

While a staggering 87 per cent of Ghanaians are reported to be against LRG and other LGTBQ+ spaces in Ghana, there are still allies speaking out about the current crisis. “I’ve been an advocate for almost a decade now, and I have been getting DMs from people who are LGBTQ+ or perceived so, being persecuted in one form or another,” explains artist and advocate Wanlov the Kubolor, who has worked with LGR since it opened. “I’ve had to rely on my resources to offer them some kind of refuge, and I was so relieved that there was a space where I could confidently point people in the direction of – it didn’t even last a month.”

Similarly, The Silent Majority, is a Ghanaian organisation founded to voice support against the marginalisation of Ghanaians and stands against these abuses of power. “The core values of Ghana as a country is freedom and justice, so we want freedom and justice for queer Ghanaians so they can live in their own country without being attacked for their sexuality,” says the group’s media liaison, Dr Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed. “We want queer people to live in safety without fear for their lives. They are receiving death threats, losing their jobs, and being kicked out of their homes.”

“We want the world to speak out about the injustice happening currently in the country. We want the world to know exactly how our government has constantly failed to protect marginalised people and communities,” says Wadud on how people outside of Ghana can support LGR and LGBTQ+ Ghanaians during this time. “We also need emergency funds to help with the immediate needs of both frontline activists and community members as most are currently hiding in fear for their lives through our Community Support Fund Initiative on GoFundMe.”

Dr Mohammed echoes the sentiment, adding: “The opening of the LGR centre is a testament to the dedication of queer Ghanaians committed to creating a space in which they can all be free to pursue their lives without fear of harm. We continue to support these efforts and stand in solidarity.” 

So far, Ghana has been a hotspot for progress on the continent. It was the first to gain independence in West Africa. There are Covid vaccines heading to the country as we speak. However, the appreciation for freedom and life seems to only currently apply to cis, heterosexual people. Until it recognises and enforces the rights of all LGBTQ+ people, it will continue to betray the ideals the country claims to stand for, freedom and justice. After all, none of us are free, until we are all free.

Support LGBTRightsGhana here

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