Tag Archives: gay rights

The politics of being gay

On my first day of work, I was asked how I felt about having a gay president.

The question was referring to President Obama’s announcement in support of gay marriage; my reaction was some combination of nervous laughter, discomfort, denial and correction. It was the first of many conversations about Ghanaians’ attitudes toward homosexuality, which would unequivocally be deemed homophobic in North America.

It is getting close to election time here. The 2008 election had a high voter turnout – 72.91%, compared to the United States’ 56.8%. Mills’ peaceful victory was considered a redeeming display of African constitutional democracy after the corrupt elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

Does a high turnout and lack of military coup during elections translate to a fair democratic state? The Constitution claims to have a commitment to “the principle of universal adult suffrage” and “the protection and preservation of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”

There are various documented ramifications of being gay in Ghana. On May 21, Joy FM aired a documentary called “The Gay Next Door” which explores the gay community in Jamestown, Accra. After the recent discovery of a “lesbian party”, gay men and women were beaten, threatened and bullied. Police officers stood by, and when victims went to police headquarters seeking justice, they were refused.

“All these gay people who are making noise are doing so because there is no law that says that it is criminal. Parliament should look at that if possible,” one listener chimed in.

The broadcaster agreed. “If the majority of people feel that it is something that is wrong and it should be criminalized, you ask your lawmakers to amend the criminal code and add it to the sexual offenses act.”

Supporting gay rights in Ghana is political suicide. Official statements against homosexuality have been made by people at local and national levels of government. In 2011, the Western Regional Minister called for the arrest of gays, and President Mills has dismissed international pressures to legalize gay rights on multiple occasions.

“Ghanaian society frowns upon homosexuality and everybody has been telling us that democracy means governance for the people, by the people in the interest of the people,” President Mills commented.

On June 4, NPP Youth Organiser in the Ashanti Region, Collins Randy Amankwa, called for a harsher statement from Mills: “Ghanaians must open their eyes wide because our president may surprise us all just like Obama did to the Americans. He went there several times to seek for help before Obama made that declaration. What if he is given a huge assistance just so he will declare our support and recognition for homosexuality?”

Regardless of the religious and cultural contexts, publicly denouncing a faction of the constituency is a way to alienate certain citizens from the political process, and I wonder if this violates Ghana’s democratic principles.

In a background note published by the UN, Diana Ayton-Shenker addresses the potential conflict between human rights and cultural diversity. “The right to culture is limited at the point at which it infringes on another human right.”

Ghana will see a different political climate in fifty years – the same amount of time that made President Obama’s election possible. In Ghana’s relatively new democracy, I ask a question that few nations can answer affirmatively: is it possible for a publicly gay person to be elected to office?

My colleague – the staunch opponent of legalizing homosexuality who asked me the opening question – thinks it is possible.

“I’m sure, with time. The younger generation is more liberal than the previous one. In the next fifty years, we may not have a gay president, but we will have a community that generally accepts gay rights.”


Human Rights from an African Perspective

The first time someone told me that I need to start understanding “human rights from an African perspective”, I’ll admit, I was taken aback.

Human rights are human rights, right?

There are different schools of thought when it comes to “human rights” – one of which I only really began to understand once arriving in Ghana.

Here’s the thing:

This business of “universality” and “accepted definitions” of human rights gets a bit tricky when the laws governing a country are reflective of the cultural values of that country.

Ghana, for instance, is a UN member state and is thereby obliged to adhere to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The caveat is that Ghana is a non-secular country, where religion is very much infused in the daily lives of Ghanaians.

Let’s take gay rights, for instance. They do not exist in Ghana – hence the very aggressive campaign against homosexuals. Being gay is very much illegal in this country.

The next thing to consider here is that cultural attitudes towards homosexuality are, generally speaking, explicitly intolerant. It’s usually in this context that the notion of human rights from an African perspective comes up.

Last week, Ghana’s Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) organized a conference of stakeholders for their “National Conference on Integrity.”

It was there that I met the Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, Mr. Richard Quayson.

During a brief meeting with the Deputy Commissioner, I raised this notion of having an “African Perspective on Human Rights” and wondered why Ghana’s human rights commission does not support – and are moving no move to support – the rights of homosexuals in the country.

For Quayson, this rational makes complete sense. “We insist that people who subscribe to gay practice, should not be molested or discriminated against or – as it were – condemned,” he said. “But the commission will not openly support gay rights – yet.”

Change towards accepting homosexuality in Ghana will only come from the leadership of the nation. If the President – John Atta Mills – has not take a position on gay rights, neither will Ghana’s Human Rights Commission.

Qayson provided me with an explanation on CHRAJ’s opinion on why they cannot only support gay rights.

Have a listen:

While his answer is far from satisfactory from the perspective of someone who favours the UDHR, from the perspective of someone advocating for equality, and from the perspective of someone who fears for their life because of their sexual orientation, it reflects the reality of how human rights are defined in an African context.

Whether this reality is acceptable or impalpable for you, this is the framework informing the work of rights advocates in a country where – depending how you interpret CHRAJ’s position – human rights are inappropriately prioritized or carefully strategized.