Your Ghana, My Ghana - How the anti-LGBTQ+ bill gags the media and creative voices

Your Ghana, My Ghana - How the anti-LGBTQ+ bill gags the media and creative voices

Ghana has been a forerunner on the African continent in the fight for political freedom, championing broad, epoch-defining movements like decolonisation and pan-Africanism.


But if the controversial Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, known as the anti-LGBTQ+ bill, is signed into law, the country will become known for one of the most narrow-minded and intolerant acts in Africa.

The bill, which was passed by Parliament on 28 February and now awaits the assent of President Akufo-Addo, criminalises all forms of sexual activity outside binary male-female gender relationships.

Under the bill, anyone who holds out as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transexual, queer, ally, pan-sexual, non-binary or any other gender identity contrary to the binary categories of male and female (LGBTTQAP+) commits a misdemeanour and can be imprisoned for up to three years.

But it dishes out even harsher prison sentences to any “ally” who tries to advocate on behalf of an LGBTQ person.

According to the bill, an “ally” means “a person who produces, procures, markets, broadcasts, disseminates, publishes or distributes a material with intent to promote any activity prohibited” under the proposed Act. 

Media, Creative Arts

Under Section 2.2 of the bill, the media and the creative arts industry are listed among six categories of people and institutions that should promote and protect the values defined in Section 19 of the proposed Act, through formal and informal education. Failure to do so could make a person liable to up to four months in prison.

But most ominously, under section 10.2, support for any prohibited activity or any action “aimed at changing public opinion towards an act prohibited” attracts a term of 5-10 years behind bars. Under 14.2, anyone supporting the organisation of LGBTQ+ activities can be jailed for 3-5 years.

The bill had its first reading on August 2, 2021, its second reading on July 5, 2023 and was passed after its third reading on February 28, 2024.

As the bill has passed through its various stages, creative voices who have used their art to draw attention to its draconian clauses include a trio of musicians made up of popular entertainer Wanlov the Kubolor, his straight-talking sister, Deborah Vanessa, and Ghana’s first openly transgender musician, Angel Maxine.

Other creatives who have taken a stand against the bill include actress Lydia Forson, musicians M.anifest, Sofie, Baaba J and M3NSA, media personality Afia Schwarzenegger and comedian KSM.

Last week, more than 200 “Ghanaians across the world”, including high-profile actors and actresses, signed an open letter to President Akufo-Addo, asking him to “be on the right side of history” and not assent to the bill.

Originating as a private members bill, the bill was laid before Parliament in August 2021 by eight Members of Parliament (MPs) from both sides of the House, the Majority New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the Minority National Democratic Congress (NDC).

The eight were led by the MP for Ningo-Prampram, Sam George. But though Sam George is credited as the main drafter and defender of the bill, ironically, a video doing the rounds on social media records the MP as having once vigorously defended gay rights.

Speaking to Joy News during the controversy over whether President John Mahama should have hired a gay activist to publish his 2013 book, My First Coup d’Etat, Sam George said the issue had been “overflogged” and was “being pushed just to suit a parochial political agenda”.

“The Constitution determines that every human being should have rights. It does not go ahead to break down if the human beings should be straight or gay,” Sam George, then a member of the NDC Communications Team said.

He challenged the media, as the Fourth Estate, to “pick issues that are of necessity to the Ghanaian people”.

Moreover, “They don’t care whether the President’s friend who published his book is gay. No, they want to have potable drinking water; they want to have electricity when they turn on the switches in their homes,” Sam George said.

Behind the Sam George-led volte-face, the architect of the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill is lawyer Moses Foh-Amoaning, who is the Executive Secretary of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values. 

It was Foh-Amoaning who advocated the closure of an LGBTQ+ advocacy centre opened in Accra in January 2021. According to a 2021 memorandum laying out the objectives of the bill, the opening of the centre, which was attended by some Western ambassadors, was a key impetus.


As part of its activities, the Coalition has recently set up a medical centre that offers gay-conversion therapy and “guides people away from that behaviour”, Foh-Amoaning told the Graphic’s Your Ghana, My Ghana. “We’ve treated people with hormone imbalance, and it’s worked,” he said.

This controversial approach, together with the threatened closing down of the advocacy space, has drawn the ire of human rights groups, who have lashed out against the bill. 
Several lawsuits have already been filed at the High Court and the Supreme Court by individuals and groups, including the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD).

Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) had already warned that the bill would make LGBTQ people more vulnerable and “dent the image of Ghana as an oasis of peace, tolerance and democracy”.

The passing of the bill was held up when then Deputy Majority Leader in Parliament, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, asked Parliament to replace the custodial sentence for violations with community service.


Afenyo-Markin, who is also the MP for the Effutu Constituency in the Central Region, had argued that you could not jail a person for their sexuality. But Parliament rejected his proposal.  

The Finance Ministry then jumped into the fray, arguing in an internal memo that Ghana would stand to lose US$3.8 billion from international donors over the next few years if the bill became law.

International condemnation of the bill poses a dilemma for Ghana’s sitting President, Akufo-Addo, whose second and final term as president will come to an end following the December 2024 elections.

But though diplomatically embarrassing, the threats by international diplomats, including the United States (US) Vice-President, Kamala Harris, have tended to irk Ghanaians, many of whom continue to quote or misquote the Bible, rather than human rights instruments, as their moral compass.


Religious leaders

The bill has been widely supported by Ghana’s religious leaders, though the Catholic Church has taken the view that the custodial sentences are harsh and that the bill will ostracise people.

The opposition NDC party is seeking to capitalise on anti-gay sentiment in the country to make the bill their rallying cry for the December elections if the President refuses to sign it into law.

Ironically, should the NDC be returned to power, it would be John Mahama, once forced to defend his gay publisher and friend, who would now face the decision.
No president should be proud to put their signature on a bill that closes off the space for democratic debate on any issue affecting Ghanaians.

But the country faced a fresh crisis last week when Speaker Alban Bagbin said he was suspending Parliament because an interlocutory injunction had been filed against the ongoing vetting of new ministerial appointees. This was denied by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame.

Such tit-for-tat can only heighten the President’s predicament over what to do about the bill. For the moment, the dilemma has been pushed to the level of the Judiciary, which must decide whether the proposed new act is in keeping with Ghana’s Constitution.

In addition, the judges must determine whether the bill’s vaguely defined and nebulous offences attracting such severe prison sentences can produce a consistently fair administration of justice and a safe environment for all Ghanaians, let alone LGBTQ people and their families, friends, colleagues, landlords, employers, sponsors and spokespeople, as well as the media and social media platforms that air their views.

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