Ghana to vote on 'worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever,' advocates warn

Ghana to vote on ‘worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever,’ advocates warn

A bill in Ghana would make identification as a homosexual or even an ally of the LGBTQ community a second degree felony punishable by five years in prison – defending LGBTQ rights carries a penalty of up to ‘in 10 years.

Same-sex conduct is already a crime in this West African country, with violators facing a three-year sentence, but the new bill on the promotion of appropriate human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values ​​seeks to criminalize identification as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, non-binary, queer, an ally “or any other sexual or gender identity contrary to the binary categories of male and female”, according to one version of the bill disclosed online.

Defending the rights of anyone in these categories – through speeches, print materials, electronic media or other means – could result in an even heavier sentence of up to ten years in prison.

The proposal, which was submitted to parliament last month, also explicitly bans same-sex marriage and adoption, with LGBTQ-focused associations and gender-affirming surgery – “except where the procedure is aimed at correcting a biological abnormality, including including intersex “.

Gross indecency, which according to the measure includes cross-dressing and public displays of homosexual affection, would be considered an offense punishable by a prison sentence of six months to one year.

Danny Bediako of Rightify Ghana, a local LGBTQ group, called the measure a “homophobic dream law”.

“The community is shocked at how large it is,” he said. “People are even afraid to go out now and some members say they will leave the country if the bill passes. Even those who want to help us will be afraid.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo speaks to reporters in Accra, Ghana, September 15, 2020.Francis Kokoroko / Reuters file

A vote has not been scheduled on the bill, but it has the support of parliamentarians, especially within the new patriotic party of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

Yvonne Wamari is Africa Program Manager for OutRight Action International, a non-governmental organization working to end the persecution of LGBTQ people around the world and the only LGBTQ organization with a permanent presence at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Wamari said there was a good chance the measure would be put to a vote.

“For now, the bill has just been presented to the president – it has to go through the entire legislative process, including several readings,” she told NBC News.

“Whether or not the bill passes depends a lot on the work the LGBTQ movement can do to move the conversation forward, the extent of the advocacy that can be done with the legal sector,” Wamari added. “Depending on the amount of work done, the invoice could be rejected. “

The bill requires residents to report any homosexual activity or advocacy to authorities, but it also calls for a “flexible sentence” for someone who “openly retracts and requests access to approved medical assistance,” which Rightify Ghana and Wamari both interpreted as a benchmark. to conversion therapy, the medically discredited practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to Human Rights Watch, LGBTQ Ghanaians frequently report experiencing violence from crowds and family members, and are “subjected to sexual assault, intimidation and extortion.”

In 2015, members of a homophobic gang known as the Safety Empire lured scores of gay men to Ghana’s capital Accra via Facebook, then beat their victims and posted the assaults on social media. In one attack, a man was “stripped and mercilessly whipped with belts, sticks and sharp metal,” according to an Immigration Equality report. In another, a gang member threw boiling water on a victim’s face, causing severe burns.

A provision in the bill would make verbal or physical assault of people “suffering from a sexual or gender identity problem under the bill” an offense, but LGBTQ advocates are calling it a facade.

The sponsors “are trying to present a section that prohibits abuse and violence against accused LGBT people,” Rightify Ghana wrote in a long tweet of July 23. “As if they cared about people.”

The organization claims the measure was “imported” into Ghana by the US-based World Congress of Families, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and is part of the International Organization for the Family.

Pastor Scott Lively, affiliated with the World Congress of Families, was accused in a 2012 federal lawsuit of helping draft Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, which called for the death penalty for homosexuals who were “repeat offenders”. Lively called the lawsuit at the time “absurd” and “completely frivolous,” and the case was dismissed in 2017 for lack of jurisdiction.

Ghana’s Family Values ​​Bill is “a combination of bills from Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and other places the WCF has been”, Rightify Ghana tweeted. “This is the worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever.”

When asked by NBC News if the World Congress for Families was involved in drafting the legislation, Brian Brown, president of the International Organization for the Family, declined to answer, commenting instead on a “neo movement. -colonial to turn Africa into a -copy of San Francisco.

The new bill is part of a growing backlash against gay rights in Ghana, after the country’s first LGBTQ community center opened in late January in Accra. Condemned by neighbors, religious leaders and politicians, the center was raided and forced to close after just a few weeks.

In May, 21 gay and lesbian activists were arrested for attending a training session on human rights advocacy in the southern town of Ho. Police said the gathering was illegal, even though Article 21 of the country’s 1992 constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association.

United Nations officials, including Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the UN’s independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, condemned the arrests as a violation of international human rights law.

“Human rights defenders play a key role in protecting vulnerable groups from violence and discrimination and empowering them to claim their human rights,” the officials said in a statement. “Ghana should ensure that no one is criminalized for defending the human rights of LGBT people. “

Davis Mac-Iyalla, executive director of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, criticized the police for detaining “innocent citizens”.

“The arrested and imprisoned human rights defenders did nothing illegal, they were exercising their freedom of assembly and association,” he said in a statement which called the raid “a reflection of the high standard. of discrimination against minorities in Ghana ”.

Ghana gained independence from the UK in 1957 and, unlike many other African countries, has remained relatively stable – with a multicultural population, a strong economy, and peaceful democratic elections. But homosexuality is strongly condemned in the largely Christian country.

In 2017, President of Parliament Mike Ocquaye called it an “abomination” on par with bestiality.

“We need to clarify some things as Africans – we need to at least make people respect us that, like Africans, we say that a man is not going to put his sexual organ behind someone’s back. male, ”Ocquaye said. Class FM radio station, warning of a “global gay lobby” spending millions to “transport their abnormal behavior to the world”.

During her confirmation hearing in February, the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, said the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ghana was “non-negotiable”.

Sam George, member of parliament and one of the bill’s eight sponsors, said the measure is necessary “to combat the scourge and perversion of homosexuality,” Modern Ghana reported. But he insisted his goals are distorted by LGBTQ advocates.

“The LGBTQ cabal thrives on misconceptions. The only way for them to achieve their evil goals is to sow misconceptions, ”he told reporter Francis Abban on the Morning Starr radio show, according to Modern Ghana. “We are not rewriting the laws of Ghana. “

Because the bill bans oral and anal sex for straight and gay people, George said, “This is not a specific law for LGBTQ people. This is what exists for all of us.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that 96 percent of Ghanaians believe that homosexuality should not be tolerated by society – the third highest rate in the world after Jordan (97 percent) and Nigeria ( 98 percent) and tied with Senegal.

Like Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal are both located in West Africa and both criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Globally, at least 69 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex relationships between consenting adults, many of whom are then in Africa, according to Human Rights Watch. In seven countries, according to HRW, homosexuality could be punished by death.

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