NIGERIAN LGBTI IN DIASPORA AGAINST ANTI-SAME SEX LAWS
Coordinator Yemisi Ilesanmi- firstname.lastname@example.org,
Davis Mac-Iyalla – email@example.com, John Adewoye- firstname.lastname@example.org
At 10.00am on Monday, October 31, 2011, at the National Assembly gate, I met and introduced myself to members of Nigerian LGBT coalition and informed them I was there to present the position paper of Nigerian LGBTI in Diaspora Against Anti Same Sex Laws but I was told the paper has been assigned to another person to present.
We entered the hearing room together as a group around 11:00am; a few of us were able to find seats while the others had to stand at the back of the room. The Same Sex Marriage bill was heard simultaneously with the Prisoners’ transfer bill which caused some interludes that affected the flow and cohesion of the hearing. Some speakers from the supporters of the bill were given the floor before an opportunity was finally given to members of the LGBT coalition to speak.
After a few minutes of what appeared to be a state of confusion amongst the group members, a lady from the LGBT coalition stepped forward to present the position paper of Nigeria LGBTI in Diaspora Against Same Sex Laws. She was interjected many times by different religious and other homophobic groups present in the room with the aim to bully and humiliate her. She bravely carried on with the presentation of the paper amidst all the distractions. However, she was soon overwhelmed by the unruly crowd and eventually broke down in tears. She managed to finish the presentation amidst abuses and offensive calls mostly from religious groups present. The senators immediately assailed her with so many questions without giving her any space to catch her breath. Many of the questions asked were irrelevant and mostly intended to humiliate her; in fact many of the questions would pass as hate comments in any civilized country. Some of the questions asked by the senators were “Do you believe in God?” “Are you a lesbian?” “Do you know that homosexuality was imported from the western world to Africa?” Her response that she is a Catholic generated a lot of unprintable remarks.
Catholic lawyers’ group position paper was presented by an elderly woman who disregarded all decency and insisted that homosexuals are mentally deranged people. She stated that homosexuals who claimed to be Catholic members are abomination and should be ex-communicated. She said with so much confidence and insult that no one in the room would openly identify as a homosexual and the room fell silent, it was at this point that I stood up and said that I am a gay and proud to be! The cameras immediately focused on me, the religious groups started screaming abuses and hate filled words, however when I looked around to see how many of my fellow crusaders were also on their feet, I was disappointed that there was none that I could see! However, on another occasion during the hearing, when this question was thrown again, I stood up again but this time, when I looked around, I saw other four courageous faces standing confidently on their feet!
There was a great disparity in allotted time. A significant number of speakers from groups who were in support of the bill were called to make a presentation but only two speakers were called from the Nigerian LGBT coalition. Amongst those who spoke in favour of the bill were representative of the Inspector General of Nigeria police force, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and many representatives from religious groups. The only other presenter allowed to speak against the bill was also met with hostility from the lawmakers and the homophobic audience.
I was disappointed that amongst the almost 30 members of the LGBT coalition present, only five persons could openly identify as homosexuals. I believe that if all members of the group had stood up proudly, it could have challenged the arrogant assumption of the religious groups present that none would dare identify as homosexuals. I was even more disappointed when I raised this observation during the meeting of the coalition after the public hearing, and almost everyone present said or agreed that they would not dare stand up as homosexuals under such wide coverage for fear of their family and friends tagging them as homosexuals and the stigma attached to such a tag.
It is correct to conclude that the public hearing on the Same Sex marriage bill was conducted in a manner highly discriminatory against the Nigerian LGBT community. I am also of the opinion that although the hearing was highly prejudiced, the Nigerian LGBT coalition group could have made a better impact if not for the noticeable lack of organization within the group. This not only affected the group’s efforts but was also capitalized on by the supporters of the bill. Also noticeable was the fact that many of the members were not comfortable with coming out and identifying as homosexuals, a fact which the religious groups and Senators promptly played to their own advantage.
Nigerian LGBT in Diaspora Against Anti Same Sex Laws hereby expressly condemn the undemocratic manner the public hearing was conducted. We are disappointed at the unruly behavior of religious groups at the hearing and wish to remind everyone that Nigeria is a secular state, therefore justifying a bill on religious grounds is undemocratic. The senators violated the fundamental rights of LGBT activists by condoning abuses directed at the activists and also encouraging religious questions which were out of order in a democratic setting like the National Assembly.
We salute the efforts of LGBT coalition members and wished to thank the brave lady who read our group’s position paper. Nigerian LGBTI in Diaspora Against Anti-Same Sex Laws will continue to demand the decriminalization of all Anti Same Sex Laws in Nigeria. We urge all Nigerians LGBTI, home and abroad to proudly stand up and oppose this bill and demand total decriminalization of anti same sex laws. We call on the support of the International community.