This week, the headquarters of LGBT+ Rights Ghana was attacked shortly after the gay rights group celebrated the opening of its new community centre.
The incident came after days of sustained attacks from politicians, church leaders and media figures against the LGBTQ community in Ghana.
At the end of January, LGBT+ Rights Ghana hosted a fundraiser to celebrate the opening of the new community centre. The event was attended by the Australian High Commissioner and European Union diplomats to show their support for the community. But when photos of the event were posted online it sparked a series of attacks against the Ghanaian LGBTQ community.
“This morning, our office was raided by National Security,” the group tweeted on Wednesday. “A few days ago, traditional leaders threatened to burn down our office but the police did not help.
“At this moment, we no longer have access to our safe space and our safety is being threatened. We call on all human rights organisations, and allies to speak out against these attacks and hate crimes we are being subjected to.”
LGBT+ Rights Ghana told VICE World News that the centre has been temporarily closed as the organisation looks to investigate the attack and plan its next steps.
“We believe the landlord leaked the location of the space,” Abdulwadud Moh, the group’s communications director said. “He previously called us to let us know his concerns about the residence and the threats by the people of the local community to burn down the place. He later scheduled a date to meet us to discuss the situation only for us to realise he was at the premises with the police, the local chief and the media.”
Nobody was arrested in the raid, Abdulwadud said, because the LGBT+ Rights Ghana team had vacated the community centre a day earlier when the death threats flooding in became unbearable. “Our identities have been leaked by the media so we have no other option than to hide for our safety,” he adds.
Moses Foe-Amoaning, the Executive Secretary of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, started a campaign against the newly founded community centre.
“The presidency, the ministry of foreign Affairs and the IGP [Inspector General of Police] have every right to investigate that office to close it down immediately and arrest and prosecute those people involved in it,” Foh-Amoaning said.
The Ghanaian constitution criminalises “unnatural carnal knowledge”. The law says that “Unnatural carnal knowledge is sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” This section of the constitution is often interpreted as the part of legislation that outlaws homosexuality. However, sexual orientation is never mentioned.
“LGBT+ Rights Ghana has an irrevocable right to exist as a recognised entity and movement entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under Article 21 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution,” the organisation said in a statement. “We have the right as Ghanaians to live in peace, join groups, be protected from harm and have our privacy respected.”
Obaa Boni, a Texas-based Ghanaian-American criminal lawyer, agrees.
“According to the Constitution, all persons are supposed to enjoy…freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, conscience and belief freedom of association, freedom of movement, freedom to form or join political parties and to participate in political activities subject to such qualifications and laws as are necessary in a free and democratic society,” Boni said.
She continued: “If all persons are guaranteed the above rights, then it follows that sexual and gender minorities should be given the liberty to freely associate, organise, and express any thought or belief about the personal relationships of consenting adults, without the tyranny of the majority threatening them.”
Still, several recently-elected MPs used their new platforms last week to launch fresh attacks against the LGBTQ community. “The issue of LGBT is an issue which when mentioned creates some form of controversies but what I want to say is our laws are clear in such practices,” said Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, Minister-designate for Gender, Children and Social Protection. “So the issue of the criminality of LGBT is non-negotiable and our cultural practices also frown on it and these are two strong stands on the matter and this is what I stand for.”
Following Sarfo’s statement, the Minister of Information-designate, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah went a step further by suggesting Ghana enacts laws to criminalise support for LGBTQ+ activities or the legalisation of homosexuality. Nkrumah said such laws will merge with the current ones that block same-sex unions in the country.
In an interview with a local television station, the MP Sam Natteu George urged the Foreign Affairs Ministry to kick out European diplomats who attend the fundraiser and the Australian High Commissioner for “aiding” the community centre. “I find the actions of these diplomats an insult to our hospitality as Ghanaians,” George said.
George went on to call for the arrest of the leaders of LGBT+ Rights Ghana and persons funding their project in the country.
Church leaders have also joined in on the attacks. In a statement, the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference, GCBC, urged President Akufo-Addo to close down the community centre. The statement which was signed by the President of the GCBC, Most Reverend Philip K. Naameh, said the community needed to be shut down because homosexuality is a “complete disorder of the fundamental law of God in creating man and woman.”
The group then admonished the government and lawmakers to not be “cowed down or to succumb to the pressure to legalise the rights of LGBTQIs in Ghana.”
Speaking on whether or not homosexuality was against Ghanaian culture, activist and musician Wanlov the Kubolor told VICE World News that the claim doesn’t hold up. “It’s very ironic that the President of Catholic Bishops is claiming homosexuality is against the Ghanaian culture when Catholicism and the whole church is a western influence and not Ghanaian culture,” he said.
He explained that queer and transgender people have been in existence in Ghanaian culture long before colonisation and the culture embraced different sexual and gender identities. “There is so much evidence of that throughout our past: men from the Nzema tribe marrying men, Kings from the Akan group taking concubines that were men, and so on. Homophobia is what is not Ghanaian culture.”
Earlier this week, the European Union came out publicly in support of LGBT+ Rights Ghana.
Gregory Andrews, the Australian High Commissioner replied to the tweet showing his support as well: “Australia stands with you @EuropeInGhana and @LGBTRightsGhana and all those who support #HumanRights for all.”
Despite the support, the statements made by the Church and political and media personalities have spread across the country and further incited violence against the LGBTQ community in Ghana with many looking for safe spaces to lay low amidst the dangers.
Abdulwadud said they were not expecting this much violence and media backlash when the community centre was opened.
“Our primary goal is to give the community the needed visibility,” he said. “It didn’t occur to us that the opening of a safe space for the community will cause this nationwide conversation.”
They don’t know when the community centre will reopen, but Abdulwadud is certain that LGBT+ Rights Ghana won’t be backing down in their fight.
“We definitely are not backing down now,” Abduwaldud said. “We believe this conversation we have caused among the Ghanaian population is a good step in fighting against discrimination. We are currently exploring our legal options and also strategising on our next steps of advocacy.”