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How Ghana's anti-gay bill impacts the LGBTQ+ community

July 4, 2024

Ghana's Supreme Court will deliver a verdict on July 17 on the anti-LGBTQ+ bill passed this year to criminalize homosexuality. Two suits filed at the top court are asking for the bill to be declared unconstitutional.

A man's face concealed by a rainbow-colored paper mask representing gay pride
Image: Dai Kurokawa/picture-alliance/dpa

Mohammed is 27 years old and gay. However, he has yet to come out about his sexuality.

Like many other LGBTQ+ Ghanaians, he fears going public. That's because Ghana's lawmakers passed a bill in February that gives a jail term of up to 3 years to anyone convicted of identifying as LGBTQ+, among other things. 

Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo is yet to sign the bill into law, as he awaits the outcome of two ongoing legal challenges to the proposed law at the country's Supreme Court.

But the proposed legislation is fueling homophobia and violence against those in the West African country's LGBTQ+ community.

"Life has actually changed for the worse for me personally," Mohammed told DW. "The level of fear has increased, the level of isolation has increased."

Ghana's anti-LGBTQ+ bill sparks fear

Bad timing for bill

Ghana's Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill also recommends a maximum five-year jail term for those who form or fund LGBTQ+ groups and up to 10 years for anyone involved in LGBTQ+ advocacy campaigns aimed at children.

Human rights activist Alex Kofi Donkor told DW that the timing of the bill couldn't have been worse for members of his community.

"This bill came at a time when we were going through a lot of challenges. Getting medical services as LGBTQ+ persons was extremely difficult because one is discriminated against when you are trying to access any health facility," he said, expressing his disappointment that the bill has made it this far through all legal hurdles.

"This bill is unnecessary, considering the society in which we find ourselves as Ghanaians. For this bill to have taken shape and taken hold of the Ghanaian society, whereby it has gone through parliament and gone through the executive arm of government and now to the judiciary level, really goes to challenge our existence as Ghanaians, and it is challenging our democracy in various ways," Donkor told DW. 

Gay activists in the coastal Namibian city of Swakopmund are picture during a small Pride parade
The issue of gay rights is currently being challenged in multiple African nations, including Uganda, Ghana and Namibia (pictured)Image: Oleksandr Rupeta/NurPhoto/picture alliance

Challenging the bill as 'unconstitutional'

The two legal challenges against the bill are seeking to have it declared unconstitutional, arguing that if it were made law, it would infringe on the human rights of LGBTQ+ persons.

A lawyer representing one of petitioners in the case, Ernest Arkoh, told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that irreparable harm would be caused to members of the Ghanaian LGBTQ+ community.

"Some people thought that the bill had become law when the bill was passed by parliament. Some people even suffered violence as a result of this. The dignity of the individual would be affected should the application be rejected," he said in court.

Ghana's Supreme Court says it will deliver its judgment on the two cases on July 17. The verdict could have far-reaching implications.

Implications beyond gay rights

Michael Augustus Akagbor, a lecturer at the University of Ghana, told DW that there are serious implications going beyond sexual minorities should the bill be made law.

"It is not only LGBTQ+ people. You could go to prison even as a media person for publishing news that is considered to be promoting [gay rights]. So, this idea that we have to stifle knowledge, that we have to withhold the production of knowledge, that you have to speak in a certain way that supports discrimination against other members of the community is problematic," he pointed out.

As for Mohammed, he believes that Ghanaians who support the bill don't understand its full implications.

Interview: Running Accra's LGBTQ+ center

 "I am urging Ghanaians to go and read the bill and see what this bill is. Because it is not a bill that is supposed to promote Ghanaian family values. This is a bill of real hatred and vengeance," he told DW.

But religious and cultural beliefs continue to inform the views of many people in Ghana, a highly religious country, where many believe that more liberal views towards gays, lesbians and other members of the LGBTQ+ community is something imported by the West.

"We need a law to protect our culture. As Africans, we have our culture, we have a culture to protect, so we can't allow the West to control us," Accra resident Enoch Tetteh told DW.

Anxiety among the LGBTQ+ community

Mohammed says that he and many of his friends have gone into hiding because of such beliefs. He thinks that regardless of the outcome of the court challenges, many LGBTQ+ persons are actively thinking about fleeing the country for their safety.

"I will not choose to stay in a country that sees me as a criminal. I refuse to. I refuse to be gagged. I refuse to be seen as a criminal, I refuse to be criminalized because of who I am as a person," he said.

Human rights activist Donkor is hopeful the courts will reject the bill.

"Clearly our constitution gives rights to Ghanaians, and this bill is an affront to our constitution. So, I really hope and believe that the courts will rise to the occasion and be able to throw this bill out."

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson