The Status of Gay Rights in Ghana

Posted: April 6, 2013 in All Posts, Ghana

by Jamin Shih

The Ghanaian president recently denounced homosexuality.

Despite being known as a relatively progressive and liberal country, the state of gay rights in Ghana is disconcerting. Ghana is one of several countries that views homosexuality as an import of the West or a byproduct of Western ideals and culture. This is a particularly dangerous idea because it negates the experiences of homosexuals, especially those not in the West. It also justifies systematic discrimination, jail time, and even the death penalty for gay individuals under the pretense that individuals from X country are not “supposed to be gay” and are instead affected by Western thought.

Another dangerous practice about homosexuality that Ghana shares with other countries in the world is the separation between gay men and lesbians. As with many places in the world, male homosexuals are a considerably larger issue in public opinion and politics than female homosexuals. This can even be seen by the way gay issues are treated in the United States. Gay men are significantly more featured in American media, both politically and culturally, than lesbians.

This is almost certainly due to the underlying sexism of anti-gay attitudes. For a man to fulfill what society deems a female gender role is degrading while a woman fulfilling a male gender role is not nearly as large of an issue and in some ways socially encouraged (as seen in the difference between the treatment of tomboys and the lexical gap that is boys who play with traditionally female toys). As would be expected, this underlying sexism is predominantly targeted against females and is quite harmful towards the goals of feminism.

This can be seen through the Ghanaian legal acts surrounding gay rights. The topic of lesbianism is extremely hazy under the law because they do not have male genitalia, and much of the controversy regarding gay rights is about gay men and not lesbians. In fact, the invisibility of lesbians in American discourse is a well-documented and problematic issue that demonstrates the underlying sexist nature of anti-gay politics. It should also be noted that the article above contains a common pitfall of speaking about homosexuality immediately before or after discussing serious crimes, such as murder, rape, or sexual assault.

Without writing a sociological essay on the intersectionality of issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender, however, there are very real effects that even those who are not up-to-date with sociological research can attest to. When a gay journalist met with several Ghanaian officials, it did not take long for controversy to spread and accusations of sexual scandals to spring up surrounding the election of these individuals, despite the discourse between these individuals and said journalist being ridiculously short.

This is just a small example of a long line of hypersexualization in the portrayal of gay issues by the media and opponents of gay rights that seeks to discredit the values of the gay rights movement– namely that homosexuals differ with heterosexuals only in sexual orientation and not through a certain essential or intrinsic difference in character traits or values.

What is perhaps more disturbing than how quickly a scandal erupted over nothing in order to discredit gay rights is the punishment for being a homosexual in Ghana. Homosexuals engaging in homosexual relations can be imprisoned for between five and twenty-five years. This is absolutely deplorable and a serious human rights issues. While it is true that Ghana does not institute the death penalty for homosexuality, jail time is still a horrific punishment and more needs to be done to advance education and political discourse on the topic.

  1. It’s interesting to find out that these “progressive” countries are still having an issue with gay rights. Thank you for finding parallels in how this matter is treated both in Ghana and the States. You’re totally right about gay males being more integrated in the media. From the looks of it, people don’t really know what to do with lesbians in media…besides stereotype and feature them as oversexed women who are romantic objects for men to gaze upon. I wonder what being gay means in terms of religion in Ghana. That aspect seems like a major reason so many people are against it in the States.

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