For LGBTQ+ people in Ghana, it is not just their own rights and safety that are under threat because of their identity, their families, friends and acquaintances are also targeted by bigots, as activist Wisdom Kwame Bebli described.
Wisdom was interviewed as part of the United Nations video campaign, Diversity in Adversity, which highlights and celebrates queer human rights defenders and activists around the globe and shares the incredible work they do.
Wisdom explained how his work started around health intervention programmes. “People didn’t know how to access healthcare in terms of their sexuality and also their sexual behaviour,” he said, “and if I’m able to bring this to them, then it means I’m saving lives.”
He further described how difficult life is, not only for LGBTQ+ people, but for their family, friends, and anyone who engages with them, because they are “tagged”. He explains, “you can’t be able to move around comfortably, because you get people moving away from you because you are tagged.”
It takes a lot of strength and courage to be an LGBTQ+ Human Rights Defender and activist in Ghana – LGBTQ+ Human Rights organisations can not fully operate openly. “In Ghana, if anybody gets critical with you and they attack you,” said Wisdom, “before people will come to your help, [the attackers] will either scream that you are gay or you are LGBT activists who support gay people, and then the people around you attack you more.”
Wisdom worked as the executive director of Solace Initiative, an organisation whose objectives are overcoming the stigmatisation and vilification of LGBTQ+ people. Recently, he was involved in the campaign to release the Ho 21, a group of Ghanaian Human Rights Defenders who were arrested during a training workshop on LGBTQ+ related issues.
The Government defended their actions, stating, “Ghana is of the view that holding a conference to promote, educate, encourage, entice and lure the youth to engage in same-sex sexual activities is an affront to the criminal laws of Ghana. Such persons are therefore liable to be arrested.”
Wisdom also participated in mobilising the local and international community against the Ghana’s Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Bill, 2021 a law under Parliament’s discussion that would introduce wide-ranging restrictions on advocacy and rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Since the bill, leaders have been making videos or sharing on social media content attacking the LGBTQ+ community, with the knock-on effect that day-to-day violence amongst the public is endemic as “people feel they can take laws into their own hands” against the queer community.
The fight back against the anti-LGBTQ+ movement in Ghana is slow, but an impact is certainly being made, as the activist elaborated, “We’ve seen mainstream Human Rights organisations coming together to speak out against the Family Values Bill which we have not seen in a very long time.”
Wisdom speaks of the day when equal rights will be achieved, even though he believes it will not be anytime soon, rather in generations to come. He shared, “I will not be alive to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but to see people continue the work where we’ve left off, and to see the work we have done continue, is one of the things I’ll be happy about.”
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