Why Sacramento State LGBTQI Community Should Welcome the President of Ghana

Our responsibility as American LGBTQI on the global front is to first and foremost follow the lead and direction of the Ghanaian gay community …

In writing this response to “EDITORIAL: Sac State shouldn’t break bread with repressive leaders – Persecution of LGBTQ, …….”,  and the Article of Claire Morgan, Managing editor, published in the online Sacramento State student news publication,State Hornet, filed by its Editorial Board on April 18th and 12, 2018, respectively,  I am wearing two hats: One as a member of the American LGBTQI community, who has been an equality activist for many years and the other as the Executive Director of the African Human Rights Coalition. I assert that this State Hornet article and subsequent editorial are ill-conceived and in short, a selfish excursion into disaster. Most importantly while it may serve to make its writer’s feel they are helping to advocate for Africans – it only hurts Ghana’s LGBTQI community.

Being privy to both realms – equality activism on American soil, and in my professional experience, as an advocate and working in the trenches for LGBTQI Africans escaping the horrendous persecution resulting from State imposed criminalization on sexuality and gender identity, in 34 African countries,  I understand that those who saw fit, in effect, to attack the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo, and his hosts, may have been operating with the best of intent.  However minimal knowledge and failed context may often cause more harm than good. Allow me to explain!

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President of Ghana Nano Akufo-Addo

The President of Ghana, Nana Addo Akufo- Addo, has been invited to  deliver the keynote speech during the Africa Peace Awards dinner at Sacramento State on Saturday, April 28. The host of the event is the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution.

In the Article by Morgan, the first mistake was to fail to seek commentary from a current LGBTQI activist or human rights defender in Ghana itself. Then the first mistake in the later editorial presented in its initial visual, a picture and commentary which immediately characterizes the new, recently democratically elected President of Ghana to the likes of two other African Presidents – in a manner that exposes a draconian ignorance and decidedly Colonialist outlook when lumping all Africans together, ignoring the fact that Africa is a continent of over 50 countries with different laws, ideals, political landscapes and cultures. That is a mistake many Americans make!

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 7.00.40 PM

This new President of Ghana is nothing like “Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, and  former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan” and quite frankly placing these men in the same sentence is like saying Trump and Trudeau are one and the same!

Kaunda served as president of Zambia from October 24, 1964 to November 2, 1991: An almost 30 year long dictator who embraced the Colonial era anti-homosexuality Penal Codes, as delivered by the British. We know that Kaunda was in favor of criminalization, and never commented to reflect on change, as he continued to apply those long-standing reprehensible laws and repressed any possible activism to repeal them.  Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan served from 2010 to 2015 and actually, over and above the existing Colonial Penal Codes, signed horrific new enhanced anti-homosexuality legislation into law, with extremely onerous punitive measures, in the form of the Same Sex Marriage and Protection Act of 2014.

However unlike these two Presidents, Ghana’s president Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo is new in office, and actually has done nothing more at this time than to offer hope for the possibility of change.  Given the context that is huge! Instead of comparing this President to abhorrent leaders of other countries, and slotting him in the same negative light, perhaps the State Hornet Editorial Board would have better served Ghana’s LGBTI community by doing their homework:

In a 2017 African News Report :

“Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo- Addo has said the issue of same-sex relationships was not on the agenda of the West African country. He, however, believes that its snowball effect will soon reach Africa.

Akufo-Addo was speaking in an interview with Gulf news channel, Al Jazeera, during which he addressed a series of national, continental and global issues.

Asked why homosexuality remained a criminal offence in Ghana, the president said, “I don’t believe that in Ghana so far a sufficiently strong coalition has emerged which is having that impact of public opinion that will say, change it; let’s then have a new paradigm in Ghana.”

At the moment, I don’t feel and I don’t see that in Ghana there is that strong current of opinion that is saying that this is something that we need even deal with. It is not so far a matter which is on the agenda.

He adds that like in other parts of the world, it will take the activities of groups and individuals to try bringing it up for discussion.

“At the moment, I don’t feel and I don’t see that in Ghana there is that strong current of opinion that is saying that this is something that we need even deal with. It is not so far a matter which is on the agenda.”

A lawyer by training, the president recounted his days as a young boy in England where homosexuality was banned and illegal, a time when politicians thought it was an anathema to be homosexual saying he believed the same processes will bring about changes.”

If you read into this you will see that the President of Ghana has adopted a very similar approach to President Obama, during his first term, before he “evolved” on the issue of marriage equality.

We must also examine this approach in the context of the fact that this new leader can certainly not have been expected to strip down a century old law in a climate of colonially and evangelically indoctrinated attitudes, in a matter of a couple of years, least of all accept responsibility for his country’s human rights record in such a short time. In fact with all my experience, and given the abhorrent popular rhetoric of several other leaders in African countries,  I view his words as demonstrating an opening for change.  I also have great hope that activists will continue their newly invigorated activism toward that change, just as President Obama suggested we do here in America.

