How The International Community Helps And Hurts The LGBT Rights Movement In Nigeria

The WorldPride Human Rights Conference 2014 was hosted in Toronto from June 25th - 27th. The conference was hosted in collaboration with pride week celebrations, and it is saw a host of local, national, and international activists, come together to talk about LGBTQ issues. I was honored and humbled to be part of the activists chosen to give a presentation at the conference, where I talked about 'The Criminalization of the Gay Culture in Nigeria'.

In my presentation, I outlined the laws that currently criminalize LGBT persons in Nigeria, Nigeria's history of colonization that led to the institutionalization of homophobia, and effective ways to address the criminalization of homosexuality in Nigeria. I was also a part of the 'Criminal Law and Sodomy' panel and so I had the opportunity to be a part of the discussion of LGBT rights, not just in my country, but in other countries as well.

One very important thing that I learnt from the conference is the extreme delicacy of the issue of LGBT rights in my country, Nigeria, and in other African countries as well. It is uncontroversial to assert that how activists and the international community deal with the issues facing the LGBT community would determine how Nigerians, especially those that condemn homosexuality, would react. One of the most important mediums of dissent that are afforded to the LGBT community in Nigeria is through the international community. The international community has, largely, condemned the laws that seek to imprison LGBT persons, and the homophobic culture that seeks to prosecute LGBT persons, sometimes, at the cost of their lives.

The support from the international community, while very important, is a double-edged sword that both helps and hurts the LGBT rights movement in Nigeria, and presumably, other countries in Africa. The reason why this is the case, is that the anti-LGBT rights movement in Nigeria is not simply a cultural or a criminal issue, it is a nationalistic issue, in a country rife with anti-colonial sentiments. One of the most common and overarching arguments against the practice of homosexuality, is that it is Un-African. A lot of people believe that homosexuality was brought into Nigeria through colonization, and that it is, as such, a Western practice. Even though there is overwhelming historical, anthropological, and linguistic evidence that proves otherwise, a lot of people strongly believe that homosexuality in Un-African, Un-Nigerian.

The question then becomes, how does this work against the local LGBT community in Nigeria. Every time the international community condemns the culture of homophobia in Nigeria and the harsh laws that criminalize homosexuality, the local LGBT community and activists, feel empowered and filled with hope. However, the Nigerian government uses this condemnation in their favour, by telling the Nigerian people that the West is against our way of life and our culture. This infuriates the Nigerian populace and the Nigerian society that is still reeling from the negative effects of colonization, and is continually dealing with an encroaching culture of neocolonialism. So, every time the international community intervenes for the LGBT community in Nigeria, they stir up nationalistic sentiments, that ironically and subsequently, hurts that the LGBT rights movement in Nigeria.

Given the delicacy of the LGBT issue in Nigeria, and the unintended consequences that arise from intervention, should the international community cease all involvement in protesting and responding to harsh laws that criminalize homosexuality? The answer is, a complicated no. Of course the international community should not remain silent while homosexuals are prosecuted in Nigeria, but the international community should also not become the face of the issue. The more the international community makes this issue about them, which they are very good at doing, the more the movement is hurt, and nationalistic sentiments intensified. The struggles that underlie the LGBT community in Nigeria is interconnected to the struggles that underlie other human rights issues, both in Nigeria and the international community. But, with that said, one of the best ways to target the nationalistic anti-gay sentiments in Nigeria, is through familial, communal, and social visibility of homosexuals in Nigeria.

So, the more homosexuals that come out in Nigeria to their family, to their community, and to the Nigerian society, the more homosexuals make themselves visible, and the more the argument that homosexuality in Un-Nigerian is weakened. This of course, is not the only solution, but it is a very good start to combating the cultural issue, together with grass-root education of the Nigerian citizenry. However, the Nigerian society is very hostile to homosexuals, and so in order to come out of the closet, they need time. In the mean time, the international community need to recluse themselves, a bit, from the LGBT movement. They should stand in solidarity with homosexuals in Nigeria, but they should not become the face of their movement.