‘LGBTQ+ people would have originated from Africa’, says Davis Mac-Iyalla: ‘We are everywhere’

Photo of Christian LGBTQ+ activist Davis Mac-Iyalla wearing a brown sleeveless top over a red and white check shirt as he sits in front of Progress Pride flag

In January 2023, LGBTQ+ activist Davis Mac-Iyalla was installed as a chief of the Yamonransa Nkusukum area in central Ghana.

With the title of Amankorehen, the Nigerian-born activist’s role is “like a foreign minister for the traditional area” and a huge honour for him. But during the ceremony he was nearly thrown from his platform in an act he says was “set up” by homophobic figures to “disgrace” him.

As part of the ceremony, Mac-Iyalla was carried through the streets on a platform called a palanquin, and a fall from this to the ground could have killed or seriously injured him.

The local media, who Mac-Iyalla did not invite to the event, managed to “spy” on the incident and published the reactionary headline “Gay rights activist installed as a chief”, knowing it would be a “serious issue”. 

Mac-Iyalla tells PinkNews that reporters framed the near-fall as though he “fell off the palanquin because I am gay”.

Davis Mac-Iyalla
Davis Mac-Iyalla has fought for LGBTQ+ rights for years. (Davis Mac-Iyalla)

As a well-respected LGBTQ+ activist, human rights campaigner, faith leader and founder of the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa, Mac-Iyalla has spent many years campaigning for the rights of queer people, particularly within the Anglican church. 

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His outspoken support for LGBTQ+ rights has seen him fall foul of powerful homophobic figures in the region who – as he puts it  – seek to “discredit” him at every opportunity. 

Speaking during a month-long visit to Britain, Mac-Iyalla explains that “there are some very vocal minorities that keep trying to speak for everyone” in the country and wider West Africa.

But, he says, not “everyone is homophobic” and so “not everyone is against us”.

Homosexuality has been criminalised in Ghana since 1892 when the country was under colonial British rule.

Currently, section 104(1)(a) of the Penal Code (1960), as amended in 2003, prohibits “unnatural carnal knowledge” – defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner” – of another person of 16 years or over with their consent. It is considered a misdemeanour and carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment.

The media suggested Mac-Iyalla’s palanquin fell because he is gay (Davis Mac-Iyalla)

In 2021, a bill to forbid and criminalise “the advocacy and practice of homosexuality” was introduced in the Ghanaian Parliament. 

The legislation would increase jail time for consensual same-sex sexual activity to 10 years and would explicitly ban same-sex marriage. It would also criminalise diverse gender identities and expressions, and prohibit medical practitioners from offering gender-affirming medical care. 

Furthermore, the legislation would offer incentives to families to have their intersex infants “normalised” through genital surgeries and it would prohibit public support, advocacy or organising for LGBTQ+ human rights in the country. 

This bill came amid increased negative public and media focus on queer people, following the raid of an LGBTQ+ centre in Accra and the arrests of 21 human rights activists, who were charged with “unlawful assembly” for attending training on documenting human rights violations against LGBTQ+ people. 

The extremely homophobic bill echoes Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a vile piece of legislation which seeks to criminalise people for simply identifying as LGBTQ+.

However, despite these queerphobic and fear-mongering narratives, Mac-Iyalla says Ghana’s bill did not attract the support politicians thought it would get and so, attention turned to vilifying human rights campaigners like himself. 

“When the bill was introduced, we were frightened that it would just be an easy passage, but no, it was not because we had parents begin to come out and talk about how this bill will be a problem for their families. 

“We then had professional academics begin to come out and speak against this bill from human rights, cultural and traditional rights perspectives.

“That’s something that we didn’t expect because of the way things have happened in the past, so that gave us some hope.” 

Some of the 21 arrested human rights activists leave after appearing in the Circuit Court in Ho, Ghana. (Nipah Dennis/AFP/Getty)

Mac-Iyalla points out that the general Ghanaian population is more concerned with issues such as the economy and job security than someone’s sexuality. He says that the bill is being used by prominent religious leaders to push anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment for their own gain. 

“Remember that not everyone likes to engage the media. So the majority voices have an open mind and tolerance, but are just not interested in talking.

“It is a few hateful conservatives that are always in the media trying to speak for everybody or trying to change the narrative. 

“Ghanaians have come to realise that the bill is not for the benefit of Ghana. That bill is only to profit the Christian right-wing conservatives that are pushing it.” 

For Mac-Iyalla, the reception the bill received may also be down to the fact it is “un-Ghanaian and un-African” because it harks back to colonial era rules and perspectives enforced by British imperialism. 

Homosexuality in Africa existed “before the advent of Western missionaries”, Mac-Iyalla says, “so introducing these laws is actually borrowing and confirming colonial ideology and not Ghanaian, African or West African values”.

Queer people have existed in Ghana, and wider Africa, long before colonialism, Mac-Iyalla says. (Pexels)

The impacts of colonialism on Ghana are still being keenly felt by the LGBTQ+ community, and Mac-Iyalla wants the idea that it is “un-African to be LGBTQ+” to be debunked “everywhere”. 

“If, indeed, humans originated from Africa, then LGBTQ+ would have originated from Africa,” he says. 

The activist adds that research has consistently shown that queer people have existed for longer in Africa than people think and – with that being said – “far longer than colonialism”. 

“LGBTQ+ people have been warriors. LGBTQ+ people have been really strong spirituality leaders. LGBTQ+ people have held traditional positions like chiefs and Queen mothers, and that beauty of leadership continues,” he continues.

“LGBTIQ people are proud of African heritage, of African descent. We are proud of who we are. 

“We are not a Western production, as some people want the world to believe. We are everywhere. We are chiefs, we are nurses, we are doctors, we are politicians, we are everything good.”

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