As Webster University prepares to open a campus in Ghana, LGBT rights activist Andrew Solomon recommends Webster take action against Ghana’s anti-gay law.
“I think that the student body at Webster could do a great deal by writing a petition to the president of Ghana about the situation, and I think, most significantly, that if the president of the university were to write a direct letter expressing concern, that would be an important step,” Solomon said.
Webster will open its first African campus in Ghana’s capital, Accra, this August. Webster University has declined to comment on anything concerning its Ghana campus.
LGBT rights in Ghana have recently come to the forefront of Ghanaian politics. In July 2011, the Western Region Minister in Ghana urged landlords and tenants to turn in anyone they suspected of being gay or lesbian. Security forces were deployed and ordered to arrest all gay and lesbians in the region, according to an Amnesty International report released last fall
This year President John Mahama nominated Nana Oye Lithur as Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection. Lithur’s nomination sparked a national debate because she openly supports the LGBT community in Ghana.
Lithur founded the Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) in 2008. Among other human rights issues, the HRAC works on various projects that support rights of the LGBT community in Ghana.
According to the HRAC website, “The LGBT community in Ghana continues to face extreme stigmatization from society, discrimination from the state and vilification in the media.”
In Mahama’s State of the Nation inaugural address last month, Mahama said Lithur’s nomination was not a promotion of gay rights in Ghana.
Unnatural Carnal Knowledge
According to the United Nations, Ghana law states “unnatural carnal knowledge” is criminal and could result in five to 25 years of imprisonment. Unnatural carnal knowledge is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.”
After Lithur’s nomination, Ghanaian media outlets questioned President Mahama’s stance on gay rights and Mahama’s friendship with activist Solomon.
Last month, Information Minister Mahama Ayariga explained President Mahama’s stance, and assured the country that Mahama did not support gay rights.
“The president is to execute the laws of Ghana. And the laws of Ghana are very clear on homosexuality,” Ayariga said. “The laws of Ghana appall and criminalize homosexuality, there is no dispute about that,” according to the Daily Graphic, Ghana’s largest circulating newspaper.
LGBT activists react
Solomon reacted last month with an opinion piece in the New York Times, “In Bed With The President of Ghana?” In the piece, Solomon acknowledged his friendly relationship with Mahama. According to Solomon, Solomon helped Mahama get his book, “My First Coup d’État,” published.
In his New York Times piece, Solomon said he helped with publicity for Mahama’s book, hosted a celebratory party for its publication and interviewed Mahama at the New York Public Library. Solomon was thanked in the acknowledgements in Mahama’s book.
In the New York Times article Solomon also said he was not involved in Lithur’s nomination.
Solomon told The Journal that since the controversy, he gets emails from Ghanaians — straight and gay — everyday.
“I get letters from gay people in Ghana talking about how awful the situation there is,” Solomon said. “Gay people are sometimes beaten in the streets, and they are considered rightful victims.”
Bryan Linhardt, LGBTQ Alliance secretary at Webster, said he is conflicted on the issue. Linhardt would like to
situations they may face in Ghana.
“I would very much like to see the administration take some initiative on this,” Linhardt said. “I think opening a campus in Ghana is potentially a wonderful idea. But they need to let the students know, if they’re interested in going, that there is this political and cultural upheaval going on over there.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
Jack Webb, the honorary consul general for the Ghana Consulate in Houston, said he thinks Webster’s LGBT students studying in Ghana should take a sort of don’t ask, don’t tell approach.
“Just don’t bring the subject up,” Webb said. “For 38 years I was a Boy Scout scoutmaster, and I had no idea if I had homosexuals (in the troop) or not. It just didn’t come up. So, the subject is not one I would be discussing if I were them; just go enjoy yourself.”
Webb said if students were to run into a problem in Ghana, he would advise them to contact the U.S. embassy.
“We have an excellent U.S. embassy there,” Webb said. “If there’s any problem, you just get hold of Ambassador Gene Cretz, and they’ll take care of it.”
Ghanian students lack support, but welcome students
The National Union of Ghana Students (NUGS) called for the rejection of Lithur’s nomination in a press release on Jan. 30.
In the press release, NUGS President Andrews Kofi Gyan wrote, “Should Nana Oye Lithur be approved, the Union (NUGS) would have no other option than to unleash the full force of Ghanaian students onto the streets such as not even the gates of hell can contain.”
Gyan told The Journal that while he opposed Lithur’s nomination because Lithur supports Ghana’s LGBT community, he would welcome LGBT students to study in Ghana.
“If Americans believe that lesbianism or gayism is good, it’s their right,” Gyan said. “We are going to learn from them, and they are going to learn from us. In an intellectual discourse we should not be fighting each other over these types of things. We are students; we have to learn.”
Linhardt said a Ghana campus could enrich the international experience Webster offers, but he wouldn’t consider studying there because of its stance on same-sex rights.
“I see Webster as being a shining example of open mindedness and diversity,” Linhardt said. “We have students from every walk of life come to our campuses, and the richness of the experience of opening a campus in Ghana is not really measurable. However, with the state that Ghana is in, I really don’t think that it’s safe for homosexual students to be going over there.”