UN Expert Spotlights LGBT Poverty in Ghana

A UN expert on Friday urged Ghana’s government to decriminalize adult consensual same-sex conduct to protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The expert, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Phillip Alston, also expressed concern about how stigma and discrimination against LGBT people undermines their ability to find meaningful work. Alston presented his report to the UN Human Rights Council.

Conversations I had with numerous LGBT people in Ghana underscored the urgency of legalizing adult consensual same-sex conduct. For example, a 26-year-old lesbian described the frustration she felt when her employer fired her after he found out she was a lesbian. A 28-year-old lesbian echoed these sentiments, saying “the problem in Accra is that LGBT people can’t get jobs, nobody wants to hire them, and when family members find out about your sexual orientation, they don’t pay your school fees.”

While visiting Ghana in April, Alston found that “stigmatization and discrimination make it impossible for [LGBT] individuals to become productive members of the community when disclosure of their sexual orientation is likely to lead to them being thrown out of their jobs, schools, homes, and even their communities.”

While interviewing LGBT people in Ghana In December 2016 and February 2017, I found that while people are rarely prosecuted, the law criminalizing same sex conduct contributes to violence against LGBT people and gives tacit state approval for anti-LGBT discrimination when it comes to employment, education and health services. The combination of criminalization and stigma produces severe economic consequences for LGBT Ghanaians.

Several LGBT people told Human Rights Watch that the lack of work has forced them to rely on sex work to survive. “The government should recognize that we are human beings, with dignity, not treat us as outcasts in our own society,” said a 40-year old lesbian from Cape Coast. “We want to be free, so we can stand tall in public – this will make it easier for us to get an education, learn a trade, get jobs and be useful and productive Ghanaians.”

Ghana’s government should decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct and act swiftly to protect LGBT people from discrimination, intimidation, and violence. Ghanaian authorities should also engage in a constructive dialogue with the LGBT population to better understand its needs, and ensure they are protected by labor laws and anti-discrimination policies.