SPECIAL REPORT: Why these five high-profile Ghanaians are against anti-LGBTQ bill
If the wishes of the Member of Parliament for Ningo-Prampram, Sam Nartey George, as well as other legislators, members of the Ghanaian clergy and some in civil society are anything to go by, the country should be dealing more sternly with individuals who identify with the LGBTQ spectrum.
The Proper Human Sexual and Ghanaian Family Values Bill (2021) is a 36-page legislative proposal that has been advertised by its chief architect, George, as a panacea for what he deems a social evil.
The MP tweeted a few weeks ago saying LGBTQ humanity “is not a human right. It is a sexual preference. We shall pass this bill through.”
If the bill becomes law, homosexuality will be criminalised, not simply for the act but also for when one publicly asserts that they are gay.
George’s proposal is not only coming for people who are members of the LGBTQ community. Allies and advocates who speak up for the LGBTQ community or provide financial and other kinds of support could also go to prison for 10 years.
Apart from that, the bill also provides room for intersex people to seek “gender realignment” and for people who are gay to undergo gay conversion therapy.
Gay conversion therapy is banned in many countries because of the harshness of the therapy, apart from its unproven scientific grounds. It is based on the idea that a gay individual could be converted to heterosexuality.
On August 2, the bill will be discussed on the floor of Parliament for the first time. The Speaker of the house, Alban Sumana Kingsford Bagbin, has already expressed his bias towards a bill that prohibits queer rights in the country but he does not get to make the laws.
However, one suspects that overwhelmingly, Ghanaian MPs are in favour of some prohibition of queer rights even if they are not entirely in favour of George’s proposal. After all, public opposition to queer rights is very strong in this deeply conservative country.
Even as some members of civil society organisations, as well as academics, warn of the dangers of passing an extreme proposal as the bill before the house, it will be interesting to see which legislators will try to challenge the legality [or morality] of the bill when the parliamentary processes are underway.
After the first reading, the Speaker of Parliament will refer the bill to a committee of MPs to edit, taking into consideration, views of public stakeholders.
The most prominent dissent so far from a Member of Parliament has been the argument made by the MP for Old Tafo, Vincent Ekow Assafuah, who expressed suspicions about the timing and purpose of the bill championed by mostly members of the Minority in Parliament.
Speaking in a TV interview on Monday, July 26, Assafuah argued that the members of the Minority were bringing to the fore a non-issue since the Criminal Offences Act already deals with has been termed “unnatural carnal knowledge”.
Assafuah’s scepticism of the bill recognises that the proposal puts the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) in an uncomfortable place. While an anti-LGBTQ bill could be popular with the electoral mass, Ghana’s development partners, many of whom support LGBTQ rights, could take second and third looks at their relationship with the West African country.
Opponents of the bill may not be a lot in Parliament or anywhere in Ghana for that matter, yet some of those who have made counterarguments to the bill happen to be high-profile Ghanaians who ordinarily possess social capital.
These individuals have spoken in either professional or personal capacities, citing why they are opposed to the bill before Parliament. As follows are five of these individuals:
Prof. H. Kwasi Prempeh
For three years, law professor Henry Kwasi Prempeh has headed the revered Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), rising from the rank of Director of Legal Policy and Governance.
CDD-Ghana has been a pacesetting civil society organisation whose contributions to Ghana’s nascent democracy have been applauded by Ghanaian political parties as well as international donor agencies.
Prof. Prempeh, who first took issue with anti-LGBTQ sentiments that gained traction in February and March of this year, has been speaking again on the matter in recent days, describing the legislative proposal as a “slippery slope” and “extremist”, in a recent radio interview.
The professor is doubtful that an anti-LGBTQ is necessary to Ghana’s development as a free country. His arguments have sought to attack the foundational motivations of the bill’s supporters who have said a law that targets LGBTQ individuals is essential for reasons of a national moral position.
In an opinion piece authored in February, Prof. Prempeh warned anti-LGBTQ proponents about assuming they understand the “natural order of things”.
“Once upon a time in human history and society, consensual sexual relations, including procreation, between persons of different “races” was proscribed as “miscegenation”, the scholar noted.
He has also offered arguments that call into question the constitutionality of a law that would prevent people from forming an association to advocate queer rights, wondering how free speech can be curtailed when national security is not at stake.
Dr Charles Wereko-Brobbey
Dr Wereko-Brobbey, a former boss at the Volta River Authority (VRA), is another who has spoken in hope that the bill does not pass.
The social commentator and energy expert who is now an out-of-favour founding member of the NPP, has advanced a position that attacks the constitutionality of the bill. But the man nicknamed Tarzan even has a more liberal view of society than the bill’s proponents.
In a TV interview with Joy News, Tarzan declared:
I don’t think we should be having certainties based on our so-called moral perspective and our religious preference. I grew up in Kumasi where the society of the 1960s was tolerant of ‘Kojo Besias’ through to the ’80s and ’90s in Ghana where the most popular nightspots were openly gays mixing with openly heterosexuals and there was everybody tolerating each other.
