History was made in Abuja on May Day. For the first time in Nigeria, the LGBTQ community organized a demonstration against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The immediate spark for this action is the ongoing discussion in parliament to amend the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) by broadening it to include the criminalization of cross-dressing.
About 50 in number, the protesters were armed with placards and a deep conviction of the need to stand up for their rights. They danced and chanted slogans, some of which were also on the placards. These included: “queer lives matter,” “Nigeria is our home, and we refuse to be subdued in our country,” “trans lives matter,” and “queer rights are human rights.”
They also mobilized on social media. Victor (Vicwonder) Emmanuel, who anchors the For Fags Sake YouTube channel, echoed the spirit of defiance on Twitter when he announced, “We just started the March! This is the first open queer protest in Nigeria!”
Kayode Somtochukwu, expressed the minds of the LGBTQ+ community against systemic discrimination when he addressed the rally. He said; “we have had enough of this, we say no, we say queer lives matter” He further stressed the implications of the SSMPA, including the proposed amendment, in an interview he granted Pink News at the protest ground:
“People will lose their jobs; they will have their lives put in danger, they might have to move, their landlords might kick them out because there are no discrimination protections for queer people in Nigeria.”
And he added that “if this law actually passes, it will increase levels of violence, and it will encourage prejudice and discrimination from our family members and in the workplace.”
The anti-gay law is a distraction playing on the reactionary hold of homophobic sentiments on the popular imagination in society, which was entrenched during colonial rule. The politicians are merely scapegoating sexual minorities to hide their utter incompetence, corruption, and anti-poor, self-serving politics.
A banner that the protesters carried demanded: “let’s focus on discriminatory legislation, growing insecurity, injustice, inequality, food security, high electricity tariff, epileptic power supply….”
These are substantial burdens that the working masses face daily. These are the issues that our so-called “leaders” should be concerned with, and not what people wear, how people dress, or their sexual orientation.
SWL has added its voice to the LGBTQ+ community’s opposition to the amendment bill and the SSMPA in its entirety. And we urge activists and radical groups to join in saying no to the bill by signing the opposition statement.
We cannot claim to stand for a radical or revolutionary transformation of our society if we do not defend the fundamental human rights of queer people. We must counter the government and also the politically backward ideas that LGBTQ+ rights are any less legitimate than any other human right.
It is instructive that the slogan #QueerLivesMatter started gaining traction during the #EndSARS Rebellion. Moments of revolution or revolts are festivals of the oppressed. But even within the ranks of the oppressed masses which stood up against police brutality, queer people faced attacks. They, however, refused to surrender the high ground of standing up for their rights.
There are activists who would revert to some assumed African cultural particularism against sexual minorities. Some people even invoke religion. And we then hear tales by moonlight that LGBTQ rights might go down well with Western culture but not African culture.
These claims are baseless. Homophobia was an importation into Africa by the pious Victorian-era British colonizers. Respect for LGBTQ+ rights in the West was not something built into the fabric of Western societies or graciously given.
People fought to win these rights. As late as the 1950s and 1960s, it was illegal to be queer in the United States, Britain, and across the Western world. And police raided the queer community with impunity. This crackdown on LGBTQ+ people was part of a broader crackdown of the ruling class and its coercive machinery on radical ideas and movements, including socialists.
It took courage, persistence and several battles, such as the Stonewall rebellion of 1969 against police brutalization of queer people, for LGBTQ+ rights to be won and respected. Socialists and all consistently radical forces in those societies supported those struggles then, as we all should now in Nigeria.
We salute the boldness demonstrated by the May Day Queer Lives Matter protest. LGBTQ+ activists face attacks even in everyday life. Vicwonder was recently catfished online, kidnapped, and assaulted for his sexual orientation, but remains unbowed. And Kayode has been inundated with death threats and violent messages in the wake of the protest.
But freedom comes only with tenacious struggle. The queer community took a significant step forward in the struggle for the rights of sexual minorities on 1 May. The struggle continues until victory is won.
This is a struggle that all people who genuinely, without any reservation, stand for the emancipation of all oppressed and marginalized people, must support – irrespective of your sexual orientation.
by Baba AYE