LGBT+ rights are heavily suppressed in Ghana. (Creative Commons)
On Wednesday (11 November), Ghana saw the first public hearing on a far-reaching bill to criminalise almost every aspect of LGBT+ life.
While gay sex is already illegal in Ghana, the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021 would criminalise anyone is “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, pansexual, an ally, non-binary, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”.
All of those listed, even allies, could face three to five years in prison if found guilty of the crime, which would become a second-degree felony.
Any gender affirming medical care would also be criminalised and conversion therapy encouraged, while those who advocate for LGBT+ rights could face up to a decade behind bars.
This week, public hearings began for the bill, allowing supporters and opponents to air their views.
Akoto Ampaw, a lawyer representing a coalition fighting against the bill, was one of those who spoke. He argued that a bill purporting to defend the “family unit” made little sense, when the “gravest” risk to families was heterosexual men preying on young girls.
According to MyJoyOnline, Ampaw called on Ghana’s parliament to reject the “violent” anti-LGBT+ bill completely.
Professor Henry Kwasi Prempeh, executive director of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development, also spoke against the bill.
He hit back against arguments by its proponents that a majority of Ghanaians support the bill, although there have been no polls on the matter, insisting this was no excuse for passing the anti-LGBT+ legislation, which would could not be allowed to override human rights.
He said: “The proponents of the bill have sought to make much of the fact that this is a democracy and therefore the will of the majority must prevail. And prevail including in legislation.
“May I remind the proponents of this bill that this democracy for which we’ve all fought to maintain, is not a populist democracy, it is not just a majoritarian democracy, it is a constitutional democracy which means that even the majority including, acts that are passed by parliament, are subject to constitutional limitations.”
These limitations, Prempeh said, “serve as a check on the prejudices of a majority”.
He continued: “The constitution’s provisions on fundamental human rights are indeed one of such safeguards… So merely because you‘re part of a momentary majority – and majorities are fleeting – merely because you see yourself as part of a momentary majority, does not entitle you to impose your will on even one individual in the society.
“If that individual is indeed backed by the constitution, if the person is standing up against the majority. So majority might confer might, but it doesn’t confer right.”
Ghana’s anti-LGBT+ bill could hold back the country’s fight against HIV/ AIDS
The Ghana AIDS Commission said that under the anti-LGBT+ bill, the donors that fund the country’s fight against HIV/ AIDS could be criminalised.
The commission’s Director-General, Kyeremeh Atuahene, told the public hearing: “Donor funding for the HIV response covers the HIV and TB services for men who have sex with men and transgender people.
“These health services have nothing to do with the activities the bill seeks to proscribe, but may be construed to be if the bill is passed in its current form.
“Donors will [therefore] withdraw their funding if they are criminalised by this bill.”
Danny Bediako, director of the human rights group Rightify Ghana, told Reuters: “Our greatest worry is the health and safety of our community members. I have never seen so many people who want to leave the country.”
The bill has been the subject of international condemnation.
The United Nations has condemned Ghana’s anti-LGBT+ bill as a “recipe for violence” and “a textbook example of discrimination” that is akin to torture.
Anglican leaders led by the archibsohop of Canterbury have also spoken against the bill in a striking rebuttal of the Anglican Church in Ghana.
The hearings continue.