Alban Bagbin, Ghana's speaker of parliament, delivers his acceptance speech. (Screen capture via YouTube/GhanaWeb TV)
Ghana’s speaker of parliament Alban Bagbin said Tuesday (29 June) that the “LGBT+ pandemic” is “worse than COVID-19” in remarks dubbed “insensitive” by activists.
Bagbin, one of the most powerful politicians in the country, made the incendiary comment as lawmakers filed a bill that, if passed, would criminalise the “promotion, advocacy, funding and act of homosexuality in all its forms,” one legislator sponsoring it said.
At least eight lawmakers have backed the bill which would also, according to activists, seek to promote conversion therapy – MPs even prayed for LGBT+ people before the bill was introduced, according to 3News GH.
Bagbin, a member of the National Democratic Congress party, said he expects the proposed law to be passed within the next six months – LGBT+ activism, he said, “must be fought by all of us”.
“The LGBT+ pandemic […] is worse than COVID-19,” he said at a morning prayer meeting with lawmakers, according to 76 Crimes.
“I can tell you that it is more than COVID-19, and I am happy that our beloved country, Ghana, is together in this.
“The president [Nana Akufo-Addo] has spoken, our traditional leaders have spoken, our religious leaders have spoken together, and Ghanaians have spoken with one voice, and we don’t want to do anything that has to do with LGBT+ activities.
MPs pray against LGBTQ+ ahead of an introduction of a private member’s bill to criminalize it in the country.#3NewsGH pic.twitter.com/MyELIH1HUf — #TV3GH (@tv3_ghana) June 29, 2021
“I will always do what is right because good will always triumph over evil.”
For activists, Bagbin bolstering the bill is in no way surprising, they say, and his comments capture that clearly.
“His statement lacks sympathy for those who have lost families and friends through COVID,” Rightify Ghana, a human rights organisation, told PinkNews.
“Also, it shows a lack of empathy to the LGBT+ community in Ghana, who have for decades been targeted for violence, discrimination and injustices.
“Unlike COVID-19, [being] LGBT+ doesn’t harm or kill anyone and it doesn’t bring a country’s economy to its knees as Ghana’s economy struggles because of the pandemic.
“His comments were unfair, insensitive and he should apologise to the LGBT+ community.”
The bill, known as the ‘Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021’, was named after the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, one of Ghana’s fiercest anti-LGBT+ groups.
Leaders of the religious coalition, which is known to run gay “cure” therapy forums, urged for an LGBT+ safe space to be closed and its members arrested in February.
One of the private bill’s sponsors, Samuel Nartey George, a self-styled “social democrat”, wrote on Facebook that the proposals will further silence an LGBT+ community whose very existence is already illegal.
“Homosexuality is NOT a human right,” he said. “It is a lifestyle choice. A sexual preference.
“May we unite to stop the growing scourge of perversion seeking to erode all that our culture holds dear.”
While exact details of the proposed legislation have yet to be made public, activists told PinkNews that the legislation would overall tighten and make even more stringent pre-existing anti-LGBT+ laws in Ghana.
The legislation is the upshot of a months-long effort by a bloc of deeply conservative lawmakers who have taken aim at LGBT+ rights.
Seemingly using queer Ghanaians as an explosive wedge issue, some 30 MPs cobbled together earlier this year to form the “Believers Against LGBTQI+“.
Indeed, Rightify Ghana sees the bellyaching against queer Ghanaians as a cruel, manufactured culture war. A bread-and-circus distraction from more pressing issues, such as the country’s flailing and rusted infrastructure, spiralling youth unemployment, a cratered economy and the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill itself is merely the latest in a long line of increasingly relentless strikes against queer Ghanaians, whose members have been arrested in mass raids and their safe spaces besieged by police.
This is on top of the country’s already existing laws, where those found to have had consensual queer sex face three years in jail.
“We feel it is an attack on our fundamental human rights as the bill seeks to take away our rights to exist and thrive in Ghana,” Rightify Ghana said.
“The bill will steal our freedoms of speech and expression, right to privacy, freedoms of association and assembly, as well as rights to healthcare, employment, housing and others.”
If legislated, the bill may also throw a spanner into the country’s efforts to curtail HIV transmission rates. Those living with HIV, the group warned, may feel hesitant to seek treatment from already threadbare service providers, fearful of “arrest and discrimination”.
Above all, Rightify Ghana said, the “bill will negatively impact the lives of the already vulnerable LGBT+ community”.
“We want the bill thrown away and urge our members of parliament and the government to rather channel this urgency and resources to real problems.”