Ghana LGBTQ activist says friends in hiding after crackdown bill passes

A coalition of Christian, Muslim, and Ghanaian traditional leaders sponsored the legislation.
A coalition of Christian, Muslim, and Ghanaian traditional leaders sponsored the legislation.
Image: 123RF/nito500

Ghanaian trans woman and activist Angel Maxine fled to Berlin before parliament passed an anti-LGBTQ bill. She fears for the safety of the friends she has had to leave behind.

Legislators on Wednesday unanimously passed the legislation that will intensify a crackdown on the rights of LGBTQ people and those accused of promoting lesbian, gay or other minority sexual or gender identities in the West African country.

“I needed a safe place to continue my work as an activist,” said Maxine, who left the country last week. “The threats were just so much and I had to just find a way and just settle somewhere else and still have my voice.”

Gay sex was already punishable by up to three years in prison in Ghana. The bill imposes a prison sentence of up to five years for the “wilful promotion, sponsorship, or support of LGBTQ+ activities”.

"(My friends) are all terrified. Everybody is scared,” Maxine told Reuters, adding that they have to hide to avoid potential attacks against them if they cannot leave the country themselves.

The bill will now be presented to President Nana Akufo-Addo, who will decide whether it should be signed into law. Maxine said she and others in her community were urging the president, a human rights lawyer, not to sign it.

Darkwah Kyei-Darkwah, a Ghanaian-born artist and activist with the London-based UK Black Pride, which organises protests against the bill abroad, said the damage had already been done.

“Regardless of whether it is signed by the president or not, the fact that it has been publicised means that anyone who is emboldened enough to enact violence upon someone that they suspect to be queer will do it,” they said.

Amnesty International's West Africa researcher Michele Eken said the bill violated fundamental rights. Legislators say LGBTQ behaviour and advocacy goes against Ghana's cultural values.

The bill's passing comes as Ghana tries to emerge from a deep economic crisis and debt default with the help of a $3bn (R591bn) International Monetary Fund loan programme secured last year and financing from the World Bank.

An IMF spokesperson said it was watching developments in Ghana closely, but could not comment on a bill that was not yet law.

The World Bank suspended new funding for Uganda after the East African country passed a harsh anti-LGBTQ bill last year. A spokesperson for the World Bank did not respond to requests for comment on Ghana's bill.



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