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05.03.2005 General News

Ghana's gays organise to fight British criminal law

By afrol News

Gays and lesbians in Ghana are taking new steps to be decriminalised. In an appeal to government, their association threatened to boycott the December polls if no party supported their quest. It's not known if they implemented the threat. Currently, colonial British criminal law criminalizes same-sex relations and regulations also make treatment of sexually transmitted diseases impossible.

Prince MacDonald‚ the leader of the organisation for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals in Ghana, on 18 August 2004, sent an urgent appeal to the global society and to Ghanaian authorities. He called for an immediate decriminalisation of homosexuality to meet Ghanaian gays' and lesbian's needs of health treatment and their human rights.

- We are discriminated upon because of our sexual orientation and no one dares talk for us, says Mr MacDonald. "The police beat and punish people who are found to be gays ... in our communities when found, you are treated as an outcast or lowered to beatings from people who call themselves straight," he describes the situation in Ghana.

Also regarding sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, homosexuals are deprived of public services, according to the gay activists. "When we get an infection, we are asked to provide our partners before treatment. How can I provide my male partner in such a bad environment?" he asks.

Homosexuality keeps being criminalized in the criminal code of Ghana. "Unnatural carnal knowledge of any person" - or homosexuality as Ghanaian judges read it - is a sexual offence comparable with bestiality, assault and rape in the criminal code. This law is a relic of repressive British sodomy laws from the colonial era.

The legal situation in Ghana reflects the situation for homosexuals in most of Africa. Where homosexuality is legally mentioned, laws mostly origin in ancient English, French or Portuguese anti-gay legislation. Many other countries, where anti-gay legislation does not exist, homosexuality is still such a social taboo that it is sanctioned by local society. One of the few exceptions is South Africa, where gay rights are specifically guaranteed by the constitution.

In Ghana, where social dialogue has come far in national media, the issue of homosexuality has only recently found its face in Mr MacDonald's organisation. While homosexuality is illegal, the Ghanaian constitution offers citizen the rights to associate with any group or organisation, making the group's existence more or less possible.

It however remains problematic to run a gay association n Ghana. The constitutional rights against discrimination based on sex and gender "do not work for us," Mr MacDonald says. The ancient British criminal code in practical terms prevents this.

- Our criminal code which was written during the British rule in Ghana is still the same. It has no new or modernized laws, writes Mr MacDonald. Even though its does not say it is illegal for a man to have sex with another man ... clearly, its states that such action is 'unnatural' and when caught, you will be sentenced to prison. Now, there are lots and lots of people in our prison home who have been caught by this unfriendly law."

In addition to having to cover up their sexual orientation, Ghanaian gays and lesbians are caught in double fire if they catch a sexually transmitted disease such as AIDS. "Most of my colleagues too are dying from the deadly HIV-AIDS," the gay activist says.

As most doctors are hostile to homosexuals, there is no treatment accessible. Gays and lesbians that cannot reveal their sexual partner, according to Mr MacDonald, have to "leave the hospital disappointed" and go to drug stores to try their luck. "In some cases, the drug stores will also ask you to go back to the hospitals for treatment."

The Ghanaian activists were however determined to change this situation prior to the decembcer elections.

"It's election time and the President or the other political parties will not say because we are gay ... we should not vote." Therefore, Mr MacDonald says, Ghanaian gays will demand a health policy for them in return for their votes.

- We are not criminals, he concludes. "We don't kill, we don't steal, we are not lawless; the only difference is our sexual orientation."

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