A total of 114 Ghanaians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) have narrated widespread discrimination and abuses meted out to them both in public and in family settings.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed the 114 LGBT people in Accra, Tamale, Kumasi, and Cape Coast in December 2016 and February 2017.
The 72-page report, titled “‘No Choice but to Deny Who I Am’: Violence and Discrimination against LGBT People in Ghana documented violence against lesbian, bisexual and gender-non-conforming women in Ghana which often takes place in the privacy of their own homes.
Family abuse and rejection
According to the reports, numerous lesbian and bisexual women interviewees told Human Rights Watch that when their family members suspected that they were homosexual, they were beaten and evicted from the family home.
Although pressure to marry primarily affects lesbian and bisexual women, some gay and bisexual men face similar issues.
Even though the country’s laws criminalise unnatural carnal knowledge, the practice of men who have sex with men (MSM), popularly called gay, is on an alarming rise.
30,000 gays in Ghana
It is estimated that MSM in Ghana are over 30,000 and they can be found in all 10 regions of the country.
The figure is contained in a report titled Integrated Biological and Behavioural Surveillance (IBBS) survey, which was commissioned by the Ghana AIDS Commission in 2011.
17% of gays are living with HIV
According to the report, 17% of men who sleep with men (MSM) are living with HIV.
Mother organized mob to beat lesbian daughter
In May 2016, in a village outside Kumasi in the Ashanti region, the mother of a young woman organized a mob to beat up her daughter and another woman because she suspected they were lesbians and in a same-sex relationship. The two young women were forced to flee the village.
Lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men are frequently victims of family violence, Human Rights Watch found.
Lesbians described being threatened, beaten, and driven from their homes after family members learned of their sexual orientation.
Lesbian woman chased out of the house with a machete
One woman said that when her family heard that she was associating with LGBT people, they chased her out of the house with a machete.
She has not been able to go back home to visit her 2-year old daughter. LGBT people’s fear that the law could be used against them, combined with social stigma, serves as a barrier to seeking justice, Human Rights Watch found.
Aisha, a 21-year-old lesbian English teacher from Kumasi
Aisha, a 21-year-old lesbian English teacher from Kumasi was not only taken through a process termed “deliverance” in a church camp, but also rejected by her family when she refused to partake in a forced marriage. She described what her family and church did to her:
“On January 24, 2015, my older brother told my parents, grandparents and cousins that I am a lesbian and it is all over social media. My mother collapsed, and my grandparents immediately took me to church for “deliverance”. I had to stay at the mission house of the church for one month. During the first week they prayed for me. While praying, the junior pastor would beat me with the “holy” cane to deliver me from the evil spirit”.
Aisha told Human Rights Watch that a month later, her parents took her home and wanted to force her to get married.
When her uncle intervened, her parents said she could stay in the house but that they did not want to have anything to do with her, and she should not touch or use anything belonging to the family.
She said: “Until today, I have my own plate, spoon, cup and I cook in the neighbor’s house. If I am not at home by 8p.m., I must sleep outside or at a friend’s place.
3 women lesbians arrested in Kumasi
In June 2016, police arrested three women at a soccer training camp in Kumasi accused of being lesbians allegedly after being tipped off by the partner of one of the women. Adama told Human Rights Watch
The camp master asked the police why we were being arrested. The police said it is because we are lesbians.
“We were handcuffed, put in a police van and taken to Suame Police Station.
“More than 100 people had gathered at the camp to watch the scene, some people even followed the van to the police station.
“At the police station they asked us if we were “into it,” yelling and shouting at us. We denied everything, and the police released us.
“However, their troubles did not end with their release. When they returned to the training camp, the coach expelled the three women from the team, and when they returned home, their parents disowned them for “bringing shame” to their respective families.
“Six months later, they described their desperate living conditions: “We move from one friend’s place to another because we can never go back home. We have no work, no money and sometimes we do not eat for two or three days,” one of them said.
