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The Institutionalized Repression Of Queer And Transgender Rights in Ghana

The absence of media reporting on violence against queer and transgender Ghanaians dismisses the realities of harm that the community experiences and sustains a narrative that we are not human. 

By Anima Adjepong

Ghana prides itself on being one of the friendliest and most welcoming African countries. Building upon a history of pan-African activism, diaspora/heritage tourism, and neoliberal development, the country’s powerful representatives have helped advance a narrative of Ghana as welcoming to all. Yet, for many Ghanaians—including people with disabilities, queer and transgender people, and certain religious minorities— the reality is much more dangerous and traumatizing. Right now, the spotlight is on queer and transgender Ghanaians, who are being terrorized by government, religious, and media institutions. These institutions are working together to create a hostile environment by amplifying violent rhetoric and suppressing voices of dissent who are speaking out for freedom and justice. 

Although mainstream news media does not report it, there is significant evidence and testimony of homophobic violence against queer Ghanaians. This evidence is primarily ignored by mainstream news outlets and instead documented in research reports. Recent ones include those from a coalition of community service organizations (2015), Human Rights Watch (2018), and a transnational report between Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone (2019). These studies provide direct conversations with queer and transgender Ghanaians and document the quotidian forms of trauma and abuse that this population faces. The absence of media reporting on violence against queer and transgender Ghanaians dismisses the realities of harm that the community experiences and sustains a narrative that queer people are only seeking special treatment. Media silence on this violence is one way that the press is complicit in the violence against queer and transgender Ghanaians. 

Despite the constrained political landscape, queer and transgender Ghanaians have been organizing for their rights and freedoms for a long time. Several advocacy groups exist including Alliance for Dynamic Initiative, Courageous Sister, Sisters of the Heart, Solace Brothers Foundation, and the Centre for Popular Education and Human Rights, Ghana (CEPERGH), and the recently founded LGBT+ Rights Ghana. 

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On January 31, LGBT+ Rights Ghana opened a community center. The center’s opening sparked a disproportionate reaction from media, parliament, and several religious institutions. On February 11, the media gave a platform to a lawyer who has spent the better part of the last decade fomenting hate and advancing lies about queer and transgender Ghanaians. The lawyer claimed on national radio that queer and transgender Ghanaians are not entitled to “fundamental human rights and freedoms” and called on the police to shut down the center. He went further to advocate for regressive national laws to be instituted, taking away the rights and freedoms of queer and transgender Ghanaians. 

Less than a week later, parliament took up these calls to strip queer and transgender Ghanaians of our rights during the vetting of new ministers. Members of Parliament (MPs) used these hearings as an opportunity to condemn and further dehumanize queer and transgender Ghanaians. Of note, during the hearing for the Gender Minister, MPs asked “lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT]…are they human? Should they enjoy human rights? Will you provide social protection?” The question of social protection doubled down on the assertion that LGBT Ghanaians are not entitled to fundamental human rights.  

After the hearings, religious organizations including the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Bishops Council, the office of the National Chief Imam, and a group of so-called concerned clergy added their voices to calls to strip rights away from queer and transgender Ghanaians. These groups advocated for the closing down of the LGBT+ Rights center and demanded that the government refuse to provide rights and protections to queer Ghanaians. They further framed their repudiation of queer Ghanaians by making anti-imperialist claims, fatuously arguing that the presence of foreign ambassadors at the Center’s opening was an affront to Ghana’s sovereignty. 

It is necessary to call out the hypocrisy of claiming that transnational and Black diasporic solidarity for queer and transgender Ghanaians is an affront to the nation’s sovereignty. Ghana’s government, media, and religious institutions have historically leveraged Western and Black diasporic support to advance their own agenda. Of note is the government’s 2019 Year of Return project, which targeted African Americans in particular, as well as the broader Black diaspora. The marketing campaign encouraged Black people around the world to return to Ghana and experience the country as their African home. Yet for queer and transgender people, whether in Ghana or living outside the African continent, the Ghanaian state has effectively made the country unsafe through institutionalized homophobia and repressive policies

Voices of solidarity from the diaspora are especially important right now. Ghana’s government continues to court Africans in the diaspora, and a principled stance from this demographic against state repression can challenge the government’s position. Likewise, because Ghanaian media has essentially silenced dissent, it is difficult for progressive voices to make public commentary or educate the general public. As such, it is necessary for people outside Ghana to speak out and amplify local dissent. For those in the United States, sending letters to the Ghanaian embassy in Washington, DC, or consulates in Houston, and New York can be one way of contacting the government and demanding protection for all citizens. You can also reach out to your networks via social media and other avenues and issue statements of solidarity in support of queer and transgender Ghanaians, who are often told that we are alone in our fight for full inclusion in Ghana. Visit Silent Majority, Ghana for more information about how you can help. 

Anima Adjepong (they/them) is a sociologist, critical race, gender, and sexualities scholar. They primarily focus on Ghanaian cultural politics and social justice efforts across the African diaspora.

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