Our responsibility as American LGBTQI on the global front is to first and foremost follow the lead and direction of Ghana’s gay community and the already forming LGBT activist community that is there. To this end I wonder if The State Hornet Editorial Board and Morgan read this article:

“Gays and lesbians in Ghana thank Nana Addo for ‘gay assurances on Aljazeera”

Screen Shot 2018-04-24 at 7.36.57 PM.png“The association of gays and lesbians in Ghana have congratulated president of the republic, Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo for his “emphatic response” on the discrimination of homosexuals in Ghana.

Nana Addo in an interview with Aljazeera made the point that although the pressure to legalize homosexuality is not that severe, Ghana is likely to legalize same-sex marriage in the future.

Reacting to the president’s statement, Ghana’s LGBTQI association hinted of a peaceful march in from Obra Spot in Accra to the Flagstaff House to present a formal plea to him.

“Consistent with our calm demeanor there will be a peaceful Movement Walk on Friday 15th December 2017 from Obra Spot to the Flagstaff house to thank the President Akufo Addo and his government and present the mission and vision of the LGBTQI Movement,” excerpts of the statement reads.

Nana Addo’s statement on Aljazeera has caused a stir in the country with religious groups responding with opposing views.

The Christian Council has argued that legalizing homosexuality has the potential of ripping off the family culture of Ghana and that same-sex marriage is a deadly threat to Ghana.

Ghana’s conservative society has seen the gay community mostly silent and in hiding as cases of stigma and brutality abounds.”

This is a huge step forward for Ghana’s LGBT community – to have been able to speak out and march in this fashion. Yet State Hornet never mentions this and it is publicly available information. Simple google search!

So with this president opening the door, and the gay and lesbian community of Ghana acting on the message,  working toward not only decriminalization, but also the notion that Ghana “is likely to legalize same-sex marriage in the future,” I suggest strongly that the American LGBTQI community, not only stand down, but also welcome this President of Ghana with open arms and an offer to dialogue.

I am sure President Nano Akufo-Addo has much to learn from us that could be useful and I am sure he will be willing to talk, if welcomed.  In fact to this end I commend the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution in its invitation to a leader that is already serving as an impetus for change. I also think that this demonstrates inclusivity of a new order, where our only form of global leadership in this realm is to prove the Christian right to be wrong- and so we must present ourselves for open debate, rather than run from it. Lest we forget that it is our white-man culture that initially imposed the anti-gay milieu with those old penal codes and that it is our evangelicals who continue to promote their hateful dicta in Africa, seeking more onerous anti-homosexuality laws in the battle that they lost here.

While Sacramento State students and LGBT community have every right to assert abhorrence for anti-Homosexuality laws in Ghana or anywhere else, and to protest those laws, to incite such protest in this situation, without accurate informed context is irresponsible. By all means protest anti-homosexual laws and if done here at this event consider at the same time bearing signs that welcome this leader who is open to change. Do not protest against this particular president as being personally responsible for the past or the organizers who had the insight to invite him. That is counter-productive and bound to play into the hands of the Christian right, only to be used negatively in the press in Ghana, against the gay community in Ghana, causing an all too familiar backlash as we have seen in the past. I am asking you to please proceed with caution and to refrain from endangering Ghana’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.

It is not this President who is a danger to the LGBTI community of Ghana, but rather the forces who are against change.  The Evangelical Christians are being propped up by those here in America. Yes, right here in Sacramento – your own back yard. It would be way more productive for American LGBTQI protesters to show up at those churches to halt the coffers that support the export of hate, and to write articles about THAT – rather than to hurt Ghana’s future when it comes to the possibility of change.

Now, moving forward, allow me to put on my third hat- that of mediator. I am open and available to facilitate any dialogue that may result from this – lets see this as an opportunity for positive reflection and change!

Though it may be late in the day to organize, perhaps the members of Sacramento’s LGBTQI Community Center could invite the President for a tour of its facilities to explain the nature of the work and so that he can meet some LGBT people for a friendly discussion.

13537741_10209328713390171_8282725518331626905_nMelanie Nathan
My e-mail nathan@AfricanHRC.org
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3 thoughts on “Why Sacramento State LGBTQI Community Should Welcome the President of Ghana

  1. A gang of student reporters make dangerous assumptions in an editorial that can cause a great deal of harm. It is an unreliable and untrustworthy editorial.

    Student journalists should be taught the first rule in writing about foreign countries is to ensure their approach is validated by knowledgeable persons on the ground. Any story on LGBT in any African nation should, first, be vetted by an LGBT activist within that country, or at the very least, with a source who is familiar with LGBT in the country at issue.

    Similarly, just because there have been some tyrants who have led African countries in the past does not mean that every African leader is also a tyrant.

    This editorial does not pass muster. As you said, “without accurate informed context” such journalism “is irresponsible”. Journalism professors at Sacramento State must closely examine what they teach and what kind of journalists they are turning out.

  2. I should have added that the editorial cannot even get its sources right. It cites a source as the Human Rights Campaign: “when the leader of a state that allowed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a roving band of community leaders and police to burn a woman because she was believed to be gay?”

    On verification, the actual source is a Human Rights Watch report where the interviews were completed in February 2017. This is only a few months after the election of the current president and months before the new president was in any position to begin to govern. The president announced and swore in his cabinet only in May 2017.

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