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.