On Feb 11, 2015 The Guardian reported: It is Saturday morning in Ghana’s capital and Abu, founder of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group Solace Brothers Foundation, is on his way to a police station in Accra’s city centre.
A lesbian couple accused of having a wedding have been attacked by a group and arrested by police. Abu is going to offer assistance, along with one of his group’s newly trained paralegals, Fabbie. After a discussion with police, the couple are released.
“The judges in Ghana who would normally handle LGBT rights are very homophobic and even though we have human rights lawyers who support us … generally, it is very hard to get support from [other] lawyers,” Abu explains.
In November, the foundation, established in 2012, trained its first 20 paralegals from the LGBT community in legal rights, counselling advice and security support, with the help of a local human rights lawyer, police representative and doctor.
The public can contact the group directly or on a dedicated hotline to seek assistance. The group has several paralegals in Accra and others in cities across the country.
“We are not making it about LGBT rights, we want it to be human rights … These are our rights, and as every other human being in Ghana we also have our rights,” Abu says.
Efua Awur, a lawyer at Ghana’s human rights commission, who delivered the legal training, says it is important to educate community members on their rights as there is often a “lack of confidence in state institutions”. “I took them through the various articles and discussed specifics, and helped them identify when rights are abused and how they can address them,” she says.
Fabbie, 23, a student from Accra, says the training empowered him to challenge the police. “Many of the rights before an arrest I didn’t know a lot about,” he says. “They have to read out your offence and make that very clear, not subject you to any form of torture, not force a confession, and we have a right to legal counsel and someone to help write a statement.
“When you know the situation, you are very confident when talking to police and they realised on that Saturday they couldn’t easily walk over us,” he says. “In times past, people would have paid police money for the release of members … This time we have been empowered and we think there is something that can be done.”
Homosexual activity is illegal in Ghana, and punishable by up to three years in prison. There is no specific law against lesbians or expressing sexual orientation, but LGBT people are routinely discriminated against, attacked and arrested with little legal substance or judicial support from authorities.
The LGBT community is under attack from many quarters. In the past few months, the bishop of Ghana’s methodist church delivered a speech criticising homosexuality, a law lecturer spoke on the radio calling for a “blistering crusade”, and a high-profile spiritualist cited tattoos as leading to “unexpected consequences” like homosexuality and prostitution.
For Abu, who is gay, launching the foundation and the paralegal training was a way to fight discrimination.