The office of an LGBTQ+ advocacy and support group in the west African nation of Ghana was raided Wednesday by armed police. The group, LGBT+ Rights Ghana, announced the police action with a video posted to their social media, and later made the decision to indefinitely close the location due to concerns about safety in the deeply conservative nation which criminalizes same-sex sexual relations. The center, which is in the capital city of Accra, opened January 31, but was immediately met with strong opposition from government officials and religious authorities, with threats of violence from local traditional leaders. Naomi Campbell, Idris Elba, and others have spoken out in support of the community.
“This morning, our office was raided by National Security,” LGBT+ Rights Ghana wrote in a Twitter post with video of the raid. “A few days ago, traditional leaders threatened to burn down our office but the police did not help. At this moment, we no longer have access to our safe space and our safety is being threatened.”
The short video showed police cars outside the center while security forces searched the property as the voice of a frightened man narrated. The raid was apparently sparked by the owner of the house, Asenso Gyambi, who told Africa News he was unaware and unhappy the group had rented his property.
“I had to report it to the security agencies for them to take action,” he said. “I will not tolerate such activities on my property.”
Gyambi’s intolerance is not uncommon in the deeply conservative country where same-sex sexual relations and marriage equality remain illegal. “Penile penetration of anything other than a vagina” is outlawed under the country’s 1960 criminal code. The legal and cultural atmosphere has forced many within the LGBTQ+ community to remain in the closet.
In a reaction to the raid, 67 celebrities and politicians signed on to a letter pushing back on the treatement.
"We have watched with profound concern as you have had to question the safety of your vital work at the LGBT+ Rights Ghana Centre in Accra, and feared for your personal wellbeing and security. It is unacceptable to us that you feel unsafe," the letter said. "As prominent and powerful advocates for this great country, we are beseeching His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and political/cultural leaders to create a pathway for allyship, protection and support.
"We petition for inclusivity which will make the nation even greater and even stronger,"
Last week, Ignatius Annor, a journalist for Euronews English, shocked the nation when he came out as gay on a live Zoom discussion on the LGBTQ+ rights in Ghana.
“This is going to be the very first time that I’m using your medium to say that not only am I an activist for the rights of African sexual minorities, what you would call the LGBTQI community, but I am gay,” he revealed.
Annor said he had not come out earlier out of fear of losing his job. Anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the country is commonplace, and government leaders have given no indication they will reform their draconian colonial era laws any time soon.
Sarah Adwoa Sarfo, Ghana's minister-designate for gender, children and social protection, declared in her recent confirmation hearings that she viewed same-sex sexual relations as “unnatural carnal knowledge” which should remain “criminal” under Ghana law, adding the issue was not up for debate.
“On the issue of its criminality, it is non-negotiable,” she declared. “On the issue of cultural acceptance and norms, these practices are also frowned upon.”
Calling the incident “unfortunate,” LGBT+ Rights Ghana advised followers to “say calm” and “not panic” about the raid.
“We anticipated this,” the group declared on Facebook. “We will triumph. The police may have raided our office, and closed it down but the real office, is in our hearts, and minds.” The founder, Alex Kofi Donkor, has since said he fears for his safety. Local outlets have reported that Amenesty International Ghana condemned the police action.
"The circumstance under which the facility was invaded is what we consider to be a clear violation of the very laws that we all seek to uphold,” Frank Doyi, the director of Amnesty International Ghana, said according to My Joy Online. “The question we like to ask again is whether or not the individuals who were found in that particular facility were seen engaging in any act, if they were not then clearly it’s an issue of the security agencies engaging in an act that is not supported by our laws.
“When the rights of individuals are clearly violated, then that becomes a serious issue of concern.”