Dr Wereko-Brobbey is determined to situate LGBTQ rights outside the domain of religious perspectives and into republican opportunities. For the 68-year old, when parliamentarians make laws based on supposed religious convictions, it narrows the arena of life for others in a democratic republic.
He has since urged tolerance of persons within the LGBTQ community.
Some [members of the LGBTQ communtiy] were born as women but they have the hormones of a man so its not their wish to be like that. Hence the LGBTQI+ community must be allowed to move freely. Their rights ro movement and association must not be infringed upon.
The words above were uttered by Percival Kofi Akpaloo on Accra-based Happy FM at the beginning of March this year. The financial management consultant and once-fallen presidential hopeful insisted in the radio interview that hatred towards homosexuals was not a good place from which to write a bill.
Akpaloo also argued that even if it could be said that the homosexual phenomenon was borne out of spiritual compromise, he did not see how hating homosexual persons could solve the problem.
Perhaps we should have expected this less-than-critical assessment of LGBTQ rights from a man who named his political party the Liberal Party of Ghana (LPG). Akpaloo’s views on LGBTQ rights do not necessarily constitute activistic support for queerness as do the views of Dr Wereko-Brobbey.
However, what one gets from Akpaloo is an opinion that borders on humanity. He hopes that people broaden their understanding of what it means to be human and create an enabling environment for all others to thrive.
Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi
When the evolution of Ghanaian political culture over the last 30 years is written for intellectual consumption, it will be difficult to imagine the story without the contributions of political science lecturer Prof. Emmanuel Gyimah-Boadi.
He founded CDD-Ghana in 1998 and headed the thriving think tank until 2018. He is also a co-founder of Afrobarometer, a pan-African research network that measures public sentiments on issues of economic, political and social natures.
For a political scientist, it came as little surprise that his criticism of the anti-LGBTQ bill was based on calculated political capital as well as maximising the efficiency of the political process.
This use of the limited resources of the legislators of the Parliament of Ghana; both their time and resources, just completely baffles me and also makes me feel disappointed…Why would you be trying to solve non-existent problems when there are serious problems that face all of us?
Gyimah-Boadi puts across the point that even though a majority of Ghanaians would possibly support an anti-LGBTQ bill, he did not see the need for lawmakers to invest time and resources into passing legislation on a phenomenon that has no correlation with political and economic development.
“Have they [MPs] decided that homophobic legislation is the best way for them to thank the Ghanaian voter and the Ghanaian taxpayer at large?,” the professor asked in a conversation with Bernard Avle of Citi TV.
He goes on to say that the anti-LGBTQ agenda seems to be a diversionary tactic from the failures of the political establishment. In this vein, politicians are whipping up anti-LGBTQ sentiments for the purposes of hiding the fact that they have not gotten much done and are not getting much done on “key pressing national issues”.
Solicitor, barrister, businessman and political strategist Gabby Otchere-Darko holds a place in Ghanaian politics many can only dream of. He is not a government appointee yet it is impossible to conclude he has no influence in the governance of the country by the party he dearly supports.
The co-founder of the Danquah Institute, a pro-NPP think tank, is also an avowed social liberal who holds relaxed views on the way in which people choose to conduct harmless and mundane everyday activities.
The man popularly referred to as Gabby makes both ideological and political arguments against the bill. From ideology, the Asaase Radio co-owner believes it is not the place of government to legislate what two consenting adults do behind closed doors.
Politically, Gabby fears the bill could lead to difficult times for the NPP government as it tries to further Ghana’s relationship with development partners. In July, Gabby tweeted the bill can “get Ghana blacklisted for promoting hate! Surely, the promoters of the Bill can’t say they aren’t aware!”.
He has also sarcastically advocated the criminalisation of adultery since most supporters of the anti-LGBTQ bill have mentioned the “sinfulness” of homosexuality. If Parliament is supposed to deliberate on sins, why stop at the LGBTQ community?
In February, he also famously advocated on Facebook:
You don’t have to be pro-gay to appreciate their situation. You only have to be human. Let us be careful and not generate an intense hate campaign against homosexuals. You can speak for the law and ‘culture’ minus hate.
As pointed out, none of these prominent public personalities is in Parliament and therefore are inconsequential to the final decision. Nonetheless, they are influential members of the public.
The different arguments they have all made range from the scientific to the sarcastic will not go into the night unheeded by an increasingly information-hungry population.
Yet, there are legitimate questions about how much public opinion could be changed by gentlemen who are viewed as removed from the everydayness of being a Ghanaian.
This everydayness includes situating religious faith at the apex of interests. This is after all a country where most people still believe that the deity in whom they trust has a bigger say in their economic prospects than the government does.
These professors and experts are arguably not ones who expect religiosity in the public arena as ordinary Ghanaians do.