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State Department urges Ghana to protect LGBTQ rights after activists arrest

Workshop attendees taken into custody after ‘unlawful assembly’

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The State Department on Monday expressed concern over the arrest of 21 LGBTQ activists in Ghana.

Ghananian police on May 20 arrested the activists in the city of Ho. A State Department spokesperson in their statement said the U.S. “promotes efforts worldwide to protect LGBTQI+ populations from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination, and stigma, and to empower local movements and persons seeking to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

The spokesperson proceeded to say that the situation in Ghana is on the State Department’s radar and called upon the country’s national leaders and citizens to support and preserve the human rights of LGBTQ Ghanaians. 

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” said the spokesperson. “We urge national leaders in Ghana to uphold constitutional human rights protections and to adhere to international human rights obligations and commitments for all individuals. This includes members of the LGBTQI+ community.” 

“We call on all Ghanaians to respect the provisions under Ghana’s constitution that guarantee freedom of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly.”

What caused the arrests?

A training for activists and paralegals on how to advocate for LGBTQ Ghanaians and record any infringements of their human rights took place on May 20. Someone tipped off the authorities, and they arrested event detainees.

Alex Kofi Donkor, founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, told The Guardian that “the [event] was to train them on paralegal services for vulnerable groups – how we can document issues of abuse, and how best these trained paralegals can provide support.” 

Authorities deemed the event an “unlawful assembly,” and they immediately arrested 16 men and five women. All were denied bail and are due to appear before a judge on June 4. 

Rightify Ghana, a Ghanaian human rights group, in a series of tweets said journalists teamed up with the Ghanaian police when they descended on the event, and took people’s belongings.

“Journalists were the first to storm the place, started taking photos, took their notepads, flip charts, puller banner, books, then locked them while calling the police. The worried victims started crying for help, but today a judge has remanded the 21 queer persons #ReleaseThe21,” said Rightify Ghana. 

Rightify Ghana further expressed their disappointment with the Ghanaian media’s actions as it is an entity that has fervently advocated for freedom of press in the West African nation. 

“Ghanaian media, which has for decades been advocating for press freedom in Ghana, are enablers in the promotion of hate and discrimination against minority groups in the country, especially sexual minorities. No wonder Ghana is here,” said Rightify Ghana. 

The activists’ arrest last week in Ho is the latest of a series of anti-LGBTQ events that have taken place in Ghana.

Ghanaian police officers earlier this year raided and shut down an LGBTQ center.

This action prompted Black celebrities in the West to urge President Nana Akufo-Addo in an open letter to work with LGBTQ community leaders. Some of the celebrities included actor Idris Elba, model Naomi Campbell, and British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful.

In reaction to the recent arrests, prominent human rights groups have expressed their disapproval of LGBTQ human rights abuses in Ghana.

“The arrest of LGBTIQ people holding a lawful, private gathering about protecting and supporting LGBTIQ people in Ghana is shocking, and unacceptable,” said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern. “The basic human rights to freedom of assembly and association, enshrined in the country’s constitution, should not be limited by anti-LGBTIQ opinions of bystanders or the police.”

“Those detained should be released immediately, and an investigation into how such a blatant violation of rights could take place has to be held,” added Stern.

“I am deeply saddened that the Ghana police can act on false alarm to arrest and detain innocent citizens,” added Davis Mac-Iyalla, executive director of Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa. “The human rights defenders arrested and jailed did nothing unlawful, they were exercising their freedom of assembly and association.”

Mac-Iyalla in his statement said “this illegal arrest is a reflection of the high level of discrimination against minorities in Ghana.” 

“I call on the government to condemn the arrest and order the release of the human rights defenders,” added Mac-Iyalla. “I also call on religious leaders and all civil society locally and internationally to add their voices to this call.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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Africa

Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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United Nations

US ambassador to UN: LGBTQ community ‘has shown remarkable bravery and resilience’

Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted Pride Month reception on Tuesday

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. on June 18, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

UNITED NATIONS — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday at her annual Pride Month reception at the U.N. criticized those in the U.S. and elsewhere who continue to crackdown on LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield noted in the U.S. “a small, but threatening group of people continues to garget the LGBTI+ community, and especially trans individuals.” She specifically pointed out the increase of hate crimes in schools, especially in states with laws that target LGBTQ students. 

Thomas-Greenfield described Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act — which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” — as “draconian.” She also cited the case of a Russian woman who authorities jailed because she wore rainbow earrings.   

“Despite these challenges, the LGBTI+ community has shown remarkable bravery and resilience,” said Thomas-Greenfield. 

Lawmakers in Greece, Estonia and Thailand since Thomas-Greenfield hosted her 2023 Pride Month reception extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Latvian President Edgars Rinkēvičs and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, who are both gay, took office in July 2023 and in January 2024 respectively.

Dominica’s High Court of Justice in April struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. German lawmakers the same month approved a statute that will make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to legally change their name and gender.

The U.N. has faced criticism over its response to Hamas’s surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7. The Washington Blade, which attended Tuesday’s reception, saw at least one person wearing a keffiyah, a symbol of Palestinian solidarity.

“Since day one, the Biden administration has made it a priority to prevent and combat discrimination, hatred and violence on the basis of sexual orientation, and gender identity,” said Thomas-Greenfield. “I’m proud of the many, many ways … that U.S. U.N. has led on this front.”

Thomas-Greenfield in 2023 chaired a meeting that examined ways the U.N. Security Council can integrate LGBTQ and intersex rights into its work. 

The U.S. is among the dozens of countries that are members of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights.

Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday noted the U.S. continues to work with the U.N. Economic and Social Council to include LGBTQ-specific language in resolutions that focus on elections and democracy. She also referenced the group of activists who gathered in Dag Hammerskjöld Plaza, which is across the street from the U.N., in April 1965 to “protest the treatment of gay individuals at home and abroad.”

“We’re following in the footsteps of those marchers outside in Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza all those years ago,” she said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, also spoke at the reception. The New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and the West Point Benny Havens Band performed.

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