SheHUB Ghana: “We had no choice but to deny our identity”

Adegu, a 27-year-old lesbian woman who lives in East Legon, a suburb of Accra, Ghana, opens up on her ordeal as an LGBTQIA+ member as she describes the violence and discrimination against such group in the country.

According to her, the Assembly Member in her area called her for a meeting, where she was taken to one boardroom in a tall building and made to sit in the middle of about 140 people.

“They asked me series of questions, including if I was a lesbian, and I said no. One police officer kicked me with his boot on my nose and said I shouldn’t talk,” she explains to

“I started bleeding profusely. Then everybody started to beat me. They took me outside, dragging me and beating me at the same time. A young boy put a car tire around my neck and poured petrol over my body, ready to burn me. Then I saw one man dressed like a pastor who said I should confess everything before I die.”

Frequently, LGBTQIA+ people are victims of physical violence and psychological abuse, extortion and discrimination in many different aspects of daily life because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBTQIA+ people share how on numerous occasions, they have been attacked both by mobs and members of their own families—subjected to sexual assault, intimidation and extortion.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Ghanaians tell that the combination of the criminalisation of adult consensual same-sex conduct and the profoundly religious and socially conservative Ghanaian context has an insidious effect on their individual self-expression.

Lesbian, bisexual women and transgender men are frequently victims of domestic violence in Ghana.

The share they feel they had little choice but to adopt self-censoring behaviour, or worse, deny their sexual orientation or gender identity to avoid suspicion by family members and the communities in which they live.

Faustina explains that in certain instances, such suspicion has led to violence, extortion and arrests.

Whiles Adegu’s story of being subjected to a mob assault for being a lesbian is horrific, violence against this group of women in Ghana often takes place in the privacy of their own homes; places where they ought to feel the most secure.

Numerous lesbians described being threatened with violence, beaten and driven from their homes after family members learned of their sexual orientation.

Gifty, a 31-year old woman says that when her family heard that she was associating with LGBTQIA+ people, they chased her out of the house with a machete; since then, she has not been able to go back home to visit her two-year-old daughter.

She notes that, people like her have no choice but to hide their sexuality from their family members and that they are expected to marry men and have children, thereby conforming to family and societal expectations.

Abigail also a young woman from the Western Region of Ghana, shares that when her family suspected she was a lesbian, they took her to a prayer camp where she was severely beaten over a period of one month to “cure” her of her “deviant” sexuality.

Prayer camps, run by privately-owned Christian religious institutions with roots in the evangelical or Pentecostal denominations, are supposed to serve as a refuge for people seeking spiritual healing.

There are tens of thousands of prayer camps in Ghana.

Many LGBTQIA+ Ghanaians laments that their lives have been torn apart because of the stigma associated with homosexuality; the fear of violence perpetrated by family members and others in the community and homelessness, should their sexual orientation be disclosed.

“The negative public discourse about LGBTQIA+ people, who are referred to in derogatory terms in public spaces, combined with the risk of physical violence has severe psychological implications on us,” says Nako, who is a lesbian.

Dzifa, also a lesbian, states that, she constantly struggle with the stress associated with hiding her sexuality, thus living double lives, to stay safe.

According to her, she is facing the risk of family rejection hence the need to succumb to the pressure to marry.

“I know others too, who ostracized from their families, find themselves with few economic options, leading some to rely on sex work as a means of survival,” she adds.

Anti-gay laws inhibit them from reporting to authorities for fear of exposure and arrest.

Gabriel, a young man from the Oti Region, shares that in 2019, he was raped by a man he had met at a nightclub, but did not report the rape to the police out of fear that he would be arrested for having “gay sex” and therefore charged with sureties for allowing himself to be raped by the same sex.

 Several men described being severely beaten by mobs of young men—often after being lured into compromising situations and blackmailed on social media.

An opinion leader in the Northern Region of Ghana who described the situation as “worrying and unfortunate” says in May 2016, in his village, the mother of a young woman organised a mob to beat up her daughter and another woman because she suspected they were lesbians and in a same-sex relationship.

According to him, the two young women were forced to flee the village and never returned.

A Private Legal practitioner and Human Rights Activist, Mrs. Lordina Korleki tells that Ghana has a mixed record on its treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQIA+) people.

According to her, the country criminalises “unnatural carnal knowledge” in section 104 (1) (b) of its Criminal Offences Act, which the authorities interpret as “penile penetration of anything other than a vagina”.

She adds, “However, the law is a colonial legacy that is rarely, if ever, enforced, and unlike several of its neighbours, Ghana has not taken steps in recent years to stiffen penalties against consensual same-sex conduct or to expressly criminalize sexual relations between women.”

Mrs. Korleki explains that, at least two government agencies, the Ghana Police Force and the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), have reached out to LGBTQIA+ people and taken proactive steps, including through providing human rights training workshops to help ensure their protection.

When asked if LGBTQIA+ members can seek for redress at the court of law after violation of their fundamental human rights, Mrs. Korleki shares that, “in one high-profile case, Accra police arrested a suspect in a vicious mob attack against a gay man in August 2015—but his case has still not gone to trial, leading LGBTQIA+ people to question whether it is futile to seek justice in the aftermath of homophobic and transphobic violence.

“While the police effectively investigated the case, the prosecutor who was assigned to the case in the Fast Track Court in Accra failed to appear in court.”

According to her, Ghana is a country of profound contradictions.

The Legal Practitioner further argues that, despite the country’s status as a liberal democracy, with a constitution that guarantees fundamental human rights to all its citizens, a relatively responsive police force, and an independent national human rights institution, the government has consistently rejected calls by United Nations bodies, including the Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review of Ghana’s human rights record, to repeal the law against “unnatural carnal knowledge.”

She continues, “While recognising that the legal framework affects the lives of LGBTQIA+ individuals generally, it is imperative to highlight the abuse that lesbian and bisexual women are subjected to in the private sphere, particularly by family members who exercise domination and control over women’s lives, bodies and sexuality.”

A few opinion leaders including government officials and parliamentarians have called for further criminalization of LGBTQIA+ people.

In February 2017, the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Ocquaye, referred to homosexuality as an “abomination” and reportedly called for stricter laws against same-sex conduct and in July 2017, during a public discussion with Amnesty International about prospects for abolishing the death penalty, he equated homosexuality with bestiality.

Homophobic statements, not only by local and national government officials, but also local traditional elders, and senior religious leaders, contribute to a climate of homophobia and in some cases, incite violence toward people on the basis of real or imputed sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Ghanaian society is also very religious.  According to a survey conducted by Gallup International Association, approximately 96 percent of the population follow some form of religious belief system.

Christianity, the dominant religion in the south and Islam in the north play a significant role in Ghanaian culture and society, and inform the view that homosexuality is an abomination and contrary to religious beliefs and teachings.

The situation continuous to make the intersection of gender and sexual orientation renders gender non-conforming which is making women particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.

The LGBTQIA+ members in Ghana are therefore calling on the government, NGOs and all stakeholders to ensure that violations and discrimination on sexual orientation is addressed.

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