Bill in Ghana: Up to 10 years imprisonment for queer people
In August 2021, members of parliament presented a bill to the Ghanaian parliament that would impose harsh penalties on the LGBTQ* community as well as their supporters. The "Promotion of Ghanaian Family Values Act" stipulates that members of the LGBTQ* community will be punished with three to ten years in prison if they come out as such or publicly advocate for the rights of queer people. Due to the homophobic sentiment in Ghana, it is considered very likely that the new law will soon become a sad reality. Despite the high level of popular support, a counter-movement has been formed in recent months. One of the brave voices is human rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla, who founded the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) organization in the capital Accra, which advocates for the rights of queer people. I arranged to meet Davis on Zoom to talk about the current situation, the colonial roots of homophobia, and his own coming out.
Those who publicly identify as queer face long prison sentences
Homosexual acts have been punishable in Ghana since colonial times. The new draft law does not only concern sexual acts, but already criminalizes identity. That means, for example, if you give an interview and talk about queer issues, you already face a prison sentence for that, or if you openly identify as gay on the street, Davis reports. Queer people in Ghana would be silenced and made invisible. LGBTQ* organizations would be banned.
The law talks about protecting traditional values in Ghana. That's a lie, because Ghana has traditionally been a very open country that stands for mutual respect and diversity, Davis says. The 2019 World Congress of Families has significantly raised the cross-hostility level in Ghana. The conference was held in Ghana by an ultra-Christian organization from the United States. It supports Conservative Voice in Ghana financially and ideologically to promote anti-queer policies.
Colonial Root of Homophobia
Today, same-sex love is often described by politicians as an import from the West, but homophobic laws are actually a direct legacy of colonialism. Amnesty International's report "Making love a crime" shows that LGBTQ* were only criminalized with colonization. Colonial powers saw same-sex relationships as an expression of cultural primitivism and therefore imposed their Christian moral codes on African colonies. While the former colonial powers withdrew and lifted bans on same-sex acts in their own countries, the bans remained in the former colonies. Before colonization, there was no homophobia in Ghana, Davis says. Same-sex couples were accepted in society. In addition to the influences of colonial powers, however, religion also plays a major role. In Senegal, for example, which is predominantly Muslim, the mood toward queer people is particularly bad.
Meeting at the office of Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) in Accra
What did you want to do to address the homophobic climate?
We must not allow ourselves to be silenced by a law. It is important that we can present our work and counteract the cross-hostile mood in Ghana through information and education. Social education is an important area of our work. When people start to question, the fight against LGBTQ* hostile laws is also much easier for us.
My wish is to have my own podcast for queer issues in Ghana.
Also through seminars and trainings we want to encourage people in Ghana to raise their voice for LGBTQ* - and human rights.
How are queer issues reported in media in Ghana?
Reporting on queer people in Ghana is very conservative. The group Journalist Against LGBT tries to spread hate and discrimination through disinformation campaigns. It is important for queer people to have their voices heard in the media. That the truth about LGBTQ* in Ghana is reported openly.
We need queer media and bloggers in Ghana to help break down false prejudices.
What can we do in Germany and Europe to support you?
It is important for our work that we can exchange ideas with others. Therefore, conversations like yours are very important for me. I believe that many people in Europe and Germany currently get very little information about our situation in Ghana. Therefore, it is important for us to be able to report about our topics, so that people can inform themselves about them and support us. For our work and the development of our own podcast and blog about queer issues we need equipment. Unfortunately, there is a lack of all of them at the moment: Cell phones, laptops or cameras to be able to work accordingly. But also the networking with organizations from Europe, which support us in our work as human rights defenders through further education, is very important for us.
Let's get to your personal story. How did your own coming out go?
Coming out is not an African tradition. It comes more from Western countries. When I realized as a teenager in Nigeria that I was into men, I had no conflicts with family. In the media, queer issues were almost non-existent at that time. Nobody talked about it in a big way.
What is your motivation for advocating for LGBTQ* rights?
My faith in God, which I have never lost in all these years. I tell my story because I see it as a gift from God and I am firmly convinced that God likes me just the way I am. With my story, I want to be a role model for other queer people to raise their voices. My message to queer people is:
Always look ahead. If your environment is not safe for you, then also look for a place where you can live as you are in safety.
If the bill becomes reality, it would be a serious blow to internal democratic development in Ghana. Until now, the country has been considered comparatively progressive in terms of democracy. Party political motives could also influence the vote. Ghana's next parliamentary elections are due in 2024. Due to the homophobic social mood, the law could meet with broad approval among the population and influence the voting behavior of many Ghanaians. If you would like to support Davis Mac-Iyalla and his organization Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) in their fight for LGBTQ* rights, you can find the donation link here.