‘Left Behind’: Discriminatory School Policies, Violence Cut Short Education of Ghanaian LGBTQI Students

  • TTU deletes discriminatory article from website, following Rightify Ghana’s condemnation, but keeps anti-gay policy in students handbook
  • Discriminatory policies targeting LGBTQI+ students are widespread, evidence found in multiple schools
  • 68 LGBTQI+ students expelled, suspended or dropped out since 2013, but number only represent a fraction of cases

In January 2022, when Rightify Ghana denounced a discriminatory and anti-gay policy by the authorities at Takoradi Technical University, the organisation knew it was not an isolated case. In what has now been deleted from the school’s website following the action taken by Rightify Ghana, Dr. Moses Maclean Abnory, the Registrar of Takoradi Technical University (TTU) threatened that “any student found engaging in LGBTQ conduct will face outright dismissal from the University.”

Whilst the TTU in their core values claim to embrace “diversity” and “shall provide equal opportunities for all categories of persons,” their Students Handbook prescribe ‘dismissal’ for what they call “practice of homosexuality.” Discriminatory, but it has served as a backing to the Registrar’s threat to students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ).

The Sustainable Development Goal 4 advocates for the State to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” However, in Ghanaian schools and colleges, students found to be or suspected as LGBTQ+ persons are increasingly being left behind.

Quality education is the main way to emerge from the poverty cycle, as it empowers people to lead more sustainable, healthier lifestyles, thus benefiting society as a whole. Therefore, ensuring inclusive, equitable and quality education for all students including those who are LGBTQ+ would have proven Ghana’s commitment to education as a means of transforming society.

According to the Sustainable Development Report 2021, significant challenges remain as the country hopes to achieve Goal 4, which is Quality Education. There is no doubt that some of these challenges include the barriers created in our schools and colleges that are either getting LGBTQ+ students dismissed, suspended or dropped-out.

In a 2021 research by WestEd, a US-based organisation, it was found that “LGBTQ students were at higher risk for bullying, chronic sadness, thoughts of suicide, and poorer learning engagement and academic performance.” The study blamed endless anti-gay comments from other students as well as discrimination and victimisation from staff of schools. The study concluded that if LGBTQ students received the same levels of support and safety at school, disparities would disappear or greatly diminish.

Existing anti-gay policies in Ghanaian public schools

Just as the existing barrier for LGBTQ+ students at the Takoradi Technical University (TTU), Rightify Ghana has found that such discriminatory policies are widespread across a country whose Leader, President Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo, is the co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Advocates.

Whilst in most educational institutions, anti-LGBTQ policies are hidden under ambiguous “sexual misconduct” offense, some institutions openly display them in their student handbooks.

In the Ho Technical University students handbook , their list of offenses do not only include “homosexuality” and “lesbianism”, the punishment include rustication and dismissal, as well as so-called conversion therapy through “counselling.”

Screenshot of a page in the Ho Technical University students handbook

According to SchoolsInGh.Com, the Okuapeman Senior High School’s authorities have also listed “homosexuality” and “lesbianism” as offences in the school’s rules document. LGBTQ+ students risk “suspension” or “dismissal,” if they are reported.

Screenshot of a page found at SchoolsInGh.Com shows some offenses at Okuapeman Senior High School

For many school authorities, students who are LGBTQ+ are considered as ‘threats’ and ‘deviants.’ There is a belief that LGBTQ+ students can ‘recruit’ or ‘convert’ their heterosexual school mates into homosexuality.

Last year,  whilst the headmistress of the Ola Girls Senior High School in Ho in the Volta Region, Regina Coffie alleged that some unidentified persons were using some students in the school as proxies to recruit their mates to join the LGBTQ+ community, the Volta Regional Director of Education, Enyonam Afi Amafuga also urged teachers and management of second cycle schools to “look out for early signs of… homosexual acts among students.” Like these leaders in education, some authorities are actively looking for ways to put the queer community in the category of criminals and deviants, to justify their victimisation of LGBTQ+ students.

It is not that authorities in Ghanaian schools and colleges cannot formulate progressive policies that would be supportive and protective of their LGBTQ students, they would rather create and promote hostile environments that neither support their education nor their personal development and growth. That is why many school authorities have established anti-LGBTQ policies to actively exclude sexual minorities from their schools.

However, there are a few educational institutions which have categorically established progressive policies that include ‘sexual orientation.’ These include the University of Ghana and the University of Health and Allied Sciences, as their student handbooks have non-discriminatory policies that warn students not to:

“engage in a course of vexatious conduct that is directed at one or more specific individuals, and which may be based on the race, ancestry, place of birth, origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, creed, age, marital status, family status, disability, receipt of public assistance, or record of offences of that individual or those individuals — or that is known to be unwelcome by the target — and which exceeds the bounds of freedom of expression or of academic freedom as these are understood in accepted practice, and in University policies including but not restricted to those explicitly adopted”

There is a need for the government of Ghana through the Ministry of Education and its agencies such as the National Accreditation Board and the Ghana Education Service to not only combat discrimination against students who are LGBTQ, but also remove such policies that have been used to cut short the education of persons who belong to this vulnerable group.

