Rightify Ghana is a human rights organization focused on LGBTQ equality in Ghana. Alturi spoke with the executive director and founder Danny Bediako* to discuss the organization’s critical work, conditions on the ground for LGBTQ Ghanaians, and how the international community can support Rightify Ghana’s fight against a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill currently under debate in the nation’s parliament.
By Phillip Baumgart
How did Rightify Ghana get started?
The national government has long denied LGBTQ Ghanaians respect, protection, and recognition. Rightify Ghana came together to raise awareness about the many challenges faced by our community – challenges neglected by the government at the policy level. Our organization seeks to mitigate harm, identify solutions, and ultimately empower sexual and gender minorities across the country.
What services does Rightify Ghana offer? What are the organization’s goals?
Rightify Ghana is based in Kumasi, where – unlike in the capital city of Accra – there are only a handful of queer-focused human rights groups. This makes our organization’s work important. Rightify Ghana’s efforts span three areas: advocacy, community empowerment, and media monitoring.
Our advocacy efforts include reporting and documenting human rights violations, as well as providing legal support. When a community member experiences homophobia or violence, Rightify contacts the victim, documents what happened, and determines if and how the case can be brought before legal authorities.
This documentation is valuable when lobbying key stakeholders, such as law enforcement and religious leaders. In light of recent increases in violence against LGBTQ Ghanaians, for example, we’ve called upon law enforcement, specifically current Police Inspector-General Dr. George Akuffo Dampare and the Ghana Police Service leadership, to ensure their duty of “protection of life and property” extends to LGBTQ persons. While the police have improved efficiency in combating and prosecuting other crimes, we have not witnessed similar efforts towards violence and threats to LGBTQ Ghanaians. We are also imploring religious leaders and institutions to condemn the attacks and use their pulpits to deliver sermons filled with empathy for humanity, thus encouraging some form of the “Love thy neighbor as thyself” mentality.
The second pillar of Rightify Ghana’s work is community empowerment, particularly capacity building and human rights education. In addition to facilitating healthcare education and access, such as that to HIV resources, Rightify facilitates psycho-social support services. This means providing counseling for community members on issues ranging from accepting one’s identity to confronting homophobia, to experiencing an existential crisis. These services aim to provide community members with the tools to live in harmony with their sexual orientation and gender identity – despite the many challenges of internalized homophobia, religious conflicts, family dynamics, etc.
The third major area of our organization’s work is media monitoring and engagement. Rightify Ghana analyzes national, local, and social media to identify emerging security threats to LGBTQ individuals and organizations. Tracking who’s getting targeted provides foresight to guide our advocacy and activities. We participate in live TV and radio interviews but often must do so under anonymity given the intense personal security risks associated with queer activism in Ghana.
What are conditions like for LGBTQ Ghanaians?
Being gay or transgender in Ghana remains difficult, often dangerous. Aside from personal safety, Rightify Ghana’s number one concern, LGBTQ individuals routinely face restrictions on constitutional rights like education, housing, and healthcare. For example, students suspected of being gay or transgender often find themselves reported to school administration and suspended from classes, sometimes for months at a time. As a result, they may fall critically behind in their studies and ultimately resort to dropping out.
Employment and housing discrimination are also common. Individuals perceived as gay or transgender are often fired, denied work opportunities, evicted, or arbitrarily arrested. Such individuals likewise face blackmail and harassment by vigilante groups. The cumulative result of these challenges, among others, is elevated poverty rates among LGBTQ Ghanaians, as Human Rights Watch documented in a 2018 report.
The media enables–even encourages–negative perceptions of the LGBTQ community. The homophobia we see in the media mirrors that of Ghanaian society. Homophobic media coverage, in turn, pours this negativity back into society, compounding it. Social media in particular often justifies or even glorifies anti-LGBTQ violence – even in life-threatening cases. When an attack happens, the media often shows the victim’s face, subjecting that individual to persecution and harm down the road. Meanwhile, religious leaders feign ignorance and refrain from condemning violence against our community.
An anti-LGBTQ bill is currently under debate in parliament – The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021. Can you comment on that?
This draconian bill is a significant focus of Rightify Ghana’s advocacy efforts at the moment. We’ve sought to raise awareness on some of the more alarming aspects of the bill, which have already garnered attention in the international press. Not only does the bill punish being LGBTQ with up to five years in prison. It also mandates criminalization of LGBT advocacy, requirements for citizens to denounce those suspected of being LGBTQ, formalized conversion therapy, and longer jail sentences. The bill would not only make life more difficult for the LGBTQ community – it essentially criminalizes sympathy for the community. The bill is a homophobe’s dream law.
Rightify Ghana’s media monitoring efforts ensured that we knew a lot about the bill before it was released, allowing us to coordinate a strategy. In addition to utilizing social media and media appearances to raise awareness of the discriminatory nature of the bill, our organization submitted a parliamentary memorandum. However, we have yet to receive a formal invitation to parliamentary hearings or legal proceedings.
Our message to the Parliament of Ghana is that they should acknowledge the violence experienced by LGBTQ persons and reject the bill. We likewise urge President Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo and his government to stand with Ghana’s constitution and protect human rights and freedoms, as well as Ghana’s democracy. Evidence suggests that conditions will get worse and more people may get killed if this bill is passed and signed into law.
How can the international community support equality in Ghana?
This is our fight, and we will fight our own fight. That said, we are not telling the international community not to act. There are many ways in which it can assist. Yet, international actors must strategize directly with local queer organizations about the best approaches. Local organizations know the conditions on the ground and know what narratives to use. Not doing so means international actors may create a backlash against the very people they seek to help.
Funding is an area where the international community can support the LGBTQ cause in Ghana. Financial support can help fund victims of human rights atrocities by providing money for bail, safe spaces, healthcare, rehabilitation, and more.
Awareness is also critical. Foreign governments and other international actors can hold Ghana’s government accountable by raising LGBTQ issues in high-level discussions. In addition, international aid donors should call upon our government to support LGBTQ Ghanaians and other vulnerable groups. After all, overall poverty in Ghana cannot be reduced while neglecting the LGBTQ community.
To support Rightify Ghana’s critical work, click here.
(*pseudonym used for security purposes)
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