In many parts of the world, Pride Month means the celebration of significant strides in the advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. In the US, festivities throughout June commemorate the Stonewall Riots and numerous cities the world over are draped in colorful banners and flags, while grand parades, festivals, parties, and rallies flood the streets. Even brands like Nike, Oreo scramble to show their support for the pride movement by fostering seemingly inclusive campaigns and products targeted at LGBTQ+ communities (albeit many with criticisms of rainbow-washing, although that’s another story for another time).
In Nigeria, the largest black nation in the world, much of this positive energy is diluted or even totally absent.
Pride Month is the stolen meat that must be eaten in secret so as to avoid getting caught…
The LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria is one built on defiance and hope while being shrouded in the fearful realities of existing in a nation that openly supports and promotes systemic discrimination and violence against queer people.
For LGBTQ+ Nigerians, pride isn't the inclusive and colorful display that pride parades are known for in other parts of the world. It is, instead, a reminder of the existing hurdles and battles that the LGBTQ+ community faces on a daily basis. For many, existing in a country that views same-sex relationships as a Westernized social construct or an anomaly, redeemable only by strict sanctions and religious practices, can be exhausting.
In 2014, Nigeria made a significant move against homosexuality when same-sex marriages were criminalized under the laws of the nation, making it punishable by a term of 14 years imprisonment. Similarly, the law prescribes a term of 10 years imprisonment for a person who registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, and organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria.
What is happening in Nigeria is not an isolated situation on the continent. LGBTQ+ communities in several countries in Africa face the same kind of prosecution as those in Nigeria. Most countries in Africa have legislation that criminalizes consensual same-sex marriages to one extent or the other. Only recently, Nigeria’s neighbor Ghana reportedly refused to grant bail for 21 LGBTQ+ rights activists that have been detained since May.
The October 2020 #EndSars protest (organized in response to years of police brutality in parts of Nigeria) was one of the rare instances where queer people brazenly damned the consequences and implications of open protest to fight for equal rights in a nation that has shown consistent apathy towards their existence (not to speak of their rights). With placards in their hands and their identities visible in the media, queer individuals stormed the streets in a daring move to make their case known to the world. What did they get in return? Backlash and suppression – and not just from the government, from heterosexual individuals as well.
Despite the risk of being prosecuted, or in other unfortunate circumstances, much worse, simply because of their sexual orientation, queer people are still championing their cause for equality, visibility and dignity. The movement, which is finds a platform mostly on social media (traditional media is heavily regulated by the government), strives to create awareness for the growing communities of LGBTQ+ persons. Social media provides a semi-safe space for the message of inclusivity to be passed without the threat of physical harassment.
Some LGBTQ+ persons have even gone as far as building platforms for themselves and garnering support for their cause by simply making themselves visible. A Nigerian YouTuber, Amara the lesbian, is one of the many queer people bringing visibility to the LGBTQ+ cause by speaking on peculiar, daily discriminations that queer people face in Nigeria. Something as simple as getting an apartment could turn into a long, drawn-out process when house owners learn of one’s sexual orientation.
Bisi Alimi is another notable Nigerian queer individual that has been visibly fighting for gay rights in the country. He has appeared on several international media platforms including CNN and he runs a foundation, The Bisi Alimi Foundation, that seeks to accelerate the acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in Nigeria.
The celebration of Pride In Nigeria may only exist on social media and online because of the life-threatening realities of living in a predominantly homophobic country. However, the heart of the movement, which promotes dignity, self-affirmation, equality, and increased visibility for queer people, exists proudly amongst LGBTQ+ communities in Nigeria.
By harnessing the power of social media, a new generation of queer Nigerians have been able to not only celebrate their existence but also build platforms that advocate strongly for a life free of discrimination.
They have carved out communities that provide support, care and that create awareness in a society that hasn’t been kind to them.
As the support for gay rights increases in Nigeria over the years, queer people are indeed hopeful that things will change. Maybe a colorful cluster of rainbow-themed parades and rallies will be visible on the streets of the country in the near future. While they hold on to hope, they continue to bring awareness to the LGBTQ+ movement and advocate for an inclusive society that protects their fundamental human rights to exist freely and express themselves without the fear of discrimination or harassment.