The contention by the leader of Ghana’s largest opposition group in Parliament that because ‘He Goats’ don’t pursue each other, gays and lesbians cannot express themselves freely in Ghana is preposterous. Does he mean that it is only if ‘He Goats’ were head over heels on each other that gays and lesbians would be tolerated? Warped logic, if you ask me. When did he goats become the yardstick for measuring anything except when they are dead?
Many have noted with glee the number of social media following lost to former Black Stars striker, Michael Essien, after he allegedly made comments in support of LGBTQI rights on twitter. A group of Black celebrities in the UK, who signed a letter in support of the vulnerable group, has also come under attack. Some reports named Sir David Adjaye, architect of Ghana’s National Cathedral and suggested he could not support LGBTQI rights and design the place of worship, because religious leaders won’t associate with a building designed by a supporter of those rights.
Traditional leaders have also gone on record that their subjects should report individuals engaged in LGBTQI activities. Have their collective attention only been drawn to the existence on the group in our communities just now? The subject of LGBTQI rights has become a hot potato that many will not want to touch for obvious reasons. But to raid an office meant for any vulnerable group and subsequently attack anyone who speaks in support of the group is the highest form of intolerance. Ghana has always prided itself as a country that is home to all and held a year of return asking Africans in the diaspora to settle here.
However, we seem to be quick to attack beliefs and practices foreign to us. Why do we spend time and other resources to woo people into our country with a mentality that isn’t amenable to other people’s ways? Our record of dealing with people we dislike has led to many infractions even within our governance system. People will go every length to discredit individuals of different political persuasion just because they believe in different things, politically. Try a conversation with a charismatic churchgoer as an orthodox churchgoer and hear the bigotry that comes with viewpoints. That’s simply who we have become. We don’t like to let people be so that we can also be.
Human Rights Watch, the global rights group still carries the narration of a Kumasi-based woman, who was brutally assaulted in the presence of the MCE and other public officials to the point of hanging a lorry tire around her neck to torch her, on its website. We were willing to set someone ablaze for expressing a sexual preference we do not agree or identify with? What would Jesus Christ do?
The speed with which the police raided and subsequently closed the LGBTQI office in Kwabenya should be applied to fighting the various menaces that plague this country. Playing heroes against a group of people for believing in something you disagree with, is not different from religious intolerance that has ended many lives in all parts of the world. Did the police not know of the office until the President spoke? Or someone wanted to impress him so much so that the safety of the group and their property no longer mattered?
And it deserves a mention that a Police Service that has lived with the Witches Camp that has endured probably my entire lifetime, feels a need to close down the LGBTQI office with alacrity. It demonstrates how we pick and choose what to address and who to protect. This discrimination against people and things we do not believe in serves no one well. To present the office raided and subsequently closed as though it’s gays and lesbians brothel where open sessions happen is disingenuous. Every group of people need counseling, especially when they are under all forms of attacks, therefore, having a safe space where they can share information and seek counseling, should not be out of place in a country that wears the badge of democracy with pride. To bury our heads in the sand and assume that by merely closing the office and engaging in social media hate commentary LGBTQI activities will end is chicanery. This practice has been known to man throughout human history, save the modern addition of transgender, which only became popular in the 1990s, though the first real recorded sex change occurred at Hirschfeld’s Berlin Institute in 1926.
Like Haruna Iddrisu’s comment and the police reaction, debate over LGBTQI has taken a rather negative twist, with nearly every appointee appearing at the vetting of ministers forced to bastardise lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, queer and intersex groups. Men of God, particularly, have been full of hate and demonstrated high sense of intolerance that is unchristian. Muslim leaders who have commented haven’t been any different. If the veil were lifted, we probably will see how many of them have gone behind other women.
What was shocking was the speed with which the Catholic Bishops Conference condemned the group and its existence in Ghana. Is this the same Catholic Church founded by Saint Peter, who knows that God is a forgiving Father and lets His light shine on both saints and sinners? Christians pride themselves as the most tolerant religion but here we are, with “god of men” speaking in unChristlike tones! Before I turn to the law, let us correct a misconception. Digging your heels deeply in the groin of LGBTQI group makes you no better than anyone expressing himself or herself that way.
Again, we cannot pretend that the practice was not very common in the Gold Coast before the arrival of Corned beef and Schnapps. Our people have always expressed themselves that way, hence the term ‘Kojo Besia’ in our vernacular lexicon. Claims that it is Europeans or Americans forcing our people to express themselves as they choose is simply baloney. Europe, America and any country that respects human rights will continue insisting that do not mistreat people for choosing to express themselves they way they want to. It must be emphasised that the colonial masters had to criminalise the act; probably for fear that they could become victims of our folk who were busy seeking solace in same-sex companionships. The UK outlawed homosexuality in 1885, spiraling similar moves across Europe; therefore, this can’t be their legacy in Ghana. What they left us is the Criminal Offences Act. That is what criminalises being gay in Ghana. But have you considered the extent to which acts like the penis in one’s mouth are also unnatural? How many men and probably women, will not fall on this sword?
The double standards must eat you up! Political groups that identify as being advocates of free expression are capitulating in the open, when LGBTQI rights is mentioned because it has taken the dimension of gaining or losing votes. Must everything be about votes? Why haven’t governments fixed all our problems just so they can get all our votes? We’ve got to be smarter than that.
What is interesting is that the Police Service has a history of working with CHRAJ to train LGBT+ group in Ghana on proactive steps to ensure their rights are protected. Why would the same organisation now turn round to open the group up to unwarranted attacks? If the Police have prosecuted anyone for being LGBTQI in the last decade, they should let us know.
It is documented that Ghana has kept Article 104(1)(b) of the Criminal Offenses Act on its statute books but has not applied it to LGBTQ acts, so what is Ghana’s actual position on the matter? To wax lyrical on the subject whenever it becomes topical and feed into the public sentiment and revert to sleeping mode until it comes up again? Honestly, when I read about the setting up of the office, I thought that Ghana had made progress. The next minute a Rambo-led police had made headlines for raiding and closing the office.
For those who believe in human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is not limited only to rights to life, privacy, health and equality before the law alone. It also guarantees freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination and violence, including torture and persecution of LGBTQI persons and violation of their fundamental human rights. The right to marry and found a family, Article 16 of the UDHR has expression in international law and many national laws, therefore we breach these provisions each time we criminalise LGBTQI persons. Those who express themselves that way also have rights to be equal under the law and must exercise their full range of human rights without being threatened or opened to attacks, that is against international law.
Ghana’s Constitution guarantees the protection and preservation of Fundamental Human Rights in its preamble the same way it guarantees the principle of Universal Adult Suffrage and Rule of Law to all citizens. Fortunately for Ghana, many in our political space, including the many in the legislature are students of law and know that by allowing these unwarranted attacks on LGBTQI persons, they are subjecting their basic human rights to abuses. We cannot criminalise anyone for expressing a sexual preference we disagree with. These rights are guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The LGBTQI group also deserve protection under our laws and it is an affront to our Constitution that guarantees all person human rights, for lawmakers and leaders in various capacities to abuse them and subject them to hate speech, for expressing a sexual desire different from yours.
As for the Men of God, I dare say they have failed the WWJCD test and must repent!
Let those with ears listen!
By Kobby Gomez Mensah,
This opinion piece does not reflect the views of Media General