Alex Kofi Donkor is the director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an organization focused on achieving social and legal equality for all Ghanaians. Ghana’s political sphere is dominated by religious fundamentalism that criticizes and criminalizes LGTBI people. He and the team at LGBT+ Rights Ghana connect LGBTI Ghanaians, protect them from abuse, and set a course toward a future in which all citizens can unlock their full potential.
By Ari Weinstein
What is it like in terms of self-expression in Ghana? How does that affect LGBT people?
There are quite a number of inequalities here, and it streams from so many levels within a whole system of oppression. This system is mostly driven by religious ideologies and fundamentalism. We have politicians, lawyers, judges, police, the military, health care workers, and others, and almost all of them, one way or another, are aligned with a certain belief system. They have demonized, castigated, and oppressed LGBTI persons; they judge you because of what their religion is saying or because of what they’ve heard from their religious leaders. These leaders tell their followers that gay people are demons and sinners, and that they have to be stoned or detained. There are even people who don’t really believe in the religious teachings but would want to find bases for hating LGBTI people, so they use what religious leaders say.
Is there technically a separation between the religion and the state, or are politics directly, openly influenced by religion?
This is a simple answer actually. The politics in this country are influenced by religion since the majority of the population are religious. Per our last population census, we saw that about 92 to 95 percent of the population are religious. Politicians try to align with religious voters in order to win elections. For instance, the current speaker of parliament Mike Oquaye is also clearly homophobic and has made a lot of homophobic comments. He has made openly and clearly calling LGBTI persons deviant and claiming they are evil, claiming it’s a tribute to his religious beliefs. If you have a leader who uses his position to incite hate against Ghanaians who identify as LGBTI, it is unfortunate. This affects all Ghanaians who identify as LGBTI, as well as women and children, whose lives are influenced by the politicians and politicians here in this country. In addition, when our current president Nana Akufo-Addo came into power in 2017, he was interviewed by Al Jazeera. He was asked whether he would accept LGBTI people, and he said that at that point, there was no strong LGBTI movement in Ghana, but when there would be one and they are demanded their rights, it would definitely happen. When he made that statement there was backlash all over the country, mostly from religious people. So he retracted his statement the next time he went for a meeting somewhere which was a religious meeting. He said his Christian beliefs didn’t allow him to accept gay marriage.
We were like, who even advocated for LGBTI marriage?! We are asking for LGBTI Ghanaians to be treated equally as every other Ghanaians. The issue of marriage hasn’t even gotten anywhere yet. Why would I even be working toward marriage when the very life that I’m leading is already being threatened? In Ghana, people find it okay to abuse LGBT persons with impunity. That is what is on the table and that is what we are talking about.
You mentioned that gay marriage is not even anywhere on your radar of what’s most important. I’m curious what are the things that are immediately the most important?
Our organization has reporting platforms for LGBTI persons who face discrimination, and on a daily basis we receive reports of LGBTI persons being abused. They are beaten while being videotaped, and these videos are circulated on social media platforms. Often, they go to the police station to report the violence and these police officers arrest the LGBTI person rather than the abuser. The fact that the person identifies as gay or lesbian is all that the police is interested in. We’re also dealing with a colonial legacy law: Section 104 of our criminal code, which was inherited from the British colonial era and was adopted by our criminal court system. A lot of people are using this “carnal knowledge” law to abuse LGBTI people. We are looking for LGBTI persons to live freely and openly, and to be respected and protected.
Can you tell me how LGBT+ Rights Ghana is involved in this fight in this activism?
I started LGBT+ Rights Ghana as a cyber activism blog. There was no visibility for LGBTI conversations and issues, and as a community we needed to create our own story and direct our own narrative. We didn’t have a space where we could hear lessons learned from each other and grow as a community. I created social media pages to share LGBTI news and eventually we moved from a Facebook group to WhatsApp group. In December 2018 we decided to meet each other for the first time face to face, come together in a unified form, and mobilize ourselves as a movement for LGBTI rights.
We also put together our strategic goal and we’re in the process of being registered as a legal entity. We anticipate that the registrar general in Ghana might refuse to register us because of homophobia. We’re going to prepare for litigation in collaborate with ISLA. We haven’t yet challenged the system from a legal perspective, but that is one of the strategies that we are looking at. We’d like to repeal the Section 104 law that talks about natural carnal knowledge.
We still have an online presence. We use our social media to call out politician, religious, and opinion leaders and media people who are homophobic. We are strengthening our communications and strategy here. We are very hopeful and optimistic that we will be able to create the atmosphere and space that allows for gay, lesbian, bisexual, or whichever sexuality or gender identity to live freely, openly, and equally, and be able to achieve their full potential as Ghanaians.
What kinds of community services do you offer in Accra or Ghana as a whole?
Putting the LGBT narrative especially on social media as much as possible is the core. When you check our social media pages, they are constantly updated. We have also created a list that warns other LGBT persons about certain people who abused, blackmailed, and extorted from LGBTI people (the Gay Blackmail List). We have a reporting system where issues of abuse can be tracked, and once it has been reported, we are able to follow up on some of these cases and offer psychosocial counseling or legal support.
We have a monthly event called Here and Beyond where we meet on the last Sunday of each month to educate ourselves, socialize, network, and learn from each other. We have Queer Mat, a platform where we learn from each other. It’s very intimate because we talk about our sexual lives. We hold empowerment activities and programs for the community itself to confront economic disparities and challenges that the community faces. We also raise funds to support some of these initiatives because as much resources as we have as a community and as a movement, a lot of the money that we use in most of the work comes from individual donors. We’ve also launched a community support fund where individuals can support community members through a GoFundMe account or PayPal account.
What other things are important to know about LGBTI life in Ghana or about your organization?
I talked about all the challenges that we are facing as a community, but we’ve also had successes. We are creating spaces for ourselves. We are learning from each other all the time. We are pushing for inclusion and we’re ready to cause the change that we deserve. It’s unfortunate that patriarchy and homophobia exist because of all the people who want to hold on to power, but we are resistant to all these forces. I am very appreciative of the generation of Ghanaians who are living unapologetically, defying all the toxic ideas and living their lives loudly.
You’re very optimistic!
Definitely. We can only be optimistic and hope for the best. We deserve the best, as all people deserve to live to the best of their abilities. Every citizen is equally important and when some citizens make life difficult for other citizens, it means that the development of the country is only going to be impeded upon. We’re actually doing ourselves harm by not allowing people to live and achieve their full potential.
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