Victoria 29-year old lesbian from the Cape Coast
Victoria, a 29-year old lesbian from the Cape Coast, told Human Rights Watch that not only did her father disown her when he learned of her sexual orientation in July 2016, but he also reported her to the police, who arrested her.
Fortunately for Victoria, her grandmother paid bail to facilitate her release. She was not formally charged with any offence, but instructed to report to the police station daily.
Victoria reported to the police station approximately five times, but was not reporting at the time of the interview with Human Rights Watch.
Emelia, a 35-year-old lesbian from Kumasi
Emelia, a 35-year-old lesbian from Kumasi, told Human Rights Watch that in December 2014, her partner’s mother brought police officers to her home to arrest her and her partner.
They were not formally charged with any offence, but spent three days in detention at Suame Police Station, and were released after paying 200 CEDIS (approximately US$45).
26-year-old Alexander Cape Coast
26-year-old Alexander said that in December 2016, in Cape Coast, a stranger harassed and insulted him in the street because of his presumed sexual orientation and they had a physical fight.
Alexander told Human Rights Watch that the next morning, the same man came to his home with a police officer, who arrested him, took him to Bakaano Police Station and informed him that he would be charged for “sleeping with other boys.”
Alexander was released on the same day at approximately 5pm, after he had called his Assemblyman, who intervened on his behalf.
Ibrahim from Tamale
Ibrahim told Human Rights Watch that after the Chief of Tamale called upon youth to carry out mob justice against gay people in 2013.
“My friend was taken to the chief’s palace because the youth boys said he was gay.
“There were many people gathered at the palace, shouting that he should be beaten and killed because he was bringing shame to Tamale.
The chief told the youth boys to take him to the police station. His uncle bailed him out and he immediately moved to Accra because he was afraid of what the youth boys might do to him”, he said.
Suspected gay brutally assaulted in Nima
In August 2015, in Nima, a town in the Accra region, members of Safety Empire, a vigilante group, brutally assaulted a young man they suspected was gay.
In 2015, Men Who Have Sex with Men Global Forum (MSMGF), in collaboration with The Centre for Popular Education and Advocacy, Ghana, (CEPEHRG) conducted a survey documenting human rights abuses against sexual and gender minorities in Ghana.
Fifty of the survey participants reported that on at least one occasion they had been victims of abuse and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The kinds of incidents included harassment or intimidation in the community, causing the victim to flee for security reasons and losing access to their home and livelihood; sexual assault and abuse, resulting in physical and psychological harm; and denial of protection by the police, including certain cases in which LGBT individuals who file complaints have been subjected to extortion and arbitrarily arrested.
Human Rights Watch’s research corroborates that LGBT people are often victims of mob attacks, physical assault, sexual assault, extortion, discrimination in access to housing, education and employment, and family rejection on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In an environment in which homophobic views abound, and few are willing to publicly come to the defense of LGBT people, it is easy for violence to flourish.
In some cases, when LGBT people report crimes, they are either threatened with arrest or are in fact arrested, even though they are the victim of assault or theft.
The vast majority of victims did not report the abuse to the police, explaining that stigma, fear of exposure and arrest, and the attitudes of certain members of the police force, deterred them from doing so.
While some Ghanaian officials have publicly called for an end to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the government has yet to repeal a colonial-era law that criminalizes same-sex activity.
“Having a law on the books that criminalizes adult consensual same-sex conduct contributes to a climate in which LGBT people are frequently victims of violence and discrimination,” said Wendy Isaack, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Homophobic statements by local and national government officials, traditional elders, and senior religious leaders foment discrimination and in some cases, incite violence.”
Human Rights Watch also interviewed three representatives of human rights organizations based in Ghana, a CHRAJ complaints officer, the assistant police commissioner, and three diplomats in Accra.
Many of those interviewed said that the law contributes to a climate in which violence and discrimination against LGBT people is common.
The provision is rarely if ever, used to prosecute people, and unlike several of its neighbours, Ghana has not taken steps in recent years to stiffen penalties against consensual same-sex conduct or to expressly criminalize sexual relations between women.