Saturday 18 June 2011

Did Ghana register 8000 homosexuals? The facts behind the hype

By Graham Knight

On May 30th a strange story circulated in the Ghanaian media. It claimed that 8,000 homosexuals, many with HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, had been registered by an NGO. The figures also included students in junior and senior high school.

A few days later a group of Muslims tried again to lobby the government to bring the ‘homosexual crisis’ under control before Allah destroys Africa.

The original story should have raised questions that challenged its authenticity. In a country in which an open declaration of homosexuality will result in stigmatisation and intolerance, it seems hard to imagine that 8000 men would voluntarily register as homosexuals. What responsible NGO would keep such a list?

Men who have sex with men (MSM’s) have been neglected in HIV prevention programmes due to stigmatisation, intolerance and the apparent illegality of anal sex. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has enabled new efforts to be directed at this group although, typically, it is not official.

Against this background, USAID organised a workshop, together with some of its partner organisations, encouraging health workers to provide their services in a professional manner, regardless of the method of transmission. This included treatment for sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing and so on. This kind of workshop is necessary as some health workers feel the need to moralise and preach, putting off potential patients, instead of delivering these vital services.

The workshop was attended by about 30 health workers. One of the doctors present made a wild guess that there were 8000 MSMs in the combined Western and Eastern regions. It seems that this unsubstantiated opinion has been leapt upon by the media whilst refusing to give the background to the claim. It has led the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare to publicly state that no NGO is registering homosexuals in Ghana.

The real story is of a rather low-key workshop that has been sensationalised by the press, possibly with the collusion of a local doctor. The press reports are designed to create fear as are the unrepresentative group of Muslims claiming an imminent Sodom and Gomorrah for Africa.

The debate around homosexuality in Ghana is an illusion because only one side is being heard. Its function is not to allow discussion but to reinforce negative public opinion informed only by myth and ignorance. An example of misinformation is the statement by the National Commission on Civic Education resolving to fight homosexuality in secondary schools which it claims are used as nurseries for homosexuals.

The prospective MP, Jacob Osei Yeboah’s call to have a referendum on whether Ghanaian’s like homosexuality is dishonest because it clearly allows for only one outcome. An outcome which Mr Yeboah states is needed to “withstand the power of the international gay community.”

As Ghana’s silent MSM’s quietly go on with their lives, those seeking power are attempting to use the issue to forward their careers.

The final twist to the story claimed that The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), Ghana’s national security agency, would be investigating the registered names of homosexuals. If true, their precious resources would be invested into chasing a fantasy.
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