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Opinions of Sunday, 20 May 2007

Columnist: Yakah, Theo

On Gays and Lesbians in Ghana: Stopping the Culture of Hate and Discrimination

It is with a heavy heart that I take the time out of my busy schedule to write about a topic that in essence should be a non-issue. I am also conscious of the huge risk involved in putting my not-so-conventional views out here. Indeed, I had considered writing under a pseudonym so I can be partially shielded from the hate that my piece could possibly attract. But I decided against such a wimpish act because I should stand up for what I believe. I had in fact talked to a friend about my intent on writing this piece and she said “Don't waste your time, they wont understand”. I decided to come forth nonetheless in the hopes that the average Ghanaian is a reasonable person and if I can appeal to his/her intellect, we can all come to agree that we need to show LOVE to people of alternative sexual orientations rather than hating them.

I hope this doesn't turn out to be too huge a gamble though.

The issue at hand is this; a couple of months ago, there were reports of an impending conference of gays in Ghana. The government in a very panicky fashion moved to ban the conference because homosexuality is supposedly illegal in Ghana. The Minister of Information subsequently issued a statement which read in part “Government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality and heritage of the entire people of Ghana”. Before I continue, I should point out to the Minister that homosexuality can’t possibly “violently offend…the ENTIRE people of Ghana” if indeed some Ghanaians share that orientation. Seriously if the minister could overlook such a basic logical flaw in his statement, then maybe we could assume that the statement was a knee-jerk reaction to the public uproar and not one that is critically thought-through.

Homosexuality is, according to the Minister, illegal in Ghana because “unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code”. My worry is how do you determine which kind of carnal knowledge is natural and which is not? Do we classify anal sex between a man and a woman as ‘unnatural’? This law is hopelessly vague and discriminatory and thus a bad law.

I was more horrified by President Kufuor’s complicity in the hate spewed by his Information Minister towards people of alternative sexual orientations. I remember that when Peggy Appiah (nee Cripps) passed on, our president wrote a beautiful eulogy in the Daily Graphic listing the many good contributions of Mrs. Appiah to Ghana’s image and development. One of her contributions, according to the President, is that she is the mother of the foremost Ghanaian philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah. The President was particularly happy that Kwame, a Ghanaian, once taught philosophy at Duke University, Cornell, Yale, Harvard, and presently at Princeton University. But what the President failed to mention about his hero (and my hero too) is that Kwame is openly gay and lives happily with his partner under the protective laws of the United States of America. The duplicity of our president on this issue makes me wonder if our intolerance of alternative sexual orientations is not being exploited for political gain.

In any case what is it about gays and lesbians that should draw our ire and opprobrium? And what is the state’s interest in outlawing a particular form of sexual relations between two consenting adults? My suspicion is that many of us learn to hate people of divergent sexual orientations without even stopping to ask ourselves why we hate them. Reading through the comments on the various Ghanaian websites on this issue, I haven’t come across a single reason why we should hate homosexuals so much except that “it is shameful” and “it is un-Ghanaian” and an affront to everything we stand for. But all these so-called reasons still beg the question of WHY is it shameful and why is homosexuality un-Ghanaian? I am just wondering if discriminating against a people based on their sexual orientation is an ‘honorable’ thing to do and whether the hecklers’ veto is what it means to be Ghanaian.

Let’s revisit the issue of the state’s interest in outlawing homosexual relations. Ghana is supposed to be a secular state and not a theocracy. In a secular state, the state has two fundamental interests in protecting life and property. And all other powers the state assumes must be a corollary to these basic interests otherwise these powers must not interfere with the natural rights of the citizens, which include the right to choose who to have sex with. But let me not even bore you with the philosophical bankruptcy of the anti-gay movement. I am only surprised at the silence on the part of the liberal democratic think tanks and Human rights groups in Ghana in the face of such blatant violation of the citizens’ rights to association and privacy by our government.

It appears that the African anti-gay movement hides under the cover of ‘cultural purity’ and religion and spread so much hate and intolerance against our own brothers and sisters. The argument of the cultural purists is that we have all these great things about our way of life and we must do everything in our capacity to protect these ways of life. I submit that such an argument is only an excuse for insularity and bigotry. I completely denounce the idea that we should be actively engaged ‘saving’ any part of any culture from collapse. The culture of a people is nothing but how human beings employ the forces of nature to advance the cause of life and liberty. Any part of any culture becomes susceptible to collapse only when it is failing in this core function of promoting life and liberty. Human beings are utilitarian and they don't give up stuff that is beneficial to them. African poverty and hopelessness, beyond an unfair world order, is a function of a failing culture. I therefore cringe when I hear our intellectuals promote the idea of ‘propping up’ our culture from collapse. The culture of a people is a means to an end and not an end in itself. We do not exist to promote any culture; every culture exists to promote human life and liberty. So when some aspect of a culture has become outmoded, it must give way to a more progressive and enlightening one.

My final concern is with the fraud that our religious zealots perpetrate on our psyche. And on this front, I take issue with my fellow Christians because we appear to produce the loudest bigots in Ghana. The Christian Council of Ghana in the wake of the supposed conference of gays was in the forefront calling for hellfire on the ‘descendants of Lucifer’. I thought our greatest calling as Christians is to love our neighbors as ourselves? Jesus even calls on us to love our enemies! Homosexuals are only supposed to be in error-they are never a threat to us yet we hate them so much. How then do we graduate to loving our enemies when we can’t even love the people who have done us no harm? Didn't the Bible say in Galatians 6:1 that “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently”? Maybe we should read about Jesus meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well. Remember that the Samaritans were supposed to be outcasts yet Jesus, a Jew, reached out to her with love. And maybe our religious zealots should realize that in the eyes of God, all sins are equal so that before they scoff and scorn at homosexuals in self-righteousness, they remember their own sins and learn to JUDGE NOT lest they are judged by the same standards.

In sum, I want us to understand that homosexuals are not evil people and they are not a threat to anyone. And even if we have any religious concerns about such a sexual orientation, our calling as Christians is to love and leave judgment to God alone. We must therefore stop all the hate and discrimination and live up to our calling to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Thank You

Theo Yakah
Wake Forest University
North Carolina

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.