CNN’s David McKenzie reports from Ghana as the country’s parliament is set to debate a bill – framed in the guise of “family values” – that critics from the LGBTQ community call a “homophobe’s dream.”
The draft “Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” — a copy of which has been obtained by CNN — would see LGBTQ Ghanaians face jail time, or be coerced into so-called “conversion therapy” — a widely discredited practice debunked by much of the international medical and psychiatric communities.
Under the bill, advocates of the LGBTQ community would face up to a decade in prison; public displays of same-sex affection or cross-dressing could lead to a fine or jail time, and certain types of medical support would be made illegal.
At a safe house in Accra, McKenzie speaks to Joe, a victim of a homophobic attack.
Joe says he was accosted on the street by a group of men who accused him of approaching one of their male relatives.
“I was shaking when they took me to that room and they took out their cameras. I was shaking and I was crying,” he told CNN.
He says the men took him to an abandoned construction site for interrogation. In the video Joe is seen crouching on the ground as he is repeatedly kneed in the head by one of his attackers.
When videos of Joe’s ordeal were shared on social media several months later, he says his father threw him out of the family home.
“When I saw the video. I was like, it is better to kill myself, but I had nowhere to go,” he says.
LGBTQ Ghanaians have been left asking how things got so bad, so quickly, and Western diplomats say they have been caught by surprise.
But what one Ghanaian activist calls a “homophobe’s dream bill” has deep roots in Ghana’s religious community. It also found key inspiration from a US ultra-conservative group with Russian ties.
Danny Bediako is too afraid to use his real name — or to speak in a public place.
Bediako, who runs the NGO Rightify Ghana, denounced the claim that homosexuality is a Western import or that LGBTQ activists were out to recruit and convert straight Ghanaians.
“The same people they claim to have brought homosexuality to Africa are the same people who told them to have this hate they are using against us,” he says. “There have always been queer Ghanaians.”
Bediako says the anti-LGBTQ “family values” coalition has long been a loud presence in Ghana, but that it was never organized or particularly strategic.
He believes that changed when a US group promoting those same “family values” organized a conference in Accra in late 2019 — just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“The US right-wing people were here and after that, there was a rush to push legislation,” Bediako says.
The conference was hosted by the World Congress of Families, which the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ rights group, calls “one of the most influential American organizations involved in the export of hate.”
“People are scared,” says Bediako. “People are feeling insecure to even go into public spaces and hold meetings for their organizations. Some people have stopped their support entirely.”
Bediako continues: “The people who suspect us are waiting for the bill to be passed so they can beat us up and hand us over to the police,” he said.