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LGBT History Month: Whither Nigeria?

Homophobia and transphobia commonplace in the African country

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storm drain, Capital Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

February is LGBT History Month in the U.K. A fellow with the Bisi Alimi Foundation asks whether it could take place in Nigeria, where homophobia and transphobia remain common. (Photo by Ted Eytan; courtesy Flickr)

In the words of famous American television personality and drag queen, RuPaul, “A queen who does not know her ‘her-story’ is destined to repeat it.” This goes without saying that history forgotten will be lost in time.

This piece is inspired by LGBT History Month, which is currently being celebrated this month in the U.K., and the need to recover lost queer history and culture in Nigeria and Africa.

Global Dimension notes that LGBT History Month aims to promote tolerance and raise awareness of the prejudices faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. This celebration began in the U.S. and was first observed in 1994. Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher, believed a month should be dedicated to the celebration and teaching of gay and lesbian history. Other teachers and community leaders selected October because public schools were in session and existing traditions, such as National Coming Out Day, occur that month. The month also coincided with the dates of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights 1979 and the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987.

In the U.K., LGBT History Month is celebrated in February, and first took place in 2005 after Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 which prohibited local authorities from disseminating materials that “promoted homosexuality” in schools was abolished in 2003. Countries such as England, Scotland, Greenland, Brazil and Hungary also celebrate LGBT History Month. And in Berlin, it is celebrated as Queer History Month in the month of February. Australia is the most recent country to join the list of now 26 countries that support LGBT equality and diversity, following the legalization of same-sex marriage on Dec. 7, 2017.

But the question begs to be asked: Whither Nigeria? Is there any hope that Nigeria will one day join the list of countries that support equality and diversity? Is there any hope that one day Nigeria will begin to appreciate the rich diversity of its citizens? Is there any hope that one day, Nigeria, like the other countries, will celebrate a LGBT History Month? Or is it a tall dream; a long walk to freedom?

A 2017 survey by NOI Polls, a Nigeria-based online survey platform, compared attitudes towards LGBT people in Nigeria against a previous 2015 poll. It found a seven percent increase in acceptance of LGBT people, and a nine percent rise to 39 percent of those surveyed, who think that LGBT people should be allowed equal access to public services such as healthcare, education and housing. The poll also showed a four percent increase to 90 percent of Nigerians who support the criminalization of same-sex relationships, and no change in the proportion of Nigerians (90 percent) who believe that the country would be a better place with no LGBT people.

So, is Nigeria ready for a LGBT History Month? Or even a Pride event? Are LGBT persons in Nigeria ready for their legacy? Can they make efforts like their East African sisters in Uganda, who at least organized near-successful Pride Uganda in 2016 and 2017? Or like their Namibian kinfolks who have marched for LGBT equality and acceptance since 2013? History begs to be made! In the words of former Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan: “Will you keep quiet?”

Like its foreign equivalent, LGBT History Month in Nigeria will not come without its oppositions, controversies and criticisms. But who will it hurt? What are the implications? The month, celebrated in other countries is intended to encourage honesty and openness about being LGBT. There is nothing shameful about being LGBT. If LGBT persons are loved and accepted like they deserve, maybe, just maybe, the number of straight women who cry wolf for marrying LGBT partners will reduce to the minimum. Maybe, the rate of domestic violence will reduce. Maybe, the number of young people who commit suicide in Nigeria as a result of being rejected by society, friends and family will reduce.

Maybe the number of LGBT youths at risk of being lynched while they walk on the streets will reduce. Maybe the number of LGBT persons who die as a result of marginalized access to healthcare will reduce. Maybe, the increasing rate of brain drain will reduce. And maybe, the young, talented and industrious LGBT persons who flee this “shithole” to seek asylum in foreign countries as a result of pressure and violence will be encouraged to stay and develop the economy. But Nigeria, being the wicked mother who eats her unborn children in the womb, will not like to see this progress.

And homophobic people would not just stop being homophobic. They claim LGBT persons have an agenda to shove their sexuality down their throats. Dear homophobes, LGBT people do not inconvenience you in anyway; they are not out to choke your existence.

Gay News, Washington Blade, Nigeria

(Photo by Darwinek via Wikimedia)

LGBT people are just tired of begging straight folks for their right to existence. Within every homophobic, biphobic or transphobic person lays internal struggles of fear, hatred or ignorance. If you are bothered about the love between same-gender loving people, take that love to your special prosecutor and investigate it.

And before you begin the stale argument about how homosexuality is un-African, bus tickets to Google are actually free. This is 2018; liberate yourselves and your minds. Ignorance should not be tolