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Draft of draconian anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana leaked

Activists and allies could face up to 10 years in prison

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(Public Domain photo by Jorono from Pixabay)

A draft of a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill in Ghana has surfaced online.

The “Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill” draft is 36-pages long and contains clauses under which LGBTQ people and allies could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for supporting and advocating for LGBTQ rights in Ghana. The Guardian newspaper described the proposed measure as “one of the most draconian and sweeping anti-gay laws proposed around the world.”

The draft, which has yet to be introduced in the Ghanaian Parliament, details a plethora of behaviors between LGBTQ individuals that would be banned. They include “gross indecency,” which is defined as “the public show of amorous relations between or among persons of the same sex.” This act, labeled a misdemeanor, can result in “a term of imprisonment no less than six months and not more than one year.”

The bill in its current form would additionally propose strict media censorship that would ban media entities and creative individuals from producing content that promotes LGBTQ advocacy. Failure to comply with this provision would result in “not less than five years and not more than 10 years” of imprisonment. 

The draft’s release follows the May arrest of 21 activists and paralegals who attended a conference on how to advocate for LGBTQ rights.

Rightify Ghana, one of Ghana’s most prominent LGBTQ rights groups, released portions of the bill on its Twitter page.

“This bill is a homophobe’s dream law,” Rightify Ghana’s Danny Bediako told Reuters. “The community is shocked at how wide-ranging it is. People are even scared to go out now and some members say they will leave the country if the bill is passed into law. Even those who want to help us will be afraid.”

A State Department spokesperson also commented on the situation.

“In Ghana, we are concerned by the increasing anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric and actions that undermine the human rights of members of that community. We are monitoring the situation closely,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Monday in a statement. “In his video address to the [African Union], President Biden affirmed the United States policy to promote the human rights of all individuals, including women and girls, LGBTQI+ individuals, persons with disabilities, and persons of every ethnic background, faith and heritage.”

The World Congress of Families, a queerphobic organization, hosted an anti-LGBTQ conference in Ghana in 2019.

“It is clear that this [is] an imported bill with a signature of [the] World Congress of Families (WCF). It is a combination of bills from Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and other places where the WCF [has] been. It’s the worst anti-LGBTQ bill ever,” says Rightify Ghana on Twitter. 

The Human Rights Campaign notes the World Conference of Families during their 2019 conference advocated for the adoption of public policies supporting so-called conversion therapy and attacked sex education and women’s rights in Ghana. 

The World Conference of Families is an anti-LGBTQ organization based in the U.S. that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. The World Conference of Families has supported efforts that have further criminalized LGBTQ identity and activity in Russia, Lithuania, Nigeria and Uganda. 

“[The WCF] has a long history of exporting its anti-LGBTQ narrative to many parts of Africa, often by framing LGBTQ people and the protection of their human rights as somehow foreign and un-African, a fundamentally inaccurate characterization,” says HRC in its report. 

The proposed Ghana bill is not unlike other measures on the African continent.

The Nigerian Senate in 2014 passed the “Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill,” under which anyone convicted of entering into a same-sex marriage or relationship faced up to 14 years in jail. The measure also criminalized witnessing or supporting LGBTQ-related activities and public displays of same-sex relationships. 

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United Kingdom

LGBTQ ally Humza Yousaf becomes Scotland’s next first minister

Nicola Sturgeon resigned in February

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Humza Yousaf, right, and charity worker during a March 20, 2023, event at Who Cares? Scotland in the group's Glasgow offices. (Photo courtesy of Humza Yousaf's office/Facebook)

Humza Yousaf, in a tumultuous election race for leadership of the Scottish National Party pitted against socially conservative rivals Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, was elected Monday as SNP leader. He becomes the first Muslim to lead a major U.K. political party and the first Muslim to lead a European democracy.

In a vote in the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood) on Tuesday, Yousaf was confirmed as Scotland’s next first minister, replacing Nicola Sturgeon. Sturgeon had resigned as the SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister last month, setting off a close contest within the party to succeed her. 

