Just three weeks after opening, Ghana’s first LGBTQ+ community centre has been forced to close its doors to protect its staff and visitors.
The founder of the centre said that church groups, politicians and anti-LGBTQ+ rights groups have called on the Government to shut down the centre which is run by local charity LGBT+ Rights Ghana. They are also called for the staff and visitors to be arrested and prosecuted.
Speaking to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, the director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana Alex Kofi Donkor said that the severity of the backlash in unexpected. They hosted a successful opening event on January 31 which was attended by European and Australian diplomats.
“We did not expect such an uproar,” Donkor said.
“We expected some homophobic organisations would use the opportunity to exploit the situation and stoke tension against the community, but the anti-gay hateful reaction has been unprecedented,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
In the West African nation of Ghana, the LGBTQ+ community face widespread discrimination and while no-one has been prosecuted for same-sex relations in years, it is punishable with up to three years imprisonment.
Human rights researchers say that the LGBTQ+ community in Ghana frequently experience abuse and discrimination in the form of blackmail and attacks.
Donkor said the homophobic abuse being subjected to staff and visitors was “scary” and he was left with no choice but to close the centre temporarily in order to protect their safety.
In an attempt to protect the centre, which provides para-legal services, counselling and training, the location has not been made public.
While local news sources claim that the centre was closed down by police on the orders of President Nana Akufo-Addo, Donkor says he received no such communication from Presidential officials.
One of the groups lobbying to shut down Ghana’s first LGBTQ+ community centre is The National Coalition for Proper Sexual Rights and Family Values alongside prominent church groups.
“The Church rejects the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behaviour of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive and, therefore, they should not be blamed for their homosexual acts,” said the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference.
“We call on the Government of Ghana to close down the LGBTQI office space that was recently opened in Accra (and) urge the Executive and the Legislature never to be cowed down or to succumb to the pressure to legalize the rights of LGBTQIs.”
Politicians in Ghana have also been weighing in on the debate with a member of the party in power calling on the public to find the centre and shut it down. Meanwhile, a local councillor has called for the arrest of a musician who attended the launch of the centre.
While EU officials attended the opening of the centre in January, they are yet to comment on its forced closure.
Donkor says that while he is unsure when the centre will reopen, he will continue to fight against homophobia.
“There is nothing illegal about the centre. The idea is to create a safe space for the LGBT+ community,” he said. “We will not give up this fight. We cannot give up on our human rights.”
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