Fighting for peace and human rights for Ghana’s LGBT youth

By Adu Gymafi , Appiah Kwadwo

Appiah Kwadwo is the president of Concern Youth Association in Ghana, he was interviewed by his colleague acting public relation and communication officer Adu Gyamfi

To mark the United Nations International Youth Day and its theme of ‘youth building peace’, LGBT human rights activist Appiah Kwadwo explains how Concern Youth Association in Ghana are building peace amid violence against the LGBT community.

Rainbow flagThe rainbow flag is an international symbol of LGBT social movements and rights. © Corrie Wingate

Q: Tell us a little about Concern Youth Association?

The Concern Youth Association is a group of young people who are fighting for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and men who have sex with men (MSM) in Ghana. The group provides a forum for youth to work together to champion LGBT rights and push back against abuse and discrimination.

We provide information and assistance to LGBT people who find themselves in risky and hostile situations. In addition, the group provides HIV and STI education and counselling. Overall, we aim to contribute to the creation of a generation of young people who have a positive view about human sexuality.

Q: What is the situation in Ghana surrounding human rights for the LGBT community?

The biggest challenges in providing services for the LGBT community seem to be ignorance, lack of information and fundamentalist religious beliefs. Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal. The fact that homosexuality is criminalised is the biggest reason for high levels of homophobia and discriminatory services for LGBT.

LGBT people are dying physically, emotionally and spiritually, not only because of the various forms of violence, poverty, illness, but also due to ignorance among the general population. In February 2017, the head of Ghana’s parliament Rt. Hon. Prof. Aaron Michal Oquay launched a campaign to have the country’s laws amended to permanently ban homosexuality in the country. The Minority Leader of Parliament, Hon. Haruna Iddrisu said he wholeheartedly welcomes the pronouncement of the speaker on homosexuality. Concern Youth Association view the pronouncement as a national threat which will undermine the LGBT movement in Ghana.

Q: Tell us about what your group experiences as young LGBT human rights activists?

Our group and many young LGBT people in rural and grassroots areas find themselves in a hostile environment, where it is difficult or dangerous to access social services. LGBT activities are often associated with shame and stigma. Since no community or family wishes to carry the stigma, the LGBT suffer discrimination, social exclusion, denial of political and cultural rights, health insecurity and psychological harassment. Most LGBT people are denied employment, education and access to resources and public facilities. 

Violence against young LGBT people in our communities is extremely high. Sexual and gender-based violence committed against people who identify as or are perceived to be LGBT is often ignored, condoned or even encouraged by policymakers and law enforcement agents. Many men and boys are beaten and sexually assaulted to make them ‘more of a man’, while many women and girls suffer ‘corrective rape’ in order to ‘convert’ their sexual orientation.

Q: What activities does your group provide to the LGBT community?

  • Our group provides emergency rescue assistance to LGBT people by moving the person from the event or situation.
  • We organise meetings and workshops to discuss LGBT security and development matters.
  • We hold advocacy meetings with stakeholders.
  • We provide medical and legal support to high risk young LGBT people, including HIV services.
  • We share and exchange information and resources on LGBT matters.

Q: What is your group’s future plans to bring peace among younger LGBT and MSM people in Ghana?

Concern Youth Association work with tenacity and courage to combat discrimination and stigma, using the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance REAct guide. The group is proposing to form a coalition of human rights and sexual orientation and gender identity networks to facilitate peace, security, life planning and development of young LGBT groups and individuals in Ghana, and mobilize support for friendly and accessible services and information to the LGBT community. This will be used as a platform for advocacy to governments, the international human rights community, religious and political forces, and the general public.

Note

Concern Youth Association in Ghana received Rapid Response Fund grants from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance in 2016. The group was able to use the grants to rent a three bedroom apartment for seven young LGBT whose life was in danger. With the remaining grant they conducted mobile HIV counselling, testing 77 LGBT people for HIV and enrolling 22 in the National Health Insurance Scheme.