UNDERSTANDING THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA
To understand the LGBTQ+ community, you must first understand love. Have you ever been in love? You know, felt that heart thudding, ragged breathing, mind disorienting feeling that is love? Yeah, a large number of us have. Also ever heard of the expression, “The heart wants what it wants”? No not the song, the expression. The one that means you don’t choose who you love, your heart is just an independent organ who selfishly picks who it wants you to fall in love with and when to fall out of love with them. Odds are you’ve probably heard it, or not. But what I’m trying to say is, Love is genderless.
We can characterize love with a lot of things, patience, kindness, it does not envy or boast (yes I am quoting 1st Corinthians). But why do we leave out a very key characteristic of love, the fact that is genderless…and the fact that we can fall in love with anybody and everybody.
WHAT DOES LGBTQ+ MEAN?
The LGBT community exists virtually everywhere in the world. Literally everywhere. And contrary to plenty and wrong belief, the LGBTQ+ community does not only comprise of homosexuals. Yes, when you see that cute colorful flag 🏳️🌈 it does not only cover gay people. You’d be surprised at how wide the community is and just how many people comfortably fit in it.
L stands for lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is attracted to other women. I choose not to use the term “sexually attracted” because that would be meaning only a mere sexual attraction to other women would constitute lesbianism which is in fact totally wrong. There are lesbian couples who believe it or not are not having sex. Does that mean they are not lesbians? Definitely not. A lesbian woman is a woman who is attracted to women, attracted to being an all-encompassing word for love, affection, romance, emotional attraction and then sex.
G Gay is an adjectival word that encompasses the whole term that is homosexuality. But since we already gendered the word by using Lesbians for women, Gay here means a man who is attracted to other men. Just like lesbians, this does not connote only sex, it encompasses everything that is felt in a heterosexual relationship and sex.
B Bisexuality basically is any individual who has the ability to create or have romantic, emotional or sexual attraction to either of the sexes. A man or a woman can be bisexual, the term is not gender specific like lesbian. Fun fact, bisexual people don’t need to have had any actual or specific sexual experiences to identify as bisexual. Know why, just like straight people don’t need to have had sexual experience to know they’re straight, they don’t either. Crazy right?
T The more complex and most often misunderstood member of this community are the Transgender people. It’s an umbrella term for people who are gender non conforming. Often mixed up with trans sexuality, it’s important to distinguish between gender and sex.
Let’s have a little sociology cum biology class. The two terms are very similar as well as very different. Sex is the physical trait that distinguishes males from females; so like a man is a man because he has a penis and a woman is a woman because she has a vagina instead of a penis. Gender on the other hand is a social construct, like many other things( virginity) but I digress. The main difference therefore is sex is your physical construct while gender is a social construct. A good example would be, using our very interesting and sometimes vexatious Nigerian society, it’s often believed a man should not be seen wearing certain types of clothing because it’s not “manly”.
Transgender people are people whose gender identity does not conform with the sex they were assigned to at birth. A worthy mention is The Billy Porter. While Transexual people are individuals who have actually undergone surgery to change their sex to the gender they conform to.
Q Queer people are people who do not exclusively identify as heterosexual but see the terms gay or lesbian as too limiting to describe what they are.
+ Because the LGBTQ community is very large, there are a host of other terms under them. The plus symbol encompasses them all in their entirety, the Asexuals, Pansexuals, Intersex and, Questioning, to mention a few.
THE LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY IN NIGERIA
When you mention the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria, the chances are you’ll be met by either a frown or some snarky remark which is almost always homophobic. It’s crazy and completely ludicrous to think that in a country as diverse as Nigeria, home to more than 200 million people, there will be not one single person who is gender non conforming or homosexual. Yet as crazy as it sounds, some people legitimately believe this. Nigeria is a country deeply rooted in homophobia and hypocrisy at the same time.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria are met with hostility and constantly live in fear of being lynched one day by some homophobe who believes homosexuality is against his religion.
But that deep rooted hatred for the community, where does it come from? I,like many people, often wonder, why do we accept that one can be born straight but one can’t be born gay? Why do we accept that there are certain things that can remove the “manliness” out of a man or add “manliness” to a woman? I’ve had multiple discussions with many people and ten out of ten people are against the community because of Religion, Laws, Colonialism and “I just don’t like gay people”.
This comes first because this is every homophobic go-to answer when asked why they are homophobic. A rather weak point because not everyone confirms to a religion. Not everyone is a Christian or a Muslim ( I mention these two because they are the most practiced religion in Nigeria).
Yes, the Bible is homophobic, yes the Koran is homophobic but it can’t be binding on everyone if there are still some people who do not conform to either religion. This emphasis on religion is based on deep-rooted hypocrisy. I once had a conversation with a guy who once used religion as a premise to justify his homophobia. When asked if he found the idea of two girls getting it on exciting or sexy, he gave a definite “Uh yeah, what guy doesn’t?” And when asked what he thinks about two men getting it on, he replied with a nasty comment. The fact that a large chunk of Nigerian men fantasize about watching two girls get it on and even them joining in on the action but frown at two men getting it on borders highly on hypocrisy. Using religion to justify why two men can’t be together but praising two girls being together smells like that putrid air, what’s it called again…Hypocrisy!
