The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (2014) is destroying Nigeria’s advancements in the battle against HIV/AIDS and is undermining the wellbeing and social insurances of all Nigerians by demonizing the Nigerian LGBTI community. The law criminalizes the real and/or perceived sexual orientations and gender identities of LGBTI Nigerians and inhibits their access to medically necessary healthcare services.
Restricting access to health services that provide preventative HIV interventions and other medical treatments will not only have harmful effects on the health of LGBTI Nigerians, but for the larger society as a whole. We are all members of a community and the boundaries of our skin do not reflect the boundaries of the environment that we share, create and exist in together. The public health of the nation depends on the health of all people, regardless of their class, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We must be honest and pragmatic in the way that we allocate public resources and when we let bigotry guide public health policy, we endanger our nation as a whole. The rampant spread and devastation of HIV/AIDS in Nigeria has been a national tragedy exacerbated by the homophobia and transphobia that permeates Nigerian society and government. We must overcome bigotry against the LGBTI community in Nigeria as a first step in the fight for zero HIV/AIDS infection
The environment of fear and persecution engendered by the SSMPA makes it dangerous for both LGBTI Nigerians and non-LGBTI Nigerians who are perceived as homosexual to access healthcare and HIV services. If LGBTI Nigerians do not have access to sufficient healthcare and preventative HIV interventions, HIV and other diseases will continue to wreak havoc on Nigerian families. The trauma inflicted by this disease does not begin and end within the LGBTI community: it radiates outward to affect the hearts, bodies and minds of their families, friends, lovers, mentors and peers. The reality is that LGBTI health issues are intimately tied to the health of the entire nation of Nigeria. To ignore such a reality is to deny Nigerian people their basic right to health.
Because we are discussing LGBTI health, it is important to expand our conversations beyond the issue of HIV/AIDS and include a holistic understanding of what it means to be “healthy.” The Constitution of the World Health Organization defines health as “complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” While most of the research regarding LGBTI health in Nigeria focuses on HIV/AIDS, there is very little information about the status of issues like, smoking rates, risks for cancers, or psychological well-being necessary for properly characterizing the health needs of a segment of the population. This leaves the LGBTI community even more vulnerable.
But it’s not just the LGBTI community that is impacted. If we cannot be honest about sexual lifestyles, sexualities and gender identities, then we cannot create informed public health plans that work to benefit the entire society. Failing to reveal one’s sexuality for fear of persecution not only endangers the individual, but also creates a potential risk for the nation.
When LGBTI Nigerians live in fear of state-sanctioned violence and discrimination, the Nigerian government is failing to ensure the complete physical, mental and social well-being of its people. There must be a shift in the social imaginary, supported by public policies that includes LGBTI Nigerians in the nation’s narrative. We must ensure everyone’s safety to fully express who we are and to thrive as a member of society. If homophobia and transphobia dictate who is able to attain health, Nigeria will continue to fall behind in global measures of healthcare systems and the Nigerian people will bear the consequences.
By recognizing the legitimacy and complexity of LGBTI health issues, we can integrate a more comprehensive understanding of health into our approach to healthcare and public policy. LGBTI health is not a separate issue from Nigerian public health. They are intricately interwoven and we can no longer attempt to distill one from the other. Standing for LGBTI health equity is standing for Nigerian health equity. This involves confronting the homophobia, sexism and transphobia that permeate the culture.
Eradicating homophobia and transphobia from Nigeria’s societal fabric and working towards assessing and addressing the healthcare needs of LGBTI folks are both necessary steps in improving the health of Nigeria as a nation.