Ghana-based LGBTIQ network reaches across West Africa and around the world

Davis Mac-Iyalla and Gloria Quaye, IDNOWA

The Ghana-based Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA) is raising concerns everywhere it can over a bill in Ghana’s Parliament that would make its work more difficult and put the lives of LGBTIQ people at greater risk.

Two members of IDNOWA – executive director Davis Mac-Iyalla and gender programs officer Gloria Quaye – spoke June 20 by zoom with two members of the Rainbow Pilgrims communication team, Jim Hodgson in Canada and Abbey Hudson in South Africa, and with one of the Pilgrims coordinators, Gabriele Mayer in Germany. 

Davis and Gloria took time out to talk with us while attending a recent gathering in Berlin of the Ökumenische Arbeitsgruppe Homosexuelle und Kirche (HuK – the Working Group Homosexuality and Church).

From its office in Accra, Ghana, IDNOWA builds bridges across the religious and cultural diversity of 11 West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo. 

We share a few excerpts from our conversation:

Davis: We are connected to the Rainbow Pilgrims world through our work with IDNOWA. IDNOWA has been on several trips to raise awareness about LGBTIQ people in Ghana and about the bill in parliament. It would further criminalize LGBTIQ people in Ghana, and anyone who is questioning their sexuality or gender. The bill is called the “Proper Human Sexuality and Ghana Family Values Bill.” It presents what is proper in human sexuality from their perspective, but it is not telling the truth. In the eye of that law, this conversation would be criminal. 

[The bill would also lengthen prison terms and force “conversion therapy” that is supposedly intended to change a person’s sexual orientation, but is called a form of torture by United Nations independent expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz.]

It is shocking for us as people of faith that all the major faith groups are backing the bill. We have to come from a counter-narrative position. We also have to educate our own faith communities.

Gloria: While I am the gender programs officer for IDNOWA, I also head the Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Circle in Ghana. The bill is going to affect women greatly, as well as other LGBTIQ people. It targets mostly the minorities, the marginalized groups, women in general. It goes against families and promotes hate in families. For instance, I have an inclusive father who understands bisexuality. He doesn’t go out to say my daughter is a lesbian, but if somebody else says it, then my father would be arrested and imprisoned for two years.

Davis: In Nigeria [since 2014], there is a “same-sex marriage prohibition act,” and now there is criminalization of cross-dressing, which is part of our culture. In Senegal, law-makers tried to increase sentences. In other countries, there might not be new laws, but hostility is increasing. We have country champions and people with language skills. What unites us is our diversity.

Parliamentary debate: major faith groups oppose rights (left); IDNOWA supports diversity

Why connect globally? 

Gloria: We have partners and stakeholders as non-governmental organizations operating in West Africa. We connect globally because it is important to inform our partners how things are going, and to make them aware of some of the decisions, the programming being done to improve the lives of LGBTIQ people.

Davis: For us, we know we cannot work in isolation. Coalitions and partnership and we are lucky to have Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith, the Global Interfaith Network, IAM South Africa, various affirming ministries and many others.

We cannot work in isolation. These are global issues. We have much to learn together. We cannot advocate for LGBTIQ rights in West Africa without taking faith and religion into account. These [anti-LGBTIQ] proposals come from within religion. Why it is important for people of faith to come together.

Gabriele: As a person from the North, I think it is important that you connect with churches and mission societies because they have an impact on churches in Ghana, Nigeria and elsewhere.

Davis: Thank you for sharing those connections.

Jim: Yes, there are networks of people of faith that oppose religious-based homophobia and transphobia – like Rainbow Faith and Freedom in Canada.

Gabriele: And that is why we will be present at the WCC Assembly. All the churches are coming together, and they will see that churches dare to talk with others on these issues. If they are coming together, and see us as Rainbow Pilgrims of Faith, if they see us in unity, they cannot deny our reality. 

Davis: Thank you for taking time to engage with us. See you in Karlsruhe!

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