Regardless of having to flee after the state raided their places of work, members of LGBT+ Rights Ghana vow to proceed to work for authorized recognition in a rustic pushing for much more repressive legal guidelines.
Greater than two months after fleeing “unprecedented” threats of violence, members of the queer rights organisation LGBT+ Rights Ghana are nonetheless in hiding.
“It is rather difficult. It takes a whole lot of toll,” says Alex Kofi Donkor, founder and director of the organisation. “The experiences of the previous weeks have not been straightforward … I can solely think about what the others are going via. As a result of, personally, it was very heavy for me.”
On 24 February 2021, in an occasion that made worldwide headlines, Ghanaian safety forces raided and shut down the organisation’s newly opened places of work – and a “secure house” for queer individuals.
Donkor, together with different leaders of the organisation, fled. Greater than two months later, the group are, for now, dwelling at “a secure location” on the outskirts of Accra.
Talking from the room he shares with one other member of the organisation, Donkor says: “It is troublesome. However … activists all around the world need to sacrifice some type of life for the better good. So, in a approach, I consolation myself with the truth that it’s for the better good. It’s simply in order that change can occur.”
The change they wish to result in is the repeal of Part 104 of the nation’s Felony Offences Act, a colonial-era regulation that punishes “unnatural carnal data” by as much as three years’ imprisonment.
For now although, and regardless of being in hiding, they’re pushing forward with their drive to be the primary brazenly LGBTQIA+ organisation registered within the nation.
Compelled beneath the radar
A 2017 report compiled by organisations together with Amnesty Worldwide, the Human Rights Advocacy Centre and Ghana’s Centre for In style Training and Human Rights discovered that when public officers and spiritual leaders make homophobic statements and publicly assist the criminalisation of same-sex sexual conduct, it “[perpetuates] societal prejudices in opposition to LGBTIQ people” in Ghana. This, in flip, encourages extra hate speech and hate crimes “by each state and non-state actors”.
“The social local weather is such [that] people hold their gender id virtually utterly hidden. Moreover, those that converse out about human rights violations perpetrated in opposition to individuals which might be LGBTIQ are additionally targets of homophobia,” the report mentioned.
Organisations throughout the nation engaged on LGBTQIA+ points register themselves largely as “human rights” or “health-focused” organisations as a result of members worry for his or her security.
A little bit greater than a yr in the past, members of LGBT+ Rights Ghana spoke with confidence about their willpower to be Ghana’s first formally registered, brazenly LGBTQIA+ organisation. Talking then in a scorching house in Accra used as their workplace, LGBT+ Rights Ghana member David Larbi mentioned: “The explanation we shaped this motion is we felt that the type of power and activism that must be performed for our liberation just isn’t being performed … For 20 years there may be nothing to indicate. So we determined we’re performed with this backdoor method to activism. If you go to our web site, our photos and every part are there. We’re placing a face to this advocacy and activism, as a result of through the years there has not been a face [to queer activism]. All the time individuals [stay] behind closed doorways. However we need to put a face to it. As a result of persons are saying, ‘Okay, so that you need your rights revered, however who’re these individuals combating for these rights?’ We would like individuals to know what’s going on. We do not need to cover. We do not cover.”
The police raid and the general public’s “hateful response”, nonetheless, left the group with little alternative however to enter hiding.
“At present, we now have combined emotions,” says Donkor. “The combined emotions are a results of issues, principally about safety. The truth that our photos had been paraded on the market [in the media], with very damaging and violent rhetoric connected to the pictures … So, like, we at present have no idea if persons are going to behave on these damaging narratives.”
Preventing for authorized recognition
The raid and vitriol directed on the group garnered them worldwide assist. Human rights organsations condemned the state’s actions, 70 influential individuals of Ghanaian heritage (together with Idris Elba) signed an open letter supporting them and Boy George introduced the discharge of a tune supporting queer Ghanaians.
“For us, it was so heartwarming to know that each one these highly effective persons are supporting us,” says Donkor. “On the time, we had been very a lot disturbed … so to see all of them assist us in that method was merely heartwarming. Round that point, even the actions we had been doing, we put them on a halt, so it was heartwarming to see that there have been individuals talking up for us despite the fact that we had been silent. We had been completely happy to know that we aren’t on this battle alone.”
However assist from inside Ghana, even from queer rights advocates, was extra combined.
Yao Boakye*, who selected to not be recognized “due to every part that’s taking place”, is the manager director of a Cape Coast organisation that focuses on the “wellness and well-being of LGBT people, particularly the much less privileged”.
Boakye says: “Once I first heard in regards to the secure house [LGBT+ Rights Ghana had opened] I used to be very completely happy. My organisation was even invited [to attend the opening] however due to the space, I couldn’t attend. I used to be enthusiastic about it. However when it was printed on social media, I used to be very disenchanted. In the event you name a spot a secure house, it must be a secure house. You should not promote it on social media. We stay in a rustic the place homophobia is so excessive. So the second you come out flaunting this within the public area, it’s no extra a secure house since you are attracting mob justice and different issues. I used to be not stunned in any respect after they went into hiding. As a result of the nation as an entire just isn’t prepared.”
However Boakye provides that the organisation’s push for authorized recognition is a transfer in the precise course. “It’s a good step up, as a result of they’re testing the regulation. Although there is likely to be backlash, I feel it’s the proper time, as a result of we can’t be in hiding. It’s time this occurred.”
For Donkor, the push for authorized recognition will “proceed the dialog” round queer rights within the nation.
“We’ll … be addressing the difficulty not from the general public discourse angle however from a authorized angle. So in as a lot as persons are going to speak about it, we imagine that approaching it from the authorized angle shifts the narrative to at least one that does not give a lot room for homophobes. They will say no matter they need to say, however on the finish of the day we hope that the regulation will take its course and converse positively to human rights points in Ghana.”
The organisation may have their work lower out for them – particularly if a proposed regulation, which hopes to outlaw queer rights activism “in all its present and future varieties”, will get the inexperienced gentle.
Taking to his Fb web page to announce the proposed invoice, Ghanaian MP Samuel Nartey George wrote: “We took our ‘battle’ to uphold our traditions, tradition and spiritual beliefs to the subsequent degree. Along with seven different colleagues from either side of the aisle, I introduced a press release on the rising advocacy for gay rights in Ghana. We have now taken a stance and introduced our intention to current a Personal Members Invoice to expressly criminalise and ban the advocacy and act of homosexuality in all its present and future varieties. The proposed invoice would strengthen and increase present laws on the topic.”
Donkor sees the transfer as “barbaric”. “It’s going to push us again as a democratic nation,” he says. “As a matter of urgency, the worldwide group ought to start to take a look at Ghana and converse on this problem and ensure this regulation is not handed. As a result of as soon as it’s handed, it should derail or push again our democracy as a rustic … It’s one thing that must be discouraged as quickly as potential, in order that it would not turn into one thing that may hurt all of us as Ghanaians.”
However how finest to keep away from hurt to themselves is foremost on their minds. “Our safety is a really actual concern. And it is rather related in all of these items, proper? So, as a lot as we’re doing all these items, we’re additionally serious about one of the best ways that we will do that with out compromising our safety. That is one thing we repeatedly discover. It appears troublesome in the intervening time, however … we do not need to [focus] a lot on the difficulties. At present, it is rather exhausting and really troublesome, sure. However we imagine that we nonetheless have to push. We nonetheless have to forge forward and ensure that we proceed to do the work we’re doing … We nonetheless need to trigger change.”
*Not his actual identify.