Vice President Kamala Harris has spoken out for LGBTQ+ rights while visiting Ghana, where legislation that would impose harsh punishments for LGBTQ+ identity and advocacy is pending.
“I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and supporting the fighting for equality among all people, and that all people be treated equally,” Harris said Monday at a joint press conference with Ghanian President Nana Akufo-Addo. "I will also say that this is an issue that we consider and I consider to be a human rights issue, and that will not change.”
Under the proposed bill, introduced in 2021, “advocates of the LGBTQ community would face up to a decade in prison; public displays of same-sex affection or cross-dressing could lead to a fine or jail time, and certain types of medical support would be made illegal,” CNN reports.
VP Harris, in Ghana, addresses human rights amid anti-LGBTQ efforts in Africawww.youtube.com
The legislation would also ban marriages for people who have had gender-confirmation surgery, make it illegal for news outlets to distribute material the government considers pro-LGBTQ+, and require people in the country to report suspected LGBTQ+ residents. It could force intersex people into surgery and LGBTQ+ people into conversion therapy. Ghana already has anti-sodomy laws, but they are not often enforced.
At the news conference, Akufo-Addo said the bill is being made less restrictive. “My understanding … is that substantial elements of the bill have already been modified as a result of the intervention of the attorney general,” he said, according to CNN.
However, one of the Parliament members who sponsored the legislation, Samuel Nartey George, said on Nigerian TV that it “remains as tough and as rigid as it was.” When the president “says the bill has been watered down, he doesn’t know what he is talking about,” George added.
Activist Danny Bediako said life is already difficult for LGBTQ+ Ghanians, with 27 violent homophobic or transphobic attacks reported this year, and passage of the pending legislation will only make the situation worse. “It’s going to make it difficult for the community to exist,” he told CNN. “They are just trying to erase the community through this bill, so it will definitely lead to an increase in attacks.”
The nation’s information minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, told CNN the bill may change as it goes through debate in Parliament, and it is not one of the government’s priorities. “We are not pressured in any way to focus on things that are not essentially within our main priorities,” he said. “Our priority number one is getting the Ghanaian economy on track, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
China has invested heavily in Ghanaian business, and Harris’s visit is widely seen as a way for the U.S. to counter China’s economic influence in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa. She is scheduled to go to Tanzania and Zambia this week as well. Those countries also have anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Harris’s time in Ghana included a visit to the Cape Coast Castle, where women were held before being placed on ships to the Americas, with enslavement awaiting them. She laid flowers there and walked through the Door of No Return, as the Africans did on their way to the ships.
Tearing up, the vice president said, “Being here was — was — immensely powerful and moving.” She also denounced moves by American politicians to censor school curricula regarding the historic oppression of African-Americans. “It cannot be denied,” she said. “It must be taught. History must be learned.”
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