Open Letter to LGBT Nigerians and Diaspora: Stand Fast, Change is Coming
First off, Nigeria’s new Same Gender Marriage Prohibition bill that has just passed through the senate is not just cruel, it is impractical.
The government is not thinking beyond the sentence itself. 10-14 years imprisonment of all LGBT Nigerias, and supporting organizations and allies? If the government were to move ahead with prosecutions, there really would be no space in the prisons to hold us all.
But this bill isn’t just about targeting LGBT people, is it? There’s already existing language in the constitution prohibiting same sex relationships (with harsh prison punishments, and under Sharia Law, death).
And as for marriage? Who’s trying to get married? Outside of the major cities, LGBT Nigerians live in fear and isolation. They can barely meet each other without being stalked for blackmail, let alone plan gay weddings.
Don’t let the name of this new bill mislead you from the senate’s real intent: quelling the uprising against oppression that they sense happening all across Africa, and the world. From Egypt to Libya to Wall Street, people’s attitudes are changing, their perspective shifting to a new world — corrupt laws are being broken, and hearts are being won. So now, Nigeria’s government is using fear as a tactic to silence anyone (in this case, in Nigeria) from “daring” to raise the issue of discrimination and maltreatment of an entire group of people.
Despite push-back from a lone senator on the redundancy of this bill, there are debates already happening in Nigeria as to how to expand the reach of the bill to criminalize anyone who supports LGBT people; this includes individuals or organizations that engage in activities that express (or directly relate to providing) support of Nigeria’s large, yet mainly underground queer community.
Here’s the goal: to be able to prosecute human rights organizations who have been long time advocates for LGBT and gender equality in Nigeria. By signing a witch-hunt into law, the bigots in power are attempting to strip LGBT Nigerians of their allies as well, and that is what is most troubling. It is one thing to persecute a group of people — it’s morally reprehensible to cut them off completely from their support networks, and blackmail them by threatening the livelihood of their families and friends who would stand up for them.
Yet, despite the unspeakable cruelty of such a strategy, this blatant human rights violation by the Nigerian senate is just a sign that our corrupt leaders in power — political opportunists disguised as “cultural guardians” — are afraid.
Yes — they are afraid, of our voices, of our power, of our resiliency. They are afraid of a younger generation of citizens, activists, and diaspora, and our collective belief in a more progressive Nigeria. They are afraid of our growing influence as we gather allies not just from the west, but from our fellow countrymen. They don’t want to see it happen — our liberation — but they will. They want to maintain the status quo — even to our country’s detriment — but they will not succeed. Stand fast, change is coming.
Nigerian LGBT activists — both in the country and outside of it — are standing up and fighting tirelessly for our liberation. They are bravely sharing their stories, organizing political protests to engage Nigeria’s policy makers, building inter-organization coalitions to provide support West Africa’s LGBT youth, advocating for the safety of Nigerian lesbians from sexual assault, and doing much more in their various capacities.
Do not let the applause from naysayers deafen your senses to the stampede of Nigerian activists — both straight and gay — marching onward despite resistance. Do not let the western media’s romanticized pity stories manipulate you into thinking that you are alone. You most certainly are not, and will never be — not while Diaspora and allies around the world are watching. Remember that, and do not abandon hope for fear.
Today, the Nigerian senate drew a line in the sand and seemingly pushed us back, but as sure as the sun rises, we stand on the right side of progress; it is they that are ostracizing themselves from an inevitable future — a Nigeria that doesn’t make scapegoats of its citizens for the sake of snubbing western threats, a Nigeria that doesn’t condone sexual violence against women as punishment for not conforming to gender roles, a Nigeria that is free of discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, a Nigeria that we can all be proud of.
Remember this day in history: Tuesday November 29th, 2011. The senate rang a bell when they passed that bill. Now, let us answer, resolved. Let us prepare our spirits for battle. Let us make sure that change heeds their call.