Written by Ogunbiyi Ayobami Lolade | Edited by Oluwabukunmi Akinshipe
On January 7, 2014, Nigeria’s former president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill (SSMPA) into law. The goal of the bill is to prohibit same-sex marriage between persons, ban any cohabitation between sexual partners of the same sex and forbid any public display of same-sex amorous relationship. The SSMPA bill imposes a 10-year prison term on anyone who registers, runs or participates in gay clubs, societies and associations and effectively criminalizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It is thus no secret that life and living has been challenging for members of the LGBTQ+ community here in Nigeria. The LGBTQ+ which is an acronym that stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning” is an umbrella term within which the sexual orientations and gender identities of all non-heterosexual people can be classified and uniquely identified. It is a community that is seriously stigmatized and faces legal consequences as not only are their rights not recognized, but any form of expression of same-sex attraction is also considered illegal. Jungle justice is also usually meted out before any legal action can be taken sometimes.
All of these discriminatory and punitive attitude is largely as a result of the highly-religious Nigerian culture which typically sees heterosexuality (opposite-sex attraction) as the ideal and accepted form of sexual orientation and thus strongly opposes and forbids the LGBTQ+ community. This mindset has led to all manners of toxic behaviours and derogatory attitudes towards members of the community.
In the current event of the coronavirus outbreak, a lot of people including members of the LGBTQ community are stuck at home and have to deal with stigmatization and abuse from family, friends, and even people who are not close to them.
Our culture plays a big role in the expression of a lot of things including in matters concerning the LGBT+ persons. When people, out of fear of stigmatization and/or persecution, restrain themselves from expressing their sexual orientations and gender identities, it doesn’t change the fact that they are who they are — it only conceals it. A homosexual man who grows up in a Christian household and is told all his life, that gay people are an abomination that would go to hell will probably do everything he can to hide his sexuality and change who he is. He might try to take on a sexuality applauded and normalised by society, but at the end of it all, his sexuality remains unchanged.
I believe that this attitude embraced by the majority population of Nigeria does even more harm than is apparent as there are now a lot of instances where gay men get married to heterosexual women and have children with them but are then unfaithful with a string of male lovers. It is needless to say that such loveless, dishonest marriages would be miserable for all involved and often give rise to unhappy children with a misplaced notion of love. The wife is also at risk of contracting diseases that are common amongst people with multiple sexual partners. I do not believe there are any positive consequences to such an approach.
The only way to solve this problem is with acceptance and this has to begin at home because only then would it be easier for the LGBTQ+ community to embrace the reality of their sexuality, make rational decisions and take responsible actions. They are regular people that just want to be loved by their families and friends in a time like this and they deserve to be.
I thus want to encourage, that in a pandemic like this which many of us have never experienced before, it would be only appropriate to extend kindness to all around us because and irrespective of their sexual orientation. It will definitely go a long way.