Global Roundup: Ghana Anti-LGBTIQ Bill, Qatar Gay Community, Ethiopia Advocate vs Anti-Feminist Backlash, Queer People & Coming Out, Two-spirit & Indigiqueer Photo Exhibit
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
A placard is placed outside the Ghanaian High Commission during a protest against the anti-gay law being debated in the African country| Eleventh Hour Photography/Alamy via openDemocracy
Ghana’s attorney general and justice minister Godfred Yeboah Dame recently come under fire from LGBTIQ rights campaigners as he appears to largely agree with the objectives of the country’s anti-LGBTIQ bill, and even suggests a broader definition of “unnatural carnal knowledge” to include sexual relations between women, which is not criminalized by current Ghana law. Activists fear it could signal that Ghana’s ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) will back the bill when it goes to a vote.
The bill, introduced in June 2021, is the culmination of a violent response to the opening of Ghana’s first LGBTIQ community centre earlier the same year.
The law would require anyone who knows an LGBTIQ person to report them to the police. In addition, identifying as LGBTIQ would attract a three- to five-year prison sentence. Homosexuality is already punishable by a colonial-era law in Ghana but there have not been any prosecutions in years. The bill could also compel people to undergo so-called “conversion therapy.” An openDemocracy investigation this year found that supporters of the bill, including top doctors, were using misinformation to train nurses and psychologists in these practices.
Dame spoke against a line of the bill that seeks to criminalize “any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female.” He also singled out another clause targeting intersex people. But he supported clauses criminalizing the “promotion” of LGBTIQ activities in the media and calling for the disbandment of LGBTIQ organizations and groups, saying freedom of expression and association “can be restricted in the interest of defence, public safety or public health” under the constitution. Though Dame has criticized parts of the bill, activists do not think it is enough.
It is disappointing that the attorney general failed to be bold and to reject the entire proposed law…We encourage the attorney general to take a strong position against the anti-LGBTQI bill and stop trying to please both sides. You can’t be neutral if you truly care about human rights and justice. -Spokesperson for Rightify Ghana
People queue for the metro in Doha, Qatar, on November 18, 2022 ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/
Reuters spoke to four gay men in Doha – a Westerner, two Qataris plus an Arab from elsewhere in the region – who shared their views on being gay in the country and the FIFA World Cup. All four spoke on condition of anonymity due to concern over possible punishment from authorities. But they said they could live out their lives to some extent, meeting potential partners at private parties or via dating apps typically blocked in Qatar which they accessed via a VPN. Same-sex relations are illegal and punishable by up to three years of jail-time in the country.
We socialize together. We go out for dinner. We go to parties. We go to the beach. We don't make-out with our boyfriends in public or wave rainbow flags, but we certainly don't lower our voices. -The Westerner
The four expressed worries about the wave of international criticism about gay rights in Qatar brought by the World Cup, fearing they could lose the freedoms they do enjoy should the opprobrium lead to a public backlash against the LGBT+ community once global attention moves on.
What about us, who have lived in Doha for years and made Doha queer? What happens when the World Cup is over? Does the focus on the rights stop? -The Arab Man
These men present just one snapshot of life for gay people in the Gulf nation – and the four recognize their relative freedoms are a product of privilege: they can afford to live alone, host parties and meet partners in high-end restaurants or nightclubs, where the strict rules of Qatari society are often more relaxed. Other members of Qatar's LGBT community have reported being detained, some as recently as September, Human Rights Watch has said. The group also accused authorities of ordering some trans women to attend conversion therapy.
Nas Mohamed, a gay Qatari physician who has lived in the United States for about a decade, welcomed the attention the tournament has drawn to Qatar's rights record, saying it prompted him to speak out widely about his sexuality.
When you're an LGBT person (in Qatar) and don't get to experience being your full authentic self, then you just lose your sense of self. -Nas Mohamed
In the 12 years since Qatar was named host of the 2022 tournament, the country has faced intensifying criticism over its rights record on laborers, women and the LGBT community. It is important to listen to and centre those living on the margins in Qatar when denouncing these human rights violations.
Hanna Lemma is an Ethiopian women’s rights advocate, feminist researcher, and founder and director of Addis Powerhouse. Photo courtesy of Hanna Lemma Via UN Women
Hanna Lemma is an Ethiopian women’s rights advocate, feminist researcher, and founder and director of Addis Powerhouse – a young women-led feminist knowledge production platform that conducts gender research and works to ensure young women’s meaningful representation in Ethiopian politics and society. In the wake of civil war, Hanna is fighting hard to prevent progress on women’s rights from becoming a casualty.
Gender-based violence in Ethiopia was already endemic before the outbreak of war in 2020. But the conflict has exacerbated the problem and reduced the political will to address it. Women are being deprived of crucial services, including reporting mechanisms and proper healthcare for survivors. They also face exclusion from peace processes.
