50.50: Opinion

As a Christian Ghanaian woman, I’m appalled by the proposed anti-LGBTIQ law

It would be a tragedy if Ghana passes a bill that restricts our ability to embrace one another – ideologically or physically

Rose Afriyie.png
Rose Afriyie
15 November 2021, 10.46am
Illustration: Inge Snip

One of the moments that has always lingered with me after an extended visit to Ghana was the sight of two men holding hands. The abandon with which straight Ghanaian men show their affection for one another – clasping hands on a casual afternoon or with forearms resting across each other’s shoulders while watching a football game – warms my soul.

The physical endearments that men in Ghana share gave me, a Black Ghanaian American and a Christian, a possible model for what masculinity unencumbered by traditional Western cultural norms could become.

But, unfortunately, these acts of affection between men could soon be illegal in Ghana.

Ghanaian politician Sam George wants to turn a bill entitled ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values’ into law. According to the bill, “a public show of amorous relations between or among the same sex” would be considered “gross indecency”, with a penalty of up to a year in prison.

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The bill would also make sexual acts by members of the same sex punishable by up to five years in prison. Its far-reaching provisions would even outlaw the promotion of LGBTIQ rights, by banning “engaging or participating in an activity that would support sympathy for a change of public opinion”.

Another striking element of the bill is that anyone who “owns or occupies a home” where they know LGBTIQ members and their allies live is threatened with up to six years’ imprisonment. In practice, this pits parents squarely against their millennial LGBTIQ children – and in the midst of a pandemic too.

Support from Ghana’s churches

At the end of last month, the Christian Council of Ghana (CCG), a coalition of 200 Christian churches and missions, released a joint statement backing the so-called ‘Family Values’ bill.

But, as a Ghanaian Christian and a woman of unshakeable faith – who considers herself a result of her mother and grandmother’s prayers – the CCG does not reflect my Christianity, my family values or my faith.

In their statement, faith leaders referenced their observance of COVID-19 protocols and the urgent need for vaccines for “the entire population of the country”. At the same time, they appealed to the government “to help safeguard our cherished family system in Ghana”.

The CCG should examine how they can recognise the scourge of COVID-19 in one breath while also lobbying the government to impel parents of LGBTIQ children to evict them from their homes or face prison. All this during what is an unprecedented crisis for our world as a whole, but especially for Africa.

I agree with the CCG that the Ghanaian government should be commended for the vaccines they have procured so far, but, remember, almost 95% of Ghana’s population remains unvaccinated. For them, it is more important than ever to minimise the risk of contracting coronavirus.

And yet these Christians propose sending consenting adults with whom they disagree to prison, where, according to data from the US, the rate of coronavirus infection can be five times higher than in the general population.

Scandal of teenage pregnancies

Within the domain of “family values”, Ghana is also experiencing a crisis that has been widely ignored.

Recent media reports say that during the ten months that schools were closed because of the pandemic, 100,000 teenage girls became pregnant.

Notable efforts to keep adolescent girls in school have been made by the ‘Better Life for Girls’ project. But the project’s leaders say that the figure of 100,000 teen pregnancies is an underestimate and does not account for pregnancies in rural areas or outside the hospital system.

It is an abomination that the impregnation of 100,000 girls while supposedly sheltering safely at home has not been deemed worthy of a statement by Ghana’s religious coalitions.

The country, which has always been at the vanguard of independence in Africa, should remain at the forefront by reimagining how to expand (not restrict) the rights of the marginalised. It should not be dismantling its constitution with undemocratic provisions.

Christ often reserved judgement and he always showed compassion to people at the margins of society

Similarly, the clergy should be at the forefront of not judging people before their time (1 Corinthians 4:5). They should also tell a more complete story about how Christ treated people with whom he disagreed: he often reserved judgement (Matthew 7:1-2), and he always showed compassion to people at the margins of society (Matthew 25:35-36, 40).

As I reflect on the unmeasurable toll and loss of this pandemic, I think of all the people who have suffered in isolation.

One of the greatest strengths of Ghanaian culture is how broadly we think about the umbrella of family. It goes beyond kinship, beyond tribe, to something greater.

The greatest loss to our national family would be to pass a bill that restricts our ability to embrace one another – ideologically or physically – and to stoop to shrouding in the lie of gross indecency the physical connection that so many of us have longed for in this time of peril.

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