68 LGBTQI+ students expelled, suspended or dropped out since 2013, but number only represent a fraction of cases

Since 2013, at least 68 students suspected to be LGBTQI+ have been suspended or expelled by authorities in various schools, according to a count made by Rightify Ghana from cases that have been reported in the local media. However, considering the fact that the Ghanaian media themselves actively participates in and enables homophobia, many human rights cases involving LGBTQ students have largely went unreported or have been misreported.

Within the LGBTQ community, school dropout is a significant issue that has not received much attention. Gathering from personal experiences shared by some LGBTI+ persons, the senior high school level is where most dropouts are normally recorded. This is partly because some of these students were publicly outed and punished in schools by their mates and authorities; whilst at home their parents cut support for their education.

Others were forced to leave school as a result of bullying and harassments from their peers as well as authorities. Unfortunately, most of these cases have not been documented. Even though many LGBTQI+ persons have shared personal experiences of discrimination and victimisation in schools, the exact number of cases may never be known.

However, there is enough evidence showing the gravity of discrimination and violence that students who are LGBTQI+ have been subjected to in Ghanaian schools. As mentioned earlier, these are only cases reported in the media. Below are some of the details of the cases reported from 2013 to 2021.

November 2021, University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA), Accra, Greater Accra region

Multiple media channels reported that two female students of the University of Professional Studies, Accra (UPSA) had been sacked from the school’s hostel for allegedly engaging in what it described as “acts of lesbianism.”

However, a press statement released by the school’s Registrar, Dr Koryoe Anim Wright urged the public to disregard the said expulsion of the students, as no such report on the alleged incident was before the management of the school and also it did not follow the approved procedure for communicating such decisions.

October 2021: Yilo Krobo Municipality, Eastern Region

Starr FM and GHOne TV reported about intersex twins who dropped out of school at class six, following their school’s authorities refusal to allow them to change the female uniforms they wore to male ones. The intersex twins told reporters that:

“Our Parents say they discovered that we have female and a bit of male organs. But we were declared females and were named Akweley and Akorkor. But when we grew up we saw ourselves as males. So we were reluctant to wear female uniforms to school, we insisted they wear us male uniforms but the school authorities too resisted. So we dropped out of school at class 6”.

Like the twins, many intersex people identify as women or men and often also agree with the gender marker they were assigned at birth. Sometimes intersex people who have been assigned a gender at birth, may realise later that they were assigned a wrong gender. This means they may want to change their name and how they
present themselves to fit better with their gender identity. Others may decide to
not identify as a woman or a man, thus non-binary gender, and wish to express both or neither aspect of what is considered traditionally masculine and feminine.

July 2021: La-Nkwatanang 7 & 8 JHS in Madina – Accra, Greater Accra region

According to pbpagez.com, two junior high school (JHS) students of the La-Nkwatanang 7 and 8 JHS in Madina in Accra were arrested by the police, after school authorities reported an alleged ‘sodomy’ case to them. The report added that the school premises was besieged by an angry anti-gay mob who had received information about the incident. Disturbing report released by the website also alleged that “they came with knives, machete among others to kill the gay students.”

A video sighted by Rightify Ghana on @pbpagez on Instagram shows the moment some personnel of the Ghana Police Service arrested the alleged gay JHS students

The video highlights how hostile and unsympathetic some school environments can become towards LGBTQI+ students. As the police drove away with the two alleged gays, about 200 students hooted at them. After this humiliation and stigma, will these students ever feel safe and welcomed in the school? When students are publicly outed in schools, they are more likely to experience further victimisation at home. Their parents may disown them, stop supporting their education or even throw them out. Rightify Ghana has encountered and provided emergency assistance to some persons that have been through similar situations.

According to recent data from the 2018 Education Sector Performance report by the Ghana Education Service, the JHS enrollment statistics show that their pupils are mainly between the ages of 12 and 14. This means that the two alleged gay persons who were arrested may fall within that age group.

Meanwhile, section 26 of Ghana’s Criminal Offences Act, 1960, Act 29 provides that for the purposes of the criminal law a person under twelve years of age is incapable of committing a criminal offence. In other words, the two persons could face prosecution. However, the mob who had allegedly stormed the school with an intent to commit a crime of wanting to “kill the gay students” were not arrested by the police.

June 2018: Nkawie Senior High School, Nkawie, Ashanti region

Daily Guide newspaper reported that two male first-year students at the Nkawie Senior High School, were ordered to “leave the school’s campus to help prevent attacks by their irate colleagues,” following an alleged case of “homosexual act.”