Instead of agents of change in reconciliation efforts, young women particularly [are] solely seen as victims of conflict. -Hanna Lemma
In the midst of all this, global anti-feminist movements are taking their toll. Though Hanna points to digital platforms as a key mechanism for facilitating women’s rights advocacy work, access to such platforms also “heightens exposure to the global pushback on women’s rights.” This kind of messaging is already threatening to derail progress made by Ethiopian feminists.
While more and more women have started speaking up for their rights using apps like Tiktok, more anti-women pages that promote backward gender roles and gender-based violence have also started to surface through such spaces. Bashing feminism has become the norm. -Hanna Lemma
Hanna’s activism was inspired by the “lack of power [she] felt [she] had as a young girl on the streets of Addis Ababa.” Discovering feminism as a teenager helped her to understand the harmful systems she had already encountered. It also gave her an outlet and, eventually, a sense of empowerment.
Feminist activism allowed me to cope through art and writing, and a newly found sisterhood in my community. [It] transformed how I saw power and where I found myself in the ladder of influence. -Hanna Lemma
For Hanna, activism starts with awareness of sexism in our everyday lives and culture. She encourages aspiring activists “to read, to research, and to explore different topics,” as well as to fight against apathy. However, she acknowledges that activism will look different for different people and not everyone has the privilege to “act visibly against inequality and violence.” Ultimately, Hanna envisions a future “where we see and acknowledge the humanness in each other before anything.”
In such a world, so much of women’s lives would not be spent fearing the opposite sex, protecting ourselves, and advocating for our right to live freely. I can only imagine what we, as women, could do if gender-based violence wasn’t a constant threat to our lives. -Hanna Lemma
O’Neal recognizes that coming out can be a “beautiful” and “liberating” process, but it can also be painful.
Coming into queerness can often mean grieving a life you thought you wanted, and embracing an uncertain future…So what happens when we’re not afforded the space to navigate our journey to queerness? -Sarah O’Neal
O’Neal brings up the example of actor Kit Connor who came out as bisexual after intense speculation about his sexuality. He wrote on Twitter that he felt forced to do so as a result of the relentless demands to label his sexuality.
O’Neal says while labels can be affirming, they can also become constricting as they cannot encompass one’s “complicated and contradicting selves.” She says this can lead queer and trans people who are Black and PoC to emphasize a part of their identity over another.
Shahem Mclaurin, a Black and queer therapist who uses social media to advocate for representation in mental health, says the pressure to “know” oneself and the shame it reinforces can be detrimental.
People don’t understand that when we pressure people to come out, it actually others queerness. It [places] heterosexuality as the norm, and anything outside of it has to be announced. That isn’t true. The other reality is that there are many social implications and consequences, many of which are negative, that can come with coming out. -Shahem Mclaurin
For Zaheer Suboh, a queer Palestinian DJ, coming out was not something he considered growing up; living under occupation was more pressing. Now, he views visibility as a way for queer Arab people to find one other. He sees his “bodacious and unabashed” queerness as a “rallying cry for other queer people to not feel like they need to rely on the communities that they were born in to survive,” but rather, “to rely on the communities that they can build amongst ourselves.”
O’Neal sees visibility as something nuanced that can be about kinship within queer and trans communities.
Rather than assuming all queer people should publicly identify as such, or forcing them to do so, what possibilities arise if we shift our assumption that we don’t belong and assume that we do? Maybe not to the status quo and the institutions upholding it, but to each other and to ourselves. -Sarah O’Neal
Sarah, who doesn't use a last name, poses for 50 Shades of Brown, an exhibit showcasing two-spirit people on Treaty 7 land. (Alanna Bluebird/50 Shades of Brown) via CBC
50 Shades of Brown: a celebration of Two-Spirit visibility is a photo exhibit in Calgary, Canada that intends to honour and uplift with the faces of two-spirit and Indigiqueer people. It was created by Mohkinstsis actor, performer and educator Marshall Vielle as part of Where the Two Rivers Meet YYC project, which is operated by the Centre for Sexuality.
When I think about this exhibit, I think about all of the vulnerability that goes into being part of a project like this. When I think about what it means to be two-spirit in 2022, I think about how brave a lot of these folks are, myself included. It takes a lot to allow yourself to be seen in this way. -Marshall Vielle
The photos were taken by Alanna Bluebird, a Blackfood/Dene artist who lives in Tsuut'ina Nation. She makes art, teaches language and uses her creativity to empower youth. As someone who grew up on Treaty 7 lands, Vielle said just seeing the faces on the wall is super important as an example for young people today.
I didn't have folks who looked like me or acted like me, and so I hope folks are able to see these images and say, 'Hey, that's somebody who's just like me.' And I hope they would feel inspired to say it's OK to be who I am. -Marshall Vielle
Historically, Vielle said, being two-spirit was rooted in who people were and the roles they played in their communities. It was rooted in everyday life. Vielle said they hope to take the exhibit on the road to tour both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities so that people can see the two-spirit experience for what it is: not limiting oneself to the black and white binaries of western gender.
I think it's about embracing the grey, embracing possibilities, allowing yourself to think or act or experience life in a different way, which does take a lot of courage for a lot of folks as well. -Marshall Vielle
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.
Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.