Africa continues to hit the gay news headlines for all the wrong reasons. Lloyd Copper uncovers recent developments in Ghana and asks: what would we do in their place?
Last month, Paul Aidoo, the Western Regional Minister in Ghana, ordered the arrest of all homosexual persons in the west of the country. He also urged landlords and tenants to dob in anyone they suspected were homosexual.
Whilst sadly this story isn’t all that surprising, when you think of the African continent and LGBT rights in general, it does mean that once again, our gay brothers and sisters overseas are being targeted and need our help.
The recent trouble started when a media outlet reported there were around 8,000 homosexuals in Ghana; with a population of around 24 million, this is probably a conservative estimate. The figures were collected from non-government health services accessed by gay people and Ghana’s homophobic media seized on the numbers. The news also got the Ghanaian Christian Council riled up; it asked voters not to vote for any politician that supported gay rights. Aidoo added to the disquiet, commenting that “all efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society”, calling LGBT people “detestable and abominable.”
The internet has undoubtedly made life easier for gay people across the globe. With global sites like Manhunt and Gaydar making it easier to connect with other people of the same orientation, plus being able to find out information unavailable in schools and libraries, an underground has been established in many countries where homosexuality is taboo – if you are lucky enough to have access to a computer.
However, in Africa the internet can be a weapon. There are reports of attractive young men creating profiles, and then blackmailing (or worse) the hopeful prospect. The internet is also providing homophobes with more information; and they are pouncing on this to prove that homosexuality is growing, that it is a curse, that it is imported from the West, along with other scaremongering statements.
With pressure building on the LBGT community, it is worth noting the obstacles LGBT people in Ghana already face.
The constitution of Ghana guarantees human rights, but fails to include sexuality. There are no anti-discrimination laws. The hugely influential Christian and Muslim preachers condemn homosexuality and call it ‘un-African’.
Ironically, most of the anti-gay laws are leftovers from the British colonial era. In 2006, a gay and lesbian conference was reported to be taking place in the capital, Accra. The government swiftly banned it and the Information Minister went on record as saying “the government would like to make it absolutely clear that it should not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality are therefore illegal under the laws of Ghana.”
The implications Aidoo’s statement are especially troubling when you think of the HIV/ AIDS crisis that has devastated the African continent. According to USAID, in 2006, 25% of gay men had HIV or AIDS.
As in Uganda, where many gay people think the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was made law – it’s actually been stalled – many men are now not accessing health services. AIDS aside, being an involuntary member of a group that could be arrested any minute must be stressful and probably not too good for one’s self esteem.
I am 27 and have lived in Queensland for most of my life. I am acutely aware of the parallels between life here for me being gay, and what it would be like in an African country. I often imagine myself being in their shoes, and think of those awful questions with which I would have to wrestle: what am I going to do? Who will help me? Where can I get safe information?
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