According to the newspaper, the incident was reported to the district and regional directorates of the Ghana Education Service (GES), and a decision expected.

December 2016: Pope John Senior High School, Koforidua, Eastern region

The disciplinary committee of the Pope John Senior High School in Koforidua indefinitely suspended two students for “allegedly engaging in homosexuality.”

According to the report, the two students were also accused of “initiating other students.” The students were among 19 persons who were being targeted by the school authorities for investigations.

January 2016: Opoku Ware Senior High School, Kumasi, Ashanti region

Three students were indefinitely suspended by the authorities of the Opoku Ware Senior High School in Kumasi for allegedly engaging in ‘homosexuality’. According to the report, the school’s disciplinary committee “established” that they were gay after their colleagues reported them.

However, one of the alleged gay students said they were being wrongly punished as they had committed no offense. Also, a teacher who spoke in anonymity described the punishments as “unjust.” A quote attributed to the teacher says:

“I am deeply worried because these are adolescents who have a future and if as teachers or educationists, we are unable to help them to their aspirations and we look at… mere allegations from students and dismiss boys who have a bright future to live and tell some of the impact that some of us have had on them, then I am very worried”.

Following some reactions on the matter, the Ghana Education Service (GES) condemned the authorities of the school for such harsh punishment. However, the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of GES asserted that head teachers were allowed to suspend students found in ‘homosexuality,’ for few days but less than a week.

In addition, the statement further revealed how the Ghana Education Service encourages so-called conversion therapy in schools. According to the PRO of the GES, “if a headmaster finds any student in this act, we need to investigate. If there is an iota of truth, then we need to call the culprit, we sit them down and take them through counseling. After counseling if they continue, then we take them through internal suspension.”

Conversion therapy is a discredited practice of emotional and physical therapies used against the LGBTQ+ community, as it attempts to ‘change’, ‘cure’ or ‘repair’ a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) has come out against the practice and labelled it as unethical, unscientific and harmful. According to the WPA, “there is no sound scientific evidence that innate sexual orientation can be changed.”

According to medical and mental health experts, conversion therapy is not only ineffective, it could also lead to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The practice has come under increasing scrutiny, as a result providers frequently change their terminology to avoid detection. Some of those terms can seem relatively harmless at first glance.

Some examples of these include: sexuality counseling – talk therapy or psychotherapy, group therapy; medication (including anti-psychotics, antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and psychoactive drugs, and hormone injections); electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) (where electrodes are attached to the head and electric current is passed between them to induce seizure); aversive treatments (including electric shock to the hands and/or genitals or nausea-inducing medication administered with presentation of homoerotic stimuli); exorcism or ritual cleansing (e.g., pouring libation on an individual, pouring animal blood on an individual, beating the individual with a broomstick while reading holy verses or burning the individual’s head, back, and palms); force-feeding or food deprivation; forced nudity; behavioural conditioning (e.g., being forced to dress or walk in a particular way); isolation (e.g., being kept from interacting with others); verbal abuse; humiliation; beatings; and “corrective” rape.

In a 2020 report by the UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity, it was revealed that children and young people are extremely vulnerable to practices of conversion therapy and warned that it is “extremely harmful to their well-being and development.”

The Independent Expert concluded that the imposition of practices of so-called conversion therapy on children runs counter to States’, including Ghana’s, “obligation to protect them from violence, harmful practices and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, to respect the right of the child to identity, physical and psychological integrity, health and freedom of expression and to uphold the core principle of taking the best interests of the child as a primary consideration at all times.”

February 2015: St. Paul’s Senior High School, Denu, Volta region

Starr Fm reported that two alleged gay students of the St. Paul’s Senior High School who were arrested by the police, following an incidents which led to riot in the school, were released but instructed to report to the police on daily basis until investigations into the matter was over.

According to reports, students in the school claimed that they had ‘caught’ the two “having gay sex and insisted on delivering an instant justice of beating them.”

However, attempts by the school authorities to control the students proved futile as they had already destroyed school properties and blocked access roads on the school compound. Consequently, the police were called in to restore sanity in the school. One student who was amongst those who went on rampage, was reported dead following the incident.

Even when the police entered the school, there was still aggression from the anti-LGBTQI students who wanted to beat their colleagues they claimed were gay. This shows how far some anti-gay students are willing to go to hurt their peers who may be LGBTQ.

This case highlights the hate culture and vigilantism that targets LGBTQ+ persons and which may also harm others. Students who believed that they had been denied the opportunity to hurt their colleagues whom they claim were gay, decided to destroy school properties, attack authorities and the police. The discriminatory policies against LGBTQ students serve as a backing to the hostile environments existing in schools.

