Home > Society > LGBTQ+ > The global battle against Ghana’s anti-LGBTQ+ bill
  • Feature

The global battle against Ghana’s anti-LGBTQ+ bill

As states across Africa threaten LGBTQ+ communities, Chiamaka Muoneke reports on the colonial roots of homophobic laws – and the digital activism fuelling resistance

5 to 6 minute read

Two Black women hold up signs protesting anti-lgbtq laws, one reading "I am a proud lesbian, get over it!"

Anti-LGBTQ+ laws targeting queer communities have been a long-standing human rights violation in Africa. For many African nations, the history of homophobia can be traced back to the colonial era, when these laws were imposed by British governments. Since the end of colonialism, many African countries have revised their anti-LGBTQ+ laws to further limit the rights of queer people in Africa. 

In 2014, Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act that criminalised same-sex relationships and included penalties for individuals, and companies or organisations that ‘aid or abet same-sex sexual acts’. Although this act was eventually ruled as invalid, Uganda passed a different Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2023, which includes the death penalty.

Similarly, the Nigerian government in 2022 considered a bill that would penalise cross-dressing. Although cross dressing has been a popular modern comedic trope in Nigerian media, the consideration was to restrict the freedom of queer people, especially media personalities who have gained popularity regardless of the limitations set to control their freedom.

In 2021, Ghana followed suit in the pursuit for the expansion of its anti-LGBTQ+ law since the post-colonial era. Proposed under the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bills, it was supported by the two major political parties in Ghana, The National Democratic Congress and The New Patriotic Party, and passed by Parliament on February 28, 2024. Ghana’s sitting president, Nana Akufo-Addo is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality before deciding if he can pass it into law.

Western influence fuels homophobia

Like many other African countries, Ghana’s first anti-homosexuality law was created during British rule, under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861. Following the end of colonialism, it was then criminalised in Section 104 of the Ghanaian Criminal Code of 1960, an after-effect of the colonial era. It criminalises gay-sex between men, with a sentence of up to three years in prison.

The introduction of western beliefs and religious practices was the beginning of the rejection of queer people in Africa. Several archival documents, such as Stephen O. Murray’s book Boy Wives and Female Husbands, reveals the existence of queer people in ancient Africa. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, there were no laws against homosexuality in Africa. Leah Buckle explains that the loss of previous attitudes towards sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa stemmed from the spread of Christian values by the colonisers. 

The introduction of western beliefs and religious practices was the beginning of the rejection of queer people in Africa

Recently, the rise of conservatism in the west, particularly the US, has renewed the targeting of the LGBTQ+ community in Africa. A 2020 Open Democracy investigation reveals that conservative Christian groups in the US have funded political decisions in Africa. The Ugandan associate, David Bahati of the Fellowship Foundation, for example, introduced Uganda’s Kill the Gays bill in 2009. A continuous spread of extremist western religious propaganda against the LGBTQ+ community seeps into Africa’s atmosphere. 

Ironically, anti-LGBTQ+ groups in Africa describe queerness as a western practice.’’We know that homophobia was introduced to Africa through colonialism’, Rev. Jide Macaulay, religious theologist and founder and CEO of House of Rainbow, told me, ‘and we’re seeing the impact of homophobia being promoted in religious spaces, through conservative and evangelical movements, which are mainly from the global north’. 

Speaking further on the impact of inherited western religious beliefs on homophobia, he described the continuous target on the LGBTQ+ community as a missed opportunity to show that religion is safe for everybody. ‘If your [religious house] is not welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community, it’s not good for anyone.’

Global solidarity 

Social media has created some safer space for queer people in Africa to thrive. There, people share experiences and find communities, with African laws not yet criminalising online activity. Those spaces have contributed to a rise in liberal attitudes among younger generations that strung together queer people, allies and organisations such as Human Rights Watch, that aim to tell the truth of queer existence in Africa. In May of 2021, when 21 LGBTQ+ activists in Ghana were arrested for ‘unlawful assembly’, for example, online activism caused a global outcry that led to their release in August of the same year. 

These same platforms have been an important tool in the fight against Ghana’s recent anti-LGBTQ+ law. Online organisations play a pivotal role in organising and publicising protests while serving as a centre for dissemination of unbiased and current information. Rightify Ghana, a human rights organisation, together with the support of other organisations such as the Coalition for Queer Ghanaian Liberation and LGBT+ Rights Ghana have led online campaigns that initiated protests in multiple countries, including South Africa, UK, and Canada.

‘Rightify Ghana believes that our collective voice can exert pressure on policymakers and inspire positive change in Ghana and beyond’, Solomon Atsuvia, the program officer of Rightify Ghana, told me. Acknowledging the broad and oppressive provisions of the bill, Atsuvia described it as ‘a dangerous regression in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Africa’ that undermines the principles of democracy and equality. ‘The passage of this draconian law represents a significant setback for human rights and democracy in Ghana,’ he explained, ‘and global solidarity is essential in challenging its legitimacy’. 

‘The passage of this draconian law represents a significant setback for human rights and democracy in Ghana – and global solidarity is essential in challenging its legitimacy’

The call for global solidarity is especially important at this time as Ghana’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ bill threatens the safety of the media for Ghana’s queer populace. Described as the most restrictive anti-LGBTQ+ bill in African history, the bill’s remit extends online, targeting not just the LGBTQ+ community, but also allies, individuals and organisations that support it. For many queer people and activists in Ghana, the passage of this bill could mean a severance from the rest of the world. 

Awo Dufie, a queer researcher and activist, told me why this could make activism in Ghana more difficult, explaining that the fight against queerphobia in Africa will only be won if queer people remain the face of the movements.  ‘A lot of queer people in Africa are doing underground work, and that gives me a lot of hope’ she explained, emphasising on the importance of funding these LGBTQ+ organisations. ‘A lot of the time, it’s very difficult to get access to support.’ 

In a modern, technological world, media and online activism have given a voice to the marginalised queer African community. As African governments expand their laws to ensure that access to freedom for the LGBTQ+ community is blocked in all corners, however, it is unsure what the future holds for queer people across the continent.

Chiamaka Muoneke is a Nigerian-based writer specialising in social justice in Africa

For a monthly dose
of our best articles
direct to your inbox...