Last year, Ghanaians took to the streets to protest against laws criminalizing homosexuality. The protests were primarily in response to a 72-page report published by the Human Rights Watch which detailed how violence towards members of the LGBT community by mobs or their own family members was on the rise. Scores of protesters insisted that the country’s Penal Code was not only a dated colonial-era relic but that it led to LGBT Ghanaians being treated as second-class citizens without basic human rights. While countries such as Botswana and Angola made huge strides this year and decriminalized homosexuality, Ghana’s discriminatory laws have remained and lives continue to be affected because of it.
On November 1st, the World Congress of Families (WCF), a far-right organization that has been pegged a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hosted a regional conference in Accra, Ghana. The two-day gathering included Ghana’s political and religious leaders who subscribe to the conservative “pro-family” and “natural law” ideologies which condemn homosexuality, Islam, abortion and other reproductive health rights. There is increasing concern among members of the LGBT community, activists and allies, that LGBT people will experience even more targeted violence not only in Ghana but other African countries where homosexuality has still not been decriminalized.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing who the WCF are and what they’re about. Davis Mac-Iyalla is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa. The organization “builds bridges across all religions or faiths” with the ultimate aim of changing attitudes towards LGBT people. In a statement to OkayAfrica, Mac-Iyalla says that, “Their footprint in promoting and sponsoring anti-LGBT laws in West Africa is known but the wider general public doesn’t know much about them and their agenda.” He continues, “That’s why they mostly target influential politicians and religious leaders as their entry points.” According to Mac-Iyalla, numerous Ghanaian government officials including former president Kufuor Mahama and speakers of parliament are giving the WCF considerable attention.
LGBT rights organization OutRight Action International has also spoken out about the WCF’s expanding homophobic agenda in West African countries. Jessica Stern, the Executive Director of the organization, says in a press release that, “This is not the first instance of American Evangelicals and organizations exporting homophobia and transphobia around the world.” Stern adds that, “Their agenda stands in stark contrast to basic human rights standards, instead openly inciting attacks on human dignity, and promoting a long out-dated world of religious domination and stark gender inequalities.” She ends off by saying that, “We have to work across civil society and state boundaries to support activists in West Africa and ensure that an already hostile environment for LGBTIQ people and women does not become even more so.”
Explaining how activists on the ground and lobby groups plan to counter the resource-backed efforts of the WCF, Mac-Iyalla says that, “We have monitored and documented their activities properly. In the coming weeks to months, we will develop strategies to resist and counter their activities. Ours is to expose their homophobia and discrimination in West Africa.” He ends off on a hopeful note and says that, “We are creating awareness and educating our people on the real Africa Families and Values which is not only based on biological ideas but on love and compassion.”
While the WCF did not respond to our attempts to contact them for comment at the time of publishing, in a report entitled A Call for Civil Dialogue and Constructive Engagement, the organization defends itself by saying that it “stridently condemns any violence against homosexuals and would never support any legislation that would advocate such” and that “[WCF] has never taken a position on the criminalization of homosexuality.”
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