Her decision was tied to two key political challenges: The future of the independence campaign and changes to Scotland’s gender recognition laws. In January Sturgeon castigated the conservative government of U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for blocking the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from being signed into law by King Charles III.

The Gender Recognition Reform bill introduced by the Scottish government in Holyrood last spring was passed in a final 86-39 vote days before this past Christmas. The sweeping reform bill modifies the Gender Recognition Act, signed into law in 2004, by allowing transgender Scots to gain legal recognition without the need for a medical diagnosis.

The measure further stipulates that age limit for legal recognition is lowered to 16.

The Guardian noted the most pressing question is how a change of leadership affects the Scottish government’s plans to contest the U.K.’s decision to block the bill, which it did using section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, described by sources as “the nuclear option.” Scottish ministers have three months from the date the section 35 order was laid — Jan. 16 — to contest it.

PinkNewsUK reported that Yousaf had received a tidal wave of support and well wishes after his victory was announced. SNP MP John Nicolson said that Yousaf led a “positive and bold campaign.”

“Humza knows that young voters love our party’s vision of a liberal, progressive, egalitarian independent Scotland,” Nicolson said. “His campaign promised a progressive agenda of fair taxation, defending LGBT+ rights from Westminster attack, and support for the vulnerable at home and abroad.”

Speaking to PinkNews, Nicolson added: “I think young people want a Scotland which is socially progressive and liberal. And for young people, independence isn’t about a face, but it’s about the kind of country that they imagine independent Scotland could be — a progressive country — and Humza very deliberately tapped into that in the course of the election campaign and made it very clear what his views were and championed that.”

During the campaign Yousaf had promised voters, “If elected Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and Scotland’s next first minister, I’ll build on our track record of promoting and protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people by: (1) banning conversion practices and (2)  embedding LGBTQ+ rights in an independent Scotland’s constitution.”

A political commentator and SNP source told the Washington Blade on Monday they are “happy with the result and motivated by what is to come. Humza has secured the continuation of a progressive agenda. I think he will be more popular as he becomes more well-known.”

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Middle East

Netanyahu postpones efforts to reform Israel’s judiciary

LGBTQ, intersex rights groups part of nationwide protest movement

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LGBTQ and intersex activists participate in a protest against proposed reforms to Israel's judiciary. (Photo courtesy of George Avni)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday announced he has postponed efforts to reform the country’s judicial system.

The announcement, which Netanyahu made during a prime-time speech, came after a nationwide strike paralyzed the country. 

Netanyahu on Saturday fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he publicly criticized the proposed reforms. Asaf Zamir, the Israeli consul general in New York, resigned in protest.

Elad Strohmayer, the openly gay spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in D.C., on Monday in a tweet acknowledged the embassy will be closed “today until further notice and no consular services will be provided.” The embassy has since reopened.

“Today (3/27), the Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor union, instructed all government employees to go on strike, including Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world,” tweeted Strohmayer.

The Associated Press notes the proposed reforms would “increase” the coalition government’s “control over judicial appointments and diminish the (Israeli) Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws” the Knesset approves. 

Netanyahu’s coalition government took office in December. 

Critics of the proposed reforms, among other things, have noted Netanyahu is pushing for the proposed reforms in order to avoid his conviction on fraud and corruption charges for which he is currently on trial.  

WDG, the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel, has reported LGBTQ and intersex people and advocacy groups have joined the protest movement against what has been described as an attempted “coup d’état” since it began in January. Aguda Chair Hila Peer during a demonstration that took place in Tel Aviv earlier this month said the current “government has a clear agenda and the LGBTQ community is one of the first in line.”

“This is not legal reform, it is a gun that is being held to the head of the LGBTQ community. They are destroying the only body that protects human rights, so that later they can enact whatever they want against us,” said Peer. “This government has brought up the worst haters of freedom, of equality and of the LGBTQ community, It gave them power over our families, over our rights. We faced crazier, meaner, more violent and broke every closet they ever dared to try build for us.”

