This year, a lot of conversations about the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community in Ghana have been had and it will not be going away.
While some of the discourse has been outright homophobic, others have also been a little more receptive to pro LGBTQ views.
The LGBTQ community is marginalised and targeted simply for choosing to exist. While they go about their normal everyday routine, they are subjected to violence and state-sponsored harassment.
Currently, a bill, described as the most homophobic piece of legislation in the world, has been tabled in parliament for lawmakers to debate.
Among many other horrendous provisions, the bill criminalises LGBTQ people who face 5 years in prison if found guilty of being who they are. Furthermore, allies and people who advocate for the acceptance of LGBTQ people face 10 years in jail.
It goes further to prescribe conversion therapy as a cure for being gay. Conversion therapy has been described by mental health experts as an abhorrent practise that tries to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity instead it ends up causing mental and physical harm.
People in support of the anti-gay law have often made their arguments using culture, religion and law to support their argument. This article will attempt to provide the other perspective that is often ignored in LGBTQ conversations in Ghana.
One go-to argument in support of anti-gay views and people is that it is not part of the African culture. It is presented as a wholly western sexual practice that is being forced on Africans. However, this argument either neglects Africa’s pre-colonial cultural context or they choose to ignore it altogether.
Ethnographic studies conducted by researchers into pre-colonial African city-states and ethnic groups paint a picture of some African cultures that were accepting of LGBTQ people. For instance, it is known that the people of Nzema did practice same sex marriages known as “agɔnwole agyalɛ” (friendship marriage). Though researchers have debated whether these marriages were sexual, the fact is that two people of the same sex in the Nzema community are recognised for being involved in agɔnwole agyalɛ. They lived together and made a living together. Also, in Buganda Kingdom, which is part of modern-day Uganda, King Mwanga II was openly gay and he was accepted by his people. He only started having problems when European missionaries visited his Kingdom and started converting his people into Christianity.
In Ghana, the two dominant religions are Christianity and Islam. These religious groups propagate anti-gay messaging. In Ghana, various religious bodies such as the Christian Council, Catholic Bishops Conference and the Islamic leaders have all condemned and warned against the acceptance of LGBTQ Ghanaians. What is ironic here is that Ghanaians who are practising un-African religious beliefs are using their Western and Middle Eastern religious texts to determine how Africans should live their lives. These religions gained popularity in Ghana and other African countries through trade and colonialism. Christianity especially was a tool used to equate everything African and not approved by Europeans as satanic and deviant. That is why even dreadlocks are frowned upon. That is why most black women define beauty as having permed hair. However, very little focus has been placed on African religious practices.
Ghanaian researcher, Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed notes in her research paper, “Deconstructing homosexuality in Ghana” that “homosexuality manifested in African Traditional Religions among the Dagara of southern Burkina Faso and northern Ghana, where priests served as mediators between the physical world and the spiritual realm. They practised homosexuality as part of their priestly identities while they maintained heteronormative relationships in which they had wives and children.
These manifestations of the fluidity of nonconforming sexualities challenge the argument that bases homophobia on the un-African-ness of homosexuality since fluid sexualities manifested in various forms in parts of West Africa. Therefore, the constant policing of sexuality pointing to its unAfrican-ness is intrinsically flawed.”
The other argument point in support of anti-gay believes is that it is against Ghana’s laws. First of all, if it is against the law then why do we have another bill on the floor of parliament seeking to make what is against the law already, illegal. The current law does not specifically mention homosexuality. The Criminal Code of 1960, Act 29, Chapter 6, Sexual Oﬀences, Article 105 amended in 2003, states that “whoever is guilty of unnatural carnal knowledge – (a) of any person without his consent, is guilty of first degree felony; (b) of any person with his consent, or of any animal, is guilty of a misdemeanour” with a penalty of at five years imprisonment and not more than 25 years. Now, this would go for blow job and anal sex even between a man and a woman. Because the assumption here is that “natural sex” is between a man and a woman using the penis and the vagina. So the current law, as per is text, does not only apply to gay people, however, it has been used to target only LGBTQ Ghanaians. Another aspect of this law reflects how as an independent country, we are still governed by colonial laws that were migrated to our books from the English Common law.
Most of Ghana’s penal codes are vestiges of colonial power and rules made to put the black man in check. It is, however, ironic that now that Europeans are welcoming of gay people and have changed their laws to reflect that, Africans are still holding on to the colonial laws the same Europeans made to hold Africans back.
People in the LGBTQ community in Ghana and their allies are rather asking for Africans to be allowed to live their lives just as anybody else. LGTBQ Ghanaians have been pushed to the margins of society, however, that does not been that they do not exist or have never existed in Africa of Ghana even before the first European arrived on the shores of Africa.
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