Police officials in Ghana have caused controversy in recent weeks over their decision to shut down a center in Accra for the LGBTQ+ community, CNN reported late last month.

In response to the raid, dozens of Black celebrities and politicians in the United Kingdom released a letter on Monday condemning the raid and expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community across Africa. More than 30 countries in the continent have some kind of law criminalizing their existence, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

“We are in awe of your strength, your bravery, and your audacity to be true to who you are even when it is dangerous to do so. You are loved, you are important and you deserve a safe place to gather in your shared experience. In recent weeks we have watched with profound concern as you have had to question the safety of your vital work at the LGBT+ Rights Ghana center in Accra, and feared for your personal wellbeing and security,” the letter read.

“It is unacceptable to us that you feel unsafe. Even though at present you might be feeling alone and cornered, we want to assure you that we are here. We are watching and listening and we will use our collective power to shield you and raise you up. Neither the raid on Feb. 24, nor any other acts of intimidation have the power to break your indomitable spirits,” it added.

The letter was signed by U.K. politicians including Diane Abbott and artists Virgil Abloh, Amma Asante, Naomi Campbell, Michaela Coel, Idris Elba, Jidenna, Boris Kodjoe, Vic Mensa, Yvonne Orji, Nicole Ari Parker, G. Sidibe, Moses Sumney and dozens of others. 

The letter addresses both the LGBTQ+ community and the Ghanian government, commending the former for their steadfastness in the face of violence and imploring the latter to be more accommodating. 

“We, your allies, friends and fellow Ghanaians, Africans and diasporans, are deeply disturbed by threats to your community. And we are encouraging all who support you to let their voices be heard now,” the letter read. 

“As prominent and powerful advocates for this great country, we are beseeching His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo and political/cultural leaders to reach out and engage in a meaningful and purposeful dialogue with the LGBTQIA+ community leaders to create a pathway for allyship, protection and support,” it explained.

Alex Kofi Donkor, the leader of the center, wrote about the raid on Facebook and told CNN on Feb. 25 he now fears for his safety after police shut down the facility. 

“While this unfortunate incident has happened, we wish to encourage all our members, and queer Ghanaians to stay calm. Do not panic. We anticipated this. We will triumph. The police may have raided our office and closed it down but the real office, is in our hearts, and minds,” Donkor wrote on Facebook after the raid. 

“I just contacted our lawyers, there is an unsafe situation right now, and I need to go offline,” Donkor shared with CNN.

The center was opened on Jan. 31 and multiple ambassadors from Australia, the European Union and other countries attended. But it immediately caused controversy locally where the LGBTQ+ community faces constant violence and hatred from both the government and other citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.

Pride Legal wrote that Ghana has laws that make same-sex relationships illegal and punishable with prison sentences ranging from three to 25 years. 

Superintendent Sheilla Abayie-Buckman, the GPS director of public affairs, told CNN on Tuesday that the center was shut down because it broke the law.

“To the extent that Ghana law criminalize certain actions promoted by LGBTQI+, and the Ghanaian society largely abhors same, no-one expects any individual or group to set up such an office or center,” Abayie-Buckman said. 

“Our search showed that it was being used for or in relation to the business of LGBTQ. With no person in the house, it was locked up for the occupants to report to the police to answer questions. Nobody has also owned up yet. The place is under the watch of the police,” she noted.

Donkor and others in charge of the center told CNN that after opening on Jan. 31, they began to receive threats of violence from local leaders.

“Traditional leaders in Kwabenya, the area our office is situated in, threatened to burn down the office,” the group said, adding that none of the people who said they would burn the building down were arrested.

“Instead, on February 24, police officials, a representative of our landlord, traditional leaders, and some other persons entered our office without our consent. Sensing imminent danger, Alex Kofi Donkor, our Executive Director left the premises for a safe house,” the organization explained. 

In recent weeks, Ghanaian elected officials have expressed anger over the effort of President Joe Biden to sanction countries that had laws explicitly criminalizing the LGBTQ+ community, according to local news outlet Joy Online.

“Ghana is a sovereign country but as part of our foreign policy we engage countries all over the world; America is one of our strongest friends. But in this country we have laws. And our laws work and must work. So in spite of what somebody will say and in this case President Biden, the laws of Ghana criminalizes on unlawful carnal knowledge and therefore the laws of Ghana definitely are supreme and that is what we all adhere to,” Minister-designate for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey said during her confirmation hearing.

Other elected officials have reiterated they will not change the laws, even with the threat of sanctions looming.

But the open letter implored the country’s leaders to start a dialogue with the LGBTQI+ community. 

“We petition for inclusivity which will make the nation even greater and even stronger. All of us have a special place in our hearts for Ghana, and we firmly believe in the best of it and for it,” the letter stated. “Ghana is a welcoming smile, a proud country of friendship, a nation of cultural integrity and a caring gateway, but above all, Ghana is the definition of Akwaaba. Let us ensure that we live up to its fullest meaning for all.”

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