Out in the World: Ghana passes draconian anti-LGBTQ bill

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday February 29, 2024
Share this Post:
Parliamentarians and members of the public listen as Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo delivers his annual state of the nation address on March 30, 2022. Francis Kokoroko/Reuters
Parliamentarians and members of the public listen as Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo delivers his annual state of the nation address on March 30, 2022. Francis Kokoroko/Reuters

Lawmakers in Ghana have passed one of the world's most stringent anti-LGBTQ bills, further criminalizing sexual orientation and gender identity in the Western African country.

Meanwhile, anti-LGBTQ sentiment is also on the rise by lawmakers in Belarus, which have drafted their own proposed anti-gay propaganda law.


Gay sex was already criminalized in Ghana in its 1960 constitution after the country gained its independence from Britain and joined the Commonwealth in 1957. Offenders charged with gay sex were punished with up to three years in prison.

As of February 28, the new bill, "Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021" (originally named, "The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values"), clarified anyone identifying as LGBTQ could face up to three years in jail. Anyone charged with forming or funding an LGBTQ organization faces a maximum of five years in prison, reported the BBC. UNAIDS reported that people face up to 10 years in jail for being involved in LGBTQ advocacy campaigns aimed at children.

On February 21, a proposal to replace jail terms with counseling services for convictions of gay sex was rejected, reported Reuters and according to Rightify Ghana.

Ghana's new bill is the latest in a wave of harsh crackdowns on LGBTQ rights across Africa, with the passage of stringent anti-LGBTQ legislation in Namibia, Niger, Tanzania, and Uganda, the latter of which also includes the death penalty, reported the New York Times.

The bill was introduced to Ghana's Parliament in 2021 shortly after police raided the country's first LGBTQ community center in its capital, Accra, days after it opened, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported. The proposed legislation enjoyed broad support from the public, especially by Christian, Muslim, and traditional leaders, reported the Times.

The BBC reported that the bill was "watered down" from an earlier version. The bill that passed saw shortened jail sentences and the removal of a controversial clause regarding conversion therapy.

Human rights organizations and LGBTQ Ghana and Black activists around the world, along with global Ghana and Black celebrities, have spoken out against the bill since it was proposed, the B.A.R. previously reported. Activists warn that the bill, if signed into law, would violate fundamental rights enshrined in Ghana's constitution, such as the right to equality and anti-discrimination on the basis of sex or gender, reported the Times.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, expressed concern that the bill will "obstruct access to life-saving services, undercut social protection, and jeopardize Ghana's development success."

Ghanaian lawmakers fine-tuned the bill February 21, reported Reuters. Parliament passed the second reading of the draft bill February 23, according to a Facebook post by LGBTQ Ghanaian organization Rightify Ghana.

The third reading and final vote came February 28, reported Reuters.

The bill needs presidential assent for enforcement. Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has not confirmed if he will sign the bill into law, but the BBC reported he previously said that he would do so if the majority of Ghanaians want him to.

Condemnation, warnings, and legal challenges

The U.S. State Department immediately called for a review of the stark bill. "The United States is deeply troubled by the Ghanaian Parliament's passage of legislation," Matthew Miller, department spokesperson, said in a statement following the passage of the bill. He continued, stating the bill, if it becomes law, "would threaten all Ghanaians' constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, press, and assembly."

"Limiting the rights of one group in a society undermines the rights of all," Miller added. "The United States echoes the call by those Ghanaians who have urged a review of the constitutionality of the bill to protect the rights of all individuals in Ghana."

The United Nations and Outright International also condemned the law.

"I call for the bill not to become law. I urge the Ghanaian Government to take steps to ensure everyone can live free from violence, stigma and discrimination, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity," Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement from his office February 28.

"Consensual same-sex conduct should never be criminalized," he added.

Outright echoed Amnesty International's January warning about the threat of anti-LGBTQ laws in Ghana, Uganda, and other African countries. In Africa, 32 out of 54 countries criminalize gay sex, according to Reuters.

Outright stated that the bill "will have severe and detrimental effects on the lives and freedoms of LGBTQ individuals in Ghana."

In a report examining Africa's anti-LGBTQ laws Amnesty stated about Ghana, "The situation may become even more precarious for LGBTI persons if the Ghanaian Parliament proceeds with one of the most stringent anti-LGBTI rights bills on the continent."

The statement said the proposed legislation "poses significant threats to the fundamental rights and freedoms of LGBTI persons."

Türk expressed deep alarm that the bill criminalizes the legitimate work of human rights defenders, teachers, medical professionals, landlords and people seeking healthcare, and unduly restricts freedom of association and expression of everyone in Ghana, according to the statement.