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India

New initiative seeks to improve LGBTQ news coverage in India

Three media outlets launched Google News-backed project

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Indian flag (Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

In journalism, words matter. They can heal, hurt or excite. Journalists report stories with facts and context that carries emotions and truth about an event. 

The world is changing, and inclusion matters in the changing world. But what if, in the changing world, the journalists who report stories that shape our perspective about LGBTQ people do not use the appropriate terminology.

Three India-based news outlets, the News Minute, and partner organizations Queer Chennai Chronicles and queerbeat have started a new initiative to help Indian news media become more inclusive while covering LGBTQ stories. 

The project will publish a guide, glossaries, workshops and fellowships for Indian journalists. The Google News Initiative is supporting the project in the country. According to the press release, the project will rollout in a phased manner, starting with the translation of the existing glossary of LGBTQ terms into local languages.

Mainstream newsrooms in India often misidentify LGBTQ people and use incorrect pronouns to describe them. They sometimes use inappropriate words to define an event that does not appropriately capture the emotions and events.

“It’s not just about covering pride or violence, but across beats,” Ragamalika Karthikeyan, editor of special projects and experiments at the News Minute, said at the virtual press conference while launching the project on Feb. 24. “How do we write about LGBTQIA+ with dignity and respect, how do we make sure that a person’s personhood is maintained, how do we make sure that a community is not disrespected in the course of our journalism? How do we make sure that stories that are disrespectful and dehumanizing queer persons don’t keep happening?”

In the next phase, the project will launch an LGBTQ media guide in six languages: English, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi and Marathi. The reference guide’s goal is to help journalists use more appropriate words to more deeply and accurately cover stories about the LGBTQ community.

“I am yet to come across a journalist or a reporter who has had an issue with anyone being gay. I think the sensitivity comes in where it becomes a question of how to ask a question, so as not to offend,” said Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a prominent and openly gay Indian defense and foreign analyst who also writes for Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi newspaper, and is a member of a political think tank. “Even in Hindi newspapers, because I write for Dainik Bhaskar I have not come across a lack of sensitivity. I describe it more as disinterest in LGBTQ issues, and that suits me perfectly fine. I do not want more people to be aware of it. It is much easier to fight when people are not aware of things and have not made up their minds about it.”

The project also aims to start workshops for journalists in the country to sensitize and train them for covering LGBTQ issues more accurately and deeply. There are some fellowships also involved in the project for reporters interested in learning how to write LGBTQ stories sensitively.

“I think it is an applaudable initiative. We need to acknowledge the fact that vocabulary plays an important role in every news report, it is perhaps why time and again we have improvised. For example, in 2016, the Associated Press revised its style guide suggesting journalists to use ‘crash, collision, or other terms’ besides ‘accident’ in auto crash reporting (at least until culpability is proven),” said Heena Khandelwal, a journalist who is based in Mumbai. “Similarly, the initiative takes a step in ensuring that we use the terms/words/language that does not offend the community as well as empowers the vernacular reporters by looking for their alternatives in regional languages. The decision to turn it into a handbook will make it accessible to the journalist community at large.”

Khandelwal, while talking to the Washington Blade, said that she believes that there is also a need for more LGBTQ journalists in the newsroom.

“We cannot ask a man to not write about women’s issues, can we? Similarly, we cannot and must not ask heterosexual journalists to report about the LGBTQIA+ community and support the initiative by Newsminute so that it is done correctly. At the same time, we must include journalists from the LGBTQIA+ community to make our coverage more inclusive,” said Khandelwal. “There are so many aspects to their daily lives, struggles as well as achievements that heterosexual journalists would have a limited understanding of and by covering them, they would be widening the horizon of us writers as well as readers. Their inclusion would also make newsrooms more vibrant and a publication’s voice, not only when publishing a LGBTQIA+ story but otherwise as well, more inclusive.”

Khandelwal has covered LGBTQ-specific stories for Daily News and Analysis (DNA), the fastest-growing English newspaper in Mumbai.

Ankush Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]opiniondaily.news. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion

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