When we see people who vehemently use the umbrella of religion to go against the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn’t take much digging or investigation into their lives to see that they are far from “perfect”. You see men and women who are sexually active (don’t get me wrong, sex is beautiful and you can have sex if you want to (as long as you’re being safe) coming out to bash members of the community because they feel it’s against the tenets of religion. Having sex outside of wedlock which is more beautifully called Fornication is a sin if we’re going along with religious tenet, so why should any one who’s fornicating think he’s a better follower of a religion than a member of the community? Also I’m not trying to say every one fornicates but in a day, every individual commits at least one sin. When your mum asks how many cubes of sugar you added to your cup of tea and you say three instead of six because you don’t want her to yell at you, you’ve lied, that’s a sin. Also when your talkative friend calls you and you say “I’ll call you back, my mum’s calling me” just because you don’t want to talk to them, you’ve committed a sin. When you take your sister’s dress and keep it because you like it and you know she wouldn’t give you if you asked, you’ve stolen and that’s a sin. When you kiss a woman that’s not your wife, you’ve committed a sin which is adultery. The list could go on and on. Bottom line is, you can not use religion as a premise to hate or discriminate against gay or trans people if you’re doing all these things yourself. You also should not because not everyone practices the same religion. In the end, we do not know if religion is real or not. It’s all about our faith and in the end, it may have just been a fabrication made to keep all humans in check.
Homosexuality is against the law in Nigeria. It’s in the criminal code, the penal code and there’s even a whole act that stipulates jail time for them. It’s commendable that people know these (despite not being able to even state their rights as citizens and where it is stated in the constitution). Jail time is ten to fourteen years which is very appalling and nauseating when you think that rapists don’t even get that amount of jail time neither do pedophiles. Even more upsetting is the fact that less than fifty people in the whole history of Nigeria have been convicted of rape. Yet, we all know that rape occurs ten times more in the country.
I ask myself, why should homosexuality even be a crime in the first place? When you think of a crime, you’re thinking of something that has adverse effects on the well being of the populace and the society like murder, theft, rape, treason and the likes. So how exactly does homosexuality fit into that? Why should the sentiments of a group of people constitute what is law and what is not?
Earlier in this article I mentioned how homosexuality, bisexuality and the likes are not only about sexual attraction, it has to do with emotional, romantic love and affection between two individuals just like heterosexuality is. So why should two consenting adults face jail time for loving each other the way heterosexual people love each other? Some people are of the opinion that because this has been criminalised in Nigeria, it is automatically a just law when in fact it is the exact opposite. As Nigerian citizens we all have the right to dignity, right to personal liberty, right to the freedom of expression and movement. It is a complete contradiction of these rights to implement a law that mets out jail time to two people who love each other. It is also hypocritical that we have serious crimes that go unpunished in Nigeria but everyone is suddenly up and ready to be law abiding once it comes to the idea of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, the implementation of these laws have become legalised homophobia which is more dangerous than most people would like to admit.
If I had a kobo for every time someone told me “being gay isn’t in our culture. The white people brought it when they colonised us” I’d have thirty billion sitting comfortably in my account. Really, I’ve heard this so many times, I wish I could get some money each time someone said it to me.
The white people did bring a lot to Nigeria during colonisation, like religion (the one that people use as a premise to be homophobic, they forget it is also not our culture when they use this argument. Quite comfortable isn’t it?) , the language we speak, some of the foods we eat, a lot of the clothing. But one thing I know for a fact that wasn’t brought by white people is homosexuality and gender non conformation. You know why, because being gay and gender non conforming is not something a person learns or is forced into, it is something an individual is born as. History has receipts and records of homosexuality in Africa that dates back as many years before the penetration of Europeans into the continent. Several tribes like the Nupe people in Nigeria, Azande in Congo and Sudan, the Tutsi people of Rwanda all practiced same sex relationships for ritual purposes and for spiritual purposes. Literally a thirty minute Google search into the history of African before colonialism would do a lot of good. It’s just plain ridiculous to think that in a country of millions, it is impossible that before the white man came, no two people of the same sex have ever tried or experimented with something sexual or even non conformed with their gender. The possibility of that being a reality is very slim. And that putrid smell is here again, oh what’s it called…hypocrisy! The colonialists brought us so many things in Nigeria. The suit and tie we wear even under the scorching Sub Saharan sun, the English that is not our indigenous language was also brought by the colonialists, why have we not rebelled against them and labelled them “not our culture”?
“I JUST DON’T LIKE GAY PEOPLE”
Another statement that could have easily fetched me thirty billion in my account. After having conversations with people and exhaustively debunking their premises for homophobia, they result to this and I have to say it is the weakest point. People often say that it is not by force to like the LGBTQ+ community. And that pop culture has tried to force it down their throats. Now the thing is, members of the community do not need you to like them. Liking them really does not if we’re being honest. But you don’t have to the or discriminate them. You can either be for or against something, there is no in between. Earlier this year on Nigerian Twitter, a young man was lynched after being tricked into thinking he was meeting up with another gay man. The problem with this is that idea that “I don’t like gay people”. It breeds discrimination and builds into hatred. I have spoken to gay people and effeminate men in Nigeria who cannot leave their houses because they get yelled at, stated at and even stoned when they go out. Yes, people literally hurl stones at them. If you can like straight people, why can’t you like gay people or people who do not feel like they gender assigned to them by society is the gender they choose to conform with? What is the point of hating or just not liking people who have no issues with you and whose personal lives do not affect yours in any way?
THE WAY OUT
On a concluding note, I’d like to remind us all that gay or straight or bisexual, gender-conforming or gender non conforming, queer, pansexual, asexual, we are all humans.
Deserving of giving and receiving love. Love is love and as the Bible we all love to quote so much says, it does not discriminate.
Every individual deserves to live life without the fear of being lynched by someone who believes their way of life is superior to others. In Nigeria and in the whole world, members of the LGBT+ society are beat up, hanged up against and even killed because of homophobia. There should be no room for hostility. And members of the community in a cold blooded country like Nigeria need our help and support to fully incorporate them into the society free of discrimination and prejudice.