"There is extensive evidence that they legitimize prejudice, expose people to hate crime, police abuse, harassment, intimidation, blackmail and torture. They also perpetuate discrimination and denial of access to basic services, including in healthcare, education and housing," he added, speaking about the bill violating international human rights law.

Türk stressed in the statement that the bill is corrosive and will have a negative impact on society as a whole.

UNAIDS head Byanyima agreed, stating the law, "will exacerbate fear and hatred, [it] could incite violence against fellow Ghanaian citizens, and will negatively impact on free speech, freedom of movement and freedom of association."

Neela Ghoshal, senior director of law, policy, and research at Outright International, echoed those concerns in a February 28 statement from the organization responding to the bill's passage.

"Ghana's anti-LGBTQ bill tramples human rights, undermines family values of acceptance and unity, and risks derailing economic development and eroding democratic gains. Banning the very existence of queer people and their allies is unprecedented. The hostility this bill displays toward LGBTQ Ghanaians will put lives and livelihoods at risk," she said.

Some Ghanaian LGBTQ activists have been in hiding since 2021 when authorities shut down the LGBTQ community center. The BBC reported Ghanaian activists fear witch-hunts will follow and will have to go into hiding if the bill becomes law.

The battle is not over yet.

Michael Akagbor, a senior program officer in charge of human rights at the Center for Democratic Development (https://cddgh.org/), a research organization promoting good governance in Ghana, told the Times that his organization was already challenging the legislation in the country's Supreme Court.

"It is inexplicable to pass such a bill in a democracy that is Ghana," Akagbor told the Times. "But we still have legal remedies to prevent it from becoming reality."

Responding to the bill's passage, All Out launched a petition.


Belarus' Prosecutor-General Andrey Shved announced a draft Russian-styled anti-gay propaganda bill February 19 during a joint meeting of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic.

"This project is now undergoing the approval process," Shved said, reported Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

The bill was first introduced in 2020, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The LGBTQ European organization reported in 2023 Belarus' House passed the first reading of the bill, amending a 2009 Law on Mass Media, to legislatively ban "LGBT propaganda that promotes non-traditional values."

Last July, the general prosecutor's office announced a proposal for an "Action Plan for the Protection of Children from Sexual Violence and Exploitation." By the end of the year a proposed anti-LGBTQ propaganda law was being drafted that imposed administrative punishments for propaganda of "non-traditional sexual relations" and "change of sex."

Belarus already passed a law in 2017 allegedly protecting children from disseminating information that "discredits the institution of family and marriage," according to IGLA.

Belarusian lawmakers are seeking to follow Russian lawmakers' lead to strengthen this law to crackdown on the Eastern European country's LGBTQ community.

The proposed law seeks to impose administrative penalties for so-called abnormal relationships, pedophilia, and the voluntary refusal to have children, reported Reuters.

Furthermore, the bill seeks to censor representation of LGBTQ people in media and literature, reported BNN Breaking.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, publicly expressed support for the "action plan."

Reuters reported Lukashenko, who has ruled since 1994, previously publicly called gay men "perverts" and "the ultimate abomination" in a political speech to politicians last year.

Belarus is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest.

Russia banned so-called gay propaganda in 2013. Since then, the country has continued to crackdown on its LGBTQ community from passing laws banning Pride and other LGBTQ events to strengthening the 2013 law. Within the past several years, Putin and Russian authorities expanded the definition of "foreign agent," using the law to shut down independent media outlets supportive of LGBTQ and other human rights causes and LGBTQ organizations, which allegedly received funding support from outside of Russia.

In December, the B.A.R. reported the Russian Supreme Court banned the international LGBTQ movement, labeling it as an "extremist movement." Before the law went into force, reports of Russian police raiding LGBTQ bars and parties started immediately after the ruling. The raids continued with an all-out assault from busting a naked celebrity party to "My Little Pony" gatherings to language learning app Duolingo, according to media reports.

In 2023, Russian independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and its editor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dmitry Muratov, were labeled as "foreign agents." The paper was stripped of its publishing license and was shut down in Russia, reported Reuters. The newspaper now operates as Novaya Gazeta Europe outside of Russia. Muratov vowed to fight Russia.

In 2022, Russian authorities shut down the Sphere Foundation, the parent organization of the Russian LGBT Network, after labeling the organization and the network's director, Igor Kochetkov, as "foreign agents," the B.A.R. reported.

Belarus decriminalized homosexuality in 1994. Yet, LGBTQ Belarusians continue to face severe discrimination in a country that does not have laws that protect queer and gender-nonconforming people, and LGBTQ organizations are not permitted to register, according to Outright International.

The B.A.R. reached out to Makeout, a feminist project about gender and sexuality, for a comment but did not receive a response.

IGLA-Europe ranks Belarus 45th out of 49 countries for its anti-LGBTQ status in its annual report examining human rights across Europe and Central Asia released February 29.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!