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How to get away with being gay in Nigeria?

Nigeria’s discriminatory laws against LGBTI+ people continue to have a huge negative impact on the lives of LGBTIQ+ folks living in the country.

LGBTIQ+ people are subjected to various forms of human rights violations solely based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. Given this reality, many have been forced to go “underground” and seek ways to survive.

By Kingsley Adrian Banks

With laws criminalizing homosexuality, LGBTIQ+ Nigerians are constant victims of State-approved discrimination, violence, and community policing, making it a tougher call for queer people in Nigeria to live freely and express themselves without fear of reprisals, attacks, extortion, imprisonment, and even death.

With this situation on the ground, surviving as a part of the LGBTIQ+ community in Nigeria takes a lot of spunk and determination. This leads to the existential question: how can one get away with being gay in Nigeria?

Stay silent about your Sexuality

This piece of advice might seem restrictive—and, being objective, I do agree that it is indeed restrictive—and a contradictory (advocacy) message for LGBTQI people to try the best they can to live their own authentic lives, but, in a country like Nigeria where LGBTQI people have faced, and still face public/community humiliation, severe abuse, sexual violence and “corrective rape”, detention and extortion from members of the Nigeria Police Force and other community policing outfits, sometimes the best option to getting away with being queer is to be “in the closet”.

With the current wave of social emancipation going on, a lot of LGBTQI people who live in very homophobic countries across Africa—Nigeria inclusive—are choosing to become bolder and try to thrive rather than just exist. This boldness, while commendable, can portend serious danger for other LGBTQI people who live in less dense-population areas or very notoriously homophobic parts of the country where many LGBTQI people have been harassed, some even killed. Thus, for those without a sort of “social community net” of other LGBTQI people around them who can foster a sense of (physical) community for them, until better options present themselves, staying in the closet might be the best option to get away with their sexuality in Nigeria’s violently homophobic clime.

Asides from the above, family pressures and the Nigerian society’s predominantly arrogant heteronormative leanings can push any LGBTIQ+ person in Nigeria further deeper into the closet, especially if such persons are still under the (financial) care of their parents or guardians. Thus, for fear of losing their homes and family’s financial support, or, in worst cases, being sent for the much-dreaded conversion therapy, it is advisable to remain in the closet. The Journey to Self-Discovery for LGBTQI people is personal, and being in the closet may be a part of that journey.

Relocate

The truth is that as LGBTQI people experience homophobia across the world; the degree and frequency of such experienced homophobia is what will differ, by location.

Many LGBTQI people in Nigeria—including out and proud persons—have relocated to other more tolerant countries across the world to find love and acceptance, away from the censorious eyes and harsh judgments they face within Nigeria. The daily harshness and stifling oppressiveness of blatant, in-your-face, State-supported homophobia can and will take a toll even on the toughest of individuals. Thus, with the open persecution of the LGBTIQ+ people in Nigeria, a considerable option might be to relocate to a more tolerant country, then—as street lingo goes—“pepper your oppressors” from whichever country of choice you settled in and advocate for the repeal of the SSMPA so that LGBTIQ+ persons living in Nigeria will have better legal protection.

Be Out and Proud

This does seem contradictory to the more conservative suggestions earlier outlined above, but yes, if you are an LGBTIQ+ person living in Nigeria, you can live out and be proud. However, a note of caution: being out and proud can make one a target, so be ready to deal with the (potential) consequences of that decision. Recently, a queer-presenting young man was beaten up and injured in a part of the Lagos suburbs, for wearing false eyelashes and putting on makeup.

Nigerians are generally “money worshippers”; they revere people with money, no matter the source.  For successful LGBTIQ+ persons in Nigeria, it is easier to be out and proud than for a struggling LGBTIQ+ person seeking to make the same coming-out decision.

In Nigeria, “money stops nonsense”, and a successful out-and-proud LGBTQI person in Nigeria will garner, if not acceptance, grudging respect from their heterosexual, homophobic counterpart, more than a non-successful person would. Such people, though, move within certain circles and spaces and are often more conservative, both offline and online.

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