Presbyterian Churches in Ghana to Help Gays -- by ’Curing’ Them?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 12, 2011

A plan by Ghanaian Presbyterian churches to help gays by attempting to "cure" then is the latest fallout from a governmental push to eradicate homosexuals from society at large.

Among other beliefs about gays, Ghanaian officials and church leaders seem to be under the impression that gays become homosexual at some point, and that romantic and sexual attraction for others of the same gender is some form of communicable disease.

An Aug. 9 Ghana News Agency article said that the Presbyterian Church of Ghana was planning to open "therapy centers for homosexual victims" to help gays in that country receive "counseling and rehabilitation."

"The church has therefore called on the government to come out with a clear position on homosexuality in the country, to enable the church to offer the necessary support in helping to reduce the spread of the practice in the society," the GNA article said.

Religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim, lobbied the government to address what they saw as the "problem" of gays in Ghanaian society following reports that 8,000 people had sought services at a GLBT center.

Health advocates warn that oppressive anti-gay governments court disaster if they criminalize and stigmatize gays, bisexuals, transgender men, and men who have sex with men (MSMs), because such stigma and persecution drives sex between men underground and discourages HIV testing and treatment.

But the very fact that 8,000 individuals reportedly sought the services of the clinic alarmed religious leaders, who took it as a sign that homosexuality was "spreading" through Ghanaian society.

As a result, a government minister named Paul Evan Aidoo, who is in charge of Ghana's Western Region, has issued an order that all gays in his region of the African country be rounded up and placed under arrest.

"He has tasked the Bureau of National Investigations and all security agencies to smoke out persons suspected to be engaging in same sex," Ghanaian radio station JOY 99.7 FM reported on July 20. "He also enlisted the services of landlords and tenants to provide reliable information which will lead to the arrest of homosexuals."

Added the article, "Only yesterday, the Christian Council of Ghana capped months of protestations against the practice of homosexuality with a strongly worded message against the practice and courting Ghanaians not to vote for any politician who believes in the rights of homosexuals."

The article characterized the region as a "beehive" of gays. Aidoo assured the public that "all efforts are being made to get rid of these people in the society."

Ghanaian law condemns "unnatural carnal knowledge," the report said, but some lawyers view this as unenforceable and vague.

Ghanaian political party the People's National Convention (PNC) issued a statement in support of Aidoo's call for mass arrests of gays, British newspaper the Independent reported on July 22.

"Homosexuality is abhorrent," the PNC said. "Media discourse across the world is being dictated by the vulgar opinions of homosexuals. Ghana and probably Africa cannot sustain the menace of homosexuals."

Demonstrations against GLBTs in Ghana are a recent phenomenon, having begun only last year. The first such protest took place in the city of Sekondi Takoradi and drew "thousands of angry youth," according to June 4, 2010, GhanaWeb article. The protest was organized by a Muslim group, but received support from other religions as well, including Christianity.

The GhanaWeb article was riddled with claims about gays that sound identical to anti-gay talking points from American religious opponents to the gay equality movement, including claims that young Ghanaian males were being turned gay by older men and that homosexuality is a choice. Moreover, gays were condemned as tempting God to punish Ghana.

"Ghana will suffer more than the experience of Sodom and Gomorrah, should we embrace this practice in this country," said protest leader Saeed Hamid, whose group even then was lobbying Aidoo to take action against the areas gay population.

Aidoo's call for mass arrests of gays has spurred less of an outcry both domestically and internationally than a similar anti-gay proposal in Uganda, the so-called "Death to Gays" bill that would have imposed capital punishment on gay men who had repeated sexual encounters with other men, or HIV positive men who had even a single same-sex encounter. (No such provision, however, was suggested for HIV positive straight men.) The international outcry over the bill, which was proposed by lawmaker David Bahati -- who has ties to an anti-gay American evangelical group -- helped prevent it from becoming law.

But the Ghanaian minister's call to round up and "get rid of" gays met with relative silence. Even human rights groups have fallen into a fearful silence, lest they be accused of being gay themselves and subject to persecution.

Anti-gay leaders in several African nations have declared that homosexuality is "un-African," and is an "import" from Western nations looking to weaken Africa. Such claims touch raw nerves on a continent that has seen more than its share of colonial exploitation.

But anti-gay sentiment itself is the legacy of colonialism, which often displaced local religious traditions and -- especially in the cases of areas colonized by the British -- placed an anti-gay stamp in the law.

In America, evangelical churches frequently embrace the idea that gays are "made that way" because of early life trauma or because they have "chosen" their sexuality. So-called "reparative therapy" purports to "cure" gays and make them into heterosexuals. One basic tenet of reparative therapy is that all human beings are born heterosexual, and through prayer and counseling gays can be "cured."

But mental health professionals disagree, and warn that gays who attempt to become straight through reparative therapy risk being cast into even greater mental health straits as shame over their sexuality is intensified by the failure of reparative therapy to "cure" them. Science seems to agree that homosexuality is innate, with a body of mounting evidence indicating that it is not only inborn, but part of the natural variation of sexuality in humans and other species.

The attitude toward homosexuality evinced by the Ghanaian Presbyterian Church seemingly echoes that of American evangelicals. One PCG official, the Right Reverend Professor Emmanuel Martey, suggested that homosexuality was spreading throughout Ghanaian society, but that religious leaders could help ward it off with the help of prayer according to the Ghana News Agency article.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.