Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana says that being LGBTIQ+ is not un-African (Photo: Richter Frank-Jurgen)
Cardinal Peter Turkson from Ghana, said to be a potential candidate for the first African Pope in centuries, has spoken out on the topic of homosexuality.
In a recent BBC Hard Talk interview with Stephen Sackur, the senior Vatican cleric addressed ongoing discussions within the Catholic Church regarding sexuality and gender, highlighting the Pope’s recent support for allowing trans people to be baptised and become godparents.
Turkson, who speaks English, Fante, French, Italian, German, and Hebrew, also shared his view on the criminalisation of homosexuality in 66 countries around the world, including 31 in Africa alone.
“My position has simply been this, that LGBT, gay people, may not be criminalised because they’ve committed no crime,” he said.
Turkson, added, however, that this position should not become “something to be imposed on cultures, which are not yet ready to accept stuff like that.”
When asked about recent harsh legislation being considered by the Ghanaian Parliament that further criminalises and punishes homosexuality, Cardinal Turkson acknowledged his disagreement with the law.
LGBTIQ+ identities not foreign to Africa
Turkson further rejected the false narrative that LGBTIQ+ people are un-African, pointing out that Ghanaian culture has long been aware of individuals with diverse gender expressions.
“I say this because there is an expression in the local Akan language of mine, of men who act like women, and women who act like men, which means that this phenomenon has been known, was known in the culture and in the community… If culturally we had expressions… it just means that it’s not completely alien to the Ghanaian society.”
Turkson suggested that recent anti-LGBTIQ+ legislative developments in part of Africa might have been triggered by attempts to link foreign aid and grants to countries’ positions on LGBTIQ+ rights, which has politicised the issue. (He failed, however, to acknowledge the significant role of American Christian evangelists in instigating anti-LGBTIQ+ views on the continent.)
The cardinal was also asked about the August 2023 statement by Christian leaders in Ghana, including the Catholic Bishops Conference (GCBC), asserting their united stance “in abhorring the despicable lifestyle practices and behaviours of LGBTQI+.”
A call for education on sexuality and gender identity
Turkson responded by emphasising the need for education to help people distinguish between personal practices, cultural attitudes, and criminal activities, arguing that this can take time.
“Cultural attitudes in some of these regards are very deeply rooted and all of that, and we need a lot of education to get people to separate, make a distinction between what is a crime and what is not a crime, what is the personal habit and not a personal habit. So something that traditionally maybe referred to as a taboo and all of that, it takes time…” the cardinal said.
In July, the Parliament of Ghana overwhelmingly supported a bill to crack down on the LGBTIQ+ community, heightening anti-LGBTQI+ sentiment in the country.
Although it is not yet law, the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill would make it illegal to advocate for LGBTIQ+ rights in any way, with a potential prison sentence of up to ten years. Merely identifying as LGBTIQ+ or as an LGBTIQ+ ally would carry a penalty of three to five years in prison.
Under Ghana’s existing Criminal Code, consensual same-sex sexual relations are already criminalised with up to three years in prison.