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Don’t sign “draconian and hateful” anti-gay bill – Richard Branson to Akufo-Addo

Richard Branson

The Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, has expressed concern about the passage of the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill by Ghana’s Parliament. The British Virgin Islands-based billionaire described the bill as a backslide on human rights and an economic disaster.

He posted on his X handle that “to be thrown in jail just for being who you are and who you love seems too cruel to believe.” Ghana’s Parliament passed the controversial bill on February 27, 2024, which is yet to be transmitted to the President for his assent. The 73-year-old Richard Branson disclosed that he had shared his thoughts on why the bill must not be assented into law and indicated that “the only way to stop the bill coming into effect is for President Addo to veto it.” “Today, I join many other human rights advocates in Africa and around the world in calling on the President to veto this draconian and hateful piece of legislation,” the open letter added.

Below is the full letter.

In late February, I watched with deep concern as Ghana’s parliament passed a cruel and terrifying new anti-LGBTQ+ bill, that criminalises people simply for coming out, giving courts the power to impose a prison sentence of up to three years. To be thrown in jail just for being who you are and who you love defies belief. To make things worse, people who support LGBTQ+ rights could also face jail terms of up to five years under the new legislation.

With the backing of Ghana’s two major political parties, the bill is now waiting to be signed by President Nana Akufo-Addo. The President has said he won’t act on the bill until the Supreme Court rules on challenges against it. Today, I join many other human rights advocates in Africa and around the world in calling on the President to veto this draconian and hateful piece of legislation.

Not only is the bill a clear violation of fundamental human rights, it also carries the risk of disastrous economic consequences for Ghana (as the finance minister stressed in a memo). For this wonderful country, which has been emerging from its worst economic crisis in decades and is reliant on international funding, the fallout could be devastating.

It’s been alarming to see aggressive LGBTQ+ discrimination sweep across the African continent. Last year, I wrote about Uganda’s horrific Anti-Homosexuality Act, one of the most draconian pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the world. The Act that could lead to the persecution of thousands of people; some in Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community have been forced into hiding, and others have chosen exile. Some of the ‘offences’ outlined in the Act even carry the death penalty.

Earlier this year, Amnesty International published a review of the escalating anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and the resulting weaponisation of legislation across 12 African countries. As Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, put it: “We face what can only be described as a deepening crisis of homophobic lawfare.”

At the heart of this, we must remember that people do not choose to be gay and that absolutely anyone could be – millions of people all over the world, in every country, are gay. As a parent and grandparent, I want my loved ones to grow up free from discrimination and fear. Supporters of anti-LGBTQ+ measures should ask themselves: What if my child was gay? Would I throw them in prison?

Criminalising a person’s identity legitimises discrimination and corrodes dignity. Families, businesses, societies, and countries prosper when people have the freedom to be themselves. Why would we ever deny this?

Love is love, straight or gay, and we should always stand up so that the LGBTQ+ community can live and love in peace. The community has made lasting contributions to social, political and cultural life all throughout history. We should be proud of our gay friends, children, colleagues, and others all around us.

I am also proud that Virgin is a co-founder of Open For Business, a coalition of businesses fighting homophobia on a global scale and making the business case for LGBTQ+ inclusion. If you are a business leader – in Ghana, Uganda, and elsewhere – join us, and be part of collective action on LGBTQ+ rights. Whoever you are, join us in speaking out against Ghana’s horrific law. Ghana and its wonderful people can do so much better.

By: Kabah Atawoge

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