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Decades later, LGBTQI+ Ghanaians still face persecution based on old British colonial law

Decades later, LGBTQI+ Ghanaians still face persecution... Decades later, LGBTQI+ Ghanaians still face persecution...

Last week, Ghana’s parliament passed one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQI+ bills, further threatening and endangering the queer and trans community in Ghana. Despite gaining independence from British rule on this day in 1957, more than six decades later, colonial anti-LGBTQI+ laws continue to reverberate in the country and across the continent.

Rainbow Railroad condemns the celebration of the passage of the Promotion of Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill.

Consensual same-sex intimacy was already criminalized in Ghana, carrying a three-year prison sentence. Crucially, if President Nana Akufo-Addo signs the Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill into law, individuals who affirm their LGBTQI+ identity may be sentenced to three years in prison. The bill also criminalizes the promotion and support of LGBTQI+ activities, and requires citizens to “promote and protect proper human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values” and report LGBTQI+ people to authorities for “necessary action.”

Rainbow Railroad is gravely concerned about the deadly implications of this new bill. In addition to criminalization, legislation that targets the LGBTQI+ community can create a culture of impunity, resulting in violence and threats. This environment can drive queer and trans individuals into hiding, as we’ve seen in other countries where governments imposed draconian colonial-era anti-LGBTQI+ legislation.

Activists in South Africa protest anti-LGBTQI+ bill outside Ghana’s High Commission. TREATMENT ACTION CAMPAIGN

In a press release on Monday, March 4, Ghana’s Finance Ministry urged President Akufo-Addo not to approve the anti-LGBTQI+ bill and cautioned that doing so could result in significant financial consequences for Ghana, including a potential loss of USD$3.8 billion in World Bank financing over the next five to six years.

Regional Ramifications

The bill is the latest in a disturbing surge of anti-LGBTQI+ legislation in Africa, fueled by well-funded and organized evangelical groups. Similar legislation in other countries has led to severe consequences for LGBTQI+ individuals. Currently, same-sex intimacy is illegal in 31 African countries and punishable by death in three, including Uganda, which signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA23) into law in May 2023.

In the first two months of 2024, we’ve seen a 49% increase in requests for help from Uganda compared to the same period in 2023. Disturbing reports persist, detailing persecution, including loss of employment, torture, suicide, violent arrests, and evictions targeting LGBTQI+ individuals. Given the rise of anti-LGBTQI+ in the region, we expect this bill will further subject LGBTQI+ individuals in Ghana to similar threats and violence.

It is clear governments of countries like Ghana now feel emboldened to adopt oppressive legislation with impunity, influenced by the AHA23. 

Late last year, Kenya attempted and failed to pass a similar bill that would have criminalized homosexuality with the death penalty and banned the promotion of LGBTQI+ activity.

Building on Our Response Efforts in Ghana

Demonstrators in South Africa participate in global day of action, condemning Ghana’s anti-LGBTQI+ bill. TREATMENT ACTION CAMPAIGN

This is not the first time we responded to the urgent needs of at-risk LGBTQI+ Ghanaians. When the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill was first introduced in 2021, it created a hostile and exclusionary environment for queer Ghanaians and local LGBTQI+ organizations. Rainbow Railroad responded to a partner organization that experienced immediate restrictions and risk in their work with queer and trans Ghanaians. The organization was subsequently raided by local media, police and national security officers. Following this attack, we continued to amplify their advocacy campaigns and echoed their urgent and persistent calls for global public pressure on Ghana to strike down the bill.

As the situation for LGBTQI+ Ghanaians continued to worsen, we relocated five human rights defenders to safety with the support of our donor community.

Right now, we’re in conversation with partners on the ground to assess the situation and understand their needs. With limited pathways to safety due to severe passport mobility issues, the LGBTQI+ community in Ghana implores the global community to raise awareness about this discriminatory bill and pressure the Ghanaian government to refuse to sign it into law. Their specific requests include issuing statements condemning the passage of the bill and organizing public demonstrations at embassies and high commissions of Ghana abroad. In addition, they urgently call for humanitarian assistance, such as providing secure safe homes, food, and medical supplies to victims of abuse. The LGBTQI+ community also emphasizes the need to fund groups, activists and organizations, like Rainbow Railroad, supporting their cause. Furthermore, they encourage backing frontline advocates through initiatives that provide them with essential protection and security.

Despite passport mobility issues, some individuals will attempt to flee and seek asylum. The queer and trans Ghanaian community is asking diplomatic missions and internal affairs and immigration institutions to work with activists in Ghana to support such individuals who will seek asylum or temporal residency in other countries.

The time to act is now. We are in a critical moment that requires a united response, and your immediate actions today can make a difference:

    • Contact your elected officials and ask them to urge President Nana Akufo-Addo to veto this discriminatory Bill. Encourage your friends, families and colleagues to join you.
    • Amplify our messages on social media and in your community.
    • Donate to help fund our advocacy and crisis response work.

This “catch-all” bill is extremely dangerous, an affront to democracy, and a violation of LGBTQI+ people’s human rights. Rainbow Railroad stands in solidarity with the LGBTQI+ community in Ghana.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available. Thank you for taking steps today to ensure a future where the rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ Ghanaians are upheld.