FEATURE-LGBTQ+ Nigerians celebrate Pride Month in defiance of anti-gay law

* Homosexual relationships and clubs are prohibited under Nigerian law. * Pride parties are held behind closed doors

* LGBTQ+ online visibility that helps change attitudes By Pelumi Salako

YouTuber Victor Emmanuel knows firsthand how tough life is for openly gay people in Nigeria, where LGBTQ+ relationships and even same-sex displays of affection are illegal. Last year, he was kidnapped by seven men who blackmailed, blackmailed and tortured him for two days in an attack that has left him constantly looking over his shoulder.

“It’s living with the fear of possible death or imprisonment for who I am. You have to constantly declare your existence,” said Emmanuel, who dropped out of university after the attack. This month, however, he will attend LGBTQ+ Pride events in Lagos, where activists band together to celebrate and share stories that defy laws and conservative societal norms that limit their rights and self-expression.

“Pride Month means a month to celebrate my queerness because most of the month I fight, struggle and push back on society,” said Emmanuel, a 24-year-old who runs the For Fags Sake YouTube channel about Nigerians operates LGBTQ+ issues. “I can sit there and celebrate.”

Nigeria is a deeply religious country, with many rejecting homosexuality as a corrupting Western import. In 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed, banning not only gay relationships but also all public displays of same-sex affection or membership in LGBTQ+ groups with penalties of up to 14 years in prison.

Gay sex is illegal in more than half of African countries, according to global LGBTQ+ rights tracker Equaldex, although Gabon, Kenya and Botswana have all decriminalized same-sex relationships in recent years. But despite the risks, activists are urging to speak out and call for change this June, a month marked by LGBTQ+ pride rallies and parties around the world.

Nigerian LGBTQ+ events have increased in number and size in recent years, although they remain behind closed doors for security and legal reasons. This year’s celebrations center around the week-long event, Pride in Lagos, which will include art exhibitions, a drag contest and a ball.

“(It) was born out of the need for Pride to exist,” said event organizer Olaide Kayode Timileyin. “It’s meant to express the fact that there are LGBT+ people in Lagos.”

INCREASING VISIBILITY Although there have been no convictions under the same-sex marriage law, human rights groups and activists say it has effectively sanctioned abuse of LGBTQ+ people and encouraged both police officers and members of the public to carry out attacks.

The legislation amounts to “carefully engineered state violence” that “exacerbates queerphobia and prevents us from having a community,” said Kayode Ani Somtochukwu, founder of the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST). The Justice Department and police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In 2018, a group of 47 men were arrested and later charged with allegedly joining a gay club, in a case that drew international attention and was widely seen as a test of the law. The men said they were at a birthday party and the case was dropped by a judge for “a lack of diligent prosecution”.

But LGBTQ+ people are becoming more vocal and visible, and the internet is making room for gay-friendly films, talk shows and websites. Because rights groups are barred from formal registration as an organization under the Same-Sex Marriage Act, most organizing and support groups take place online.

Activists held the first in-person protest for LGBTQ+ rights this year, held in the capital Abuja in May. GROWING ACCEPTANCE

There is little prospect of the same-sex marriage law being repealed anytime soon due to a lack of support from lawmakers, said Obinna Okoronkwo, an attorney with Templar law firm. “The only measure that can overrule this law is an act of the National Assembly,” he said.

Polls suggest that attitudes are slowly changing, although hostility remains the order of the day. Activists say increasing online visibility is helping to build acceptance, especially among younger generations. About 60% of Nigerians said they would not accept an LGBTQ+ family member, compared to 83% in 2017, according to a 2019 survey commissioned by Nigerian rights group Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs). Three-quarters of respondents said they support the same-sex marriage (ban) law, but that figure has fallen 12% in four years, she found.

“Technology has helped increase the visibility of LGBTQI+ people,” said Remi Makinde, Managing Director of TIERs. “Being able to express yourself freely in a very repressive world helps educate (people) about accepting queer people in the country.”

Activists continue to hope for change, and YouTuber Emmanuel said he’s hoping for “queer liberation” within the next few years. “Before we organized the protest in Abuja, many people believed that this could not happen,” Somtochukwu added.

“We’re just getting started… If we don’t fight for (rights), it’s not going to happen.”

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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