Ghana bans gay and lesbian conference

Saturday, September 2, 2006

A conference between gay men and lesbians that was scheduled to meet in September has been banned by Ghana's government which has said that "disciplinary action" will be taken if the conference proceeds.

As in many African countries homosexuality is illegal in Ghana, primarily for cultural reasons, "[The] Government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality and heritage of the entire people of Ghana," said Kwamena Bartels (Ghana's Information Minister). Homosexuality is described as being "un-African" and a "disease" in parts of Africa, often regarded as a "Western" import. Bartels continued "Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism and bestiality are therefore offences under the laws of Ghana."

Although Ghana law does not stop groups from meeting the government has actively discouraged the event: "[The] Government would like to make it absolutely clear that it shall not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana...." "...It's not illegal for them to meet and talk, but we in Ghana don't want to encourage it. They can go and do it elsewhere" added Bartels.

BBC reporter Kwaku Sakyi-Addo (based in the Ghanese capital Accra) said that it was difficult to establish who had organised the conference. He noted that the Gay and Lesbian community operates underground in Ghana because of the social stigma. It is believed that the meeting was to be at the Accra International Conference centre, Koforidua on Monday. Managers at the centre have denied the conference was due to take place there.

A researcher at the South African-based gay and lesbian rights group, Wendy Landau, condemned the ban: "It seems the government got wind of something. It goes along with all the things that have been happening in places like Cameroon and Nigeria. It's kind of the spirit of the times in Africa,"

The Ghana public may be divided over the issue, whilst the Ghana News Agency reports many members of public and the clergy have spoke out in support of the ban, anonymous callers to radio phone-in programmes have called it an infringement of freedom of speech.

In recent times homosexuality has been regular news in African nations, earlier this year Cameroon newspapers launched an attack against "deviants" publishing the names of suspected homosexuals.

South Africa, by comparison, has recently had a gay marriage bill approved by its cabinet to allow equal rights for homosexual couples; making it the first African nation to officially recognise gay and lesbian couples.