It could become one of the most dangerous laws for queer people worldwide: In Ghana, the parliament is currently examining a bill that would mean that queer people could face up to five years in prison in the future. Supporting queer people would also be a punishable offense and intersex people could be forced to have surgeries.
According to the draft law, “homosexual acts” would then have to be reported to the police. Anyone who fails to do so must also reckon with up to five years in prison. Human rights defender Davis Mac-Iyalla is campaigning against the planned law. He lives in the capital Accra and works for the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa.
Davis Mac-Iyalla was in Berlin with other activists in June to draw attention to the situation of queer people in Ghana. “We want to create awareness within German civil society that Parliament is in the process of passing an anti-LGBT law,” says the 50-year-old. “We need support.” In Ghana, religious influence is growing steadily, says Mac-Iyalla – at the expense of the queer community.
In recent months, the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine has dominated global attention. The situation of queer people in Ghana was “a little neglected”. “We have to make people aware that the situation is getting worse and worse.”
As early as March 2021, the office of the organization LGBT Ghana was stormed by the police and members had to flee. Because photos of them circulated on social media, they have since been subjected to death threats and attacks. Since the office closed, there are hardly any places where queer people can meet. “You have to be very careful about who you share the locations with,” says Mac-Iyalla.
A group led by the executive secretary of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values, Moses Foh-Amoaning, called for the arrest of the members and introduced the bill to parliament. As a result, 67 prominent figures from Britain with roots in Ghana called on President Nana Akufo-Addo and other political leaders to offer protection to the LGBTQ community.
Apparently without success: So far, a decision on the draft law, which critics have described as the “most homophobic document in the world”, is still pending.
Mac-Iyalla, along with other activists and queer groups, submitted a memorandum to parliament earlier this year to oppose the bill. He was then invited to give a speech there.
“There were a lot of insults before, but looking back I’m glad we got this chance,” says Mac-Iyalla. “It allowed us to spread our message. Before, everyone always talked about us. There our voices were heard for the first time, we were visible.”
Mac-Iyalla says his appearance in Parliament also had long-term consequences. Since then, parents of queer children who had followed him on television have increasingly turned to him and queer organizations. “We form partnerships and coalitions, resisting the law together.”
Many parents fear for their children in view of the draft law. “Most see their children as a gift from God and don’t understand why they have to go to prison because of their sexuality or sexual orientation.”
The law would not only affect queer people in Ghana, but also those in the diaspora, for example in Germany. Mac-Iyalla sees this as an opportunity: “It’s not a conflict that only affects our country. It’s a global conflict. The diaspora should mobilize solidarity.”
Davis May-Iyalla himself grew up in Nigeria. He dealt with his sexual orientation early on, he says. “The fact that I’m gay wasn’t a problem for a long time.” Until the Anglican Church took up the issue and claimed there were no homosexual people in his homeland. “Actually, there were no coming-outs in West Africa, that’s a western concept. But in that moment I had to raise my voice and show that I exist.”
This led to friends turning their backs on him and parts of his family not accepting him. “They didn’t understand why I was talking about it on the radio or on TV.” At the time, at the age of 21, Mac-Iyalla was still working as a teacher and later became chairman of IDNOWA, a network that is represented in eleven West African countries.
The different languages within the network are the biggest challenge, says Mac-Iyalla. “There is a language barrier because some speak English, others French and in Ghana, for example, there are many different languages. Many also do not want to learn the language of the colonizers.”
The fact that he was becoming more and more visible internationally as a queer activist was associated with increasing danger. So Mac-Iyalla temporarily moved to Britain and then to Ghana. “Now I do what my soul wants. And I’m confident that I’m doing what God expects of me. The humiliating and insulting things cannot harm me.”
He also hopes for the support of international institutions, for example the German embassy. Mac-Iyalla demands that this should simplify the visa process for queer Ghanaians and offer them protection. “We can talk to ourselves, but we need support.”