April 2013: Opoku Ware Senior High School, Kumasi, Ashanti region

According to XYZ News, 19 students of Opoku Ware Secondary High School in the Ashanti regional capital of Kumasi were “dismissed for practicing homosexuality in the school.”

The report also added that parents of all the students were contacted before the school expelled them. Authorities of the school accused the students of forming a “society” on campus and were regularly meeting “to discuss how to convince more students to practise the act.”

It is unknown whether it was a queer support group, however, the case highlights how authorities discourage and shutdown safe spaces for queer students to encourage each other while studying in hostile environments.

April 2013: Kumasi Wesley Girls’ Senior High School, Kumasi, Ashanti region

The Herald newspaper reported that 34 students of Kumasi Wesley Girls Senior High School in the Ashanti region were “dismissed for engaging in lesbianism.” However, the Daily Graphic newspaper also reported that 12 students were “deboardinised, following their alleged involvement in acts of lesbianism.”

The Ashanti Regional Director of Education, Mr Kofi Safo Kantanka, in an interview with the Daily Graphic said “the school, being a Methodist oriented school, had put together a team of counselors to help the students.”

The number of students affected in this particular case should call to the attention of everyone that many students in Ghana are experiencing unfair treatments because of the sexual orientation and gender identity.

Passage of anti-LGBTQI+ bill will worsen an already bad situation

Last year, a far-reaching anti-LGBTQI+ bill titled the ‘Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill 2021’ was submitted to the Parliament of Ghana for consideration. If passed into law, LGBTQI+ persons could be jailed or forced to accept so-called conversion therapy.

It would also impose a ‘duty to report’ on all Ghanaians, which will further threaten and make it difficult for LGBTQI+ persons to access basic rights including access to healthcare, education, housing and employment. For example, students and school authorities will be required to report LGBTQI+ individuals to the police for investigation and prosecution.

As some schools and colleges have already established discriminatory policies which target students who are LGBTQI+, the passage of the ‘Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill’ will encourage others to introduce or strengthen anti-gay policies which may lead to more victimisation, bullying, suspension, dismissal and drop out.

In 2019, the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values (NCPHSRFV) led a national campaign leading to the rejection of the Comprehensive Sexual Education (CSE) policy, as they labeled it as an “LGBTQ agenda”. In reality, the Guidelines for CSE in Ghana comprised a rights-based approach that included prevention of sexual harassment, gender-based violence and discrimination with regard to sexual minorities and people living with HIV.

The same group that fought against the introduction of CSE in schools are also pushing for the anti-LGBTQI+ bill to be passed. After sending the bill to parliament, the Executive Secretary of the National Coalition for Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values (NCPHSRFV), Moses Foh-Amoaning resorted to naming senior high schools  where he said “it is getting worse by the day,” claiming students were being lured into LGBTQ+ with money. By so doing, he is setting them up unnecessary scrutiny and victimisation.

Recommendation  

The Ghana government, especially the Ministry of Education and its agencies such as the Ghana Education Service and the National Accreditation Board must become more inclusive in the way they promote and protect the right to education. They deliver a  public service in the interest of society, but they do not own that service. The government should not only focus on improving access to education, but should also make conscious efforts to reduce inequalities by promoting inclusivity, encouraging schools and colleges to adopt progressive policies that support diversity, as well as combating discrimination based on sexual orientation in educational institutions. There is a need to inculcate the habit of accepting, understanding, and attending to student differences and diversity, which can include physical, academic, cognitive, and social.  The following recommendations are based on cases we have reviewed and our engagements with LGBTQI+ persons who have experienced violence and discrimination in school:

  • Abolish discriminatory policies in schools and colleges that make conditions ripe for victimisation of students who are LGBTQ+ and intersex persons,
  • Adopt protective policies in schools and colleges to prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ+ and  intersex persons,
  • Design and introduce regulations that encourage policies and programmes to  recognise and address the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity, including  with regard to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination based on  such factors as sex, ethnicity, age, religion, poverty, disability, health and  others.  

Conclusion  

When states adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on 10 December  1948, they pledged themselves to achieve equality. Giving practical effect to that  vision is still possible – but only if we choose to strengthen freedoms, promote  participation and empower all people including students who are LGBTQI+. Despite progress in many areas over the last  decades, people in Ghana are still stigmatised because of their actual or perceived  sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and  intersex (LGBTI) persons, especially those who are young, cannot fully enjoy their universal human rights. Students who are LGBTQI+ run a risk of being suspended, dismissed or forced to dropout of school and may not receive protection when  attacked in the school by fellow students. Our societies already breed divisive levels  of inequality, fear and polarisation. Efforts to achieve sustainable development goals in Ghana should include the promotion of a right-based approach in quality education, by ensuring inclusivity and diversity – so that students who are LGBTQI+ will not be left behind.

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