Fearful Silence Shrouds Ghana’s Gay Crackdown
News sources report that efforts in the African nation Ghana to round up and "get rid of" gays have not been met with vocal resistance. To the contrary, even human rights groups have fallen into a fearful silence, lest they be accused of being gay themselves and subject to persecution.
The anti-gay crackdown started last month when a regional minister, Paul Evan Aidoo, responded to lobbying from Christian and Muslim groups with a directive that gays be placed under arrest. Aidoo tasked Ghanaian security agencies with finding and detaining gays, and also called for heterosexuals, such as landlords, to turn in people they suspect might be gay.
Aidoo has described the effort to round up and arrest gays as an initiative to "get rid of" all homosexuals.
One religious group, the Christian Council of Ghana, went a step further and demanded of its followers that they not lend their support at the ballot box to Ghanaian politicians who might be supportive of GLBT rights.
The anti-gay effort might well backfire and boost HIV rates in the African nation. Health advocates have long warned that countries that stigmatize and criminalize gays drive same-gender sexual conduct, whether between gays, bisexuals, or straight men who have sex with men (MSMs), underground.
Worse, the fear of prosecution prevents people from being tested for HIV, sharply raising the risk that HIV positive people will transmit the virus to others. An effective treatment regimen has been proven to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, but no such regimen will be used where people are too afraid to be tested, let alone pursue treatment.
Another side effect of such stigmatization is that the very people who most need fact-based health information and the means to protect themselves and others, such as condoms, are far less likely to receive those things in a climate where homosexuality is criminalized.
Social and legal stigma also imperils health workers and advocates. One such advocate, MacDarling Cobbinah, who is with the Coalition against Homophobia in Ghana, told the media that one colleague was accosted and assaulted by a gang, AllAfrica.com reported on Aug. 1.
"It has brought about a lot of fear and stigma for the people," said Cobbinah. "It is difficult to organize programs" for counseling, safer sex, and other needs of GLBTs and MSMs, Cobbinah added. "It is very difficult for people to walk freely on the street.
"The call for arrest has really pushed people down."
In some ways, the success of health-driven NGOs like Cobbinah’s group added to the problem, the article suggested, reporting that Aidoo took action after hearing that some 8,000 people had turned to the services that such NGOs provided.
But those thousands of people are now afraid to continue using any such services. Cobbinah told the media that while a few weeks ago 20 regulars attended a weekly peer support group, the numbers quickly dwindled and now no one at all attends.
"They said, ’If we come, we might be arrested.’ "
The threat of arrest alone seems to be a deterrent. The article said that no official arrests have taken place as of yet. But the social climate has sharply and abruptly deteriorated for Ghanaian GLBTs, and no one is speaking up in their defense.
Some individuals fear being branded as gay themselves if they speak out; meantime, service organizations have come under pressure from the government to disclose the names of Ghanaians who have used their services.
"Stopping this work would affect thousands of people," reported AllAfrica.com "In 2008, 2,900 people accessed their services, and by this year numbers had quadrupled."
But it’s unlikely the tide will turn any time soon. Ghanaian law has long penalized same-gender sex with prison time. And with next year’s elections approaching, politicians there see the exploitation of Ghanaian society’s homophobia as an easy means to promote their visibility and bolster their chances at the ballot box.
Moreover, since gays have been reticent to come out, they have largely been invisible. Reports of the 8,000 people who made use of the service organizations geared toward gays, bisexuals, and MSMs and curbing the AIDS epidemic "shocked" people who had no idea that so many gays could exist in their nation.
Ghanaian political party the People’s National Convention (PNC) issued a statement in support of Aidoo’s call for mass arrests of gays, British newspaper the Independent reported on July 22.
"Homosexuality is abhorrent," the PNC said. "Media discourse across the world is being dictated by the vulgar opinions of homosexuals. Ghana and probably Africa cannot sustain the menace of homosexuals."
Demonstrations against GLBTs in Ghana are a recent phenomenon, having begun only last year. The first such protest took place in the city of Sekondi Takoradi and drew "thousands of angry youth," according to June 4, 2010, GhanaWeb article. The protest was organized by a Muslim group, but received support from other religions as well, including Christianity.
The protest in Takoradi was reportedly prompted by "reports of alleged gay marriages and parties in Tanokrom and other suburbs of the city," the article said.
The GhanaWeb article was riddled with claims about gays that sound identical to anti-gay talking points from American religious opponents to the gay equality movement, including claims that young Ghanaian males were being turned gay by older men and that homosexuality is a choice. Moreover, gays were condemned as tempting God to punish Ghana.
"Ghana will suffer more than the experience of Sodom and Gomorrah, should we embrace this practice in this country," said protest leader Saeed Hamid, whose group even then was lobbying Aidoo to take action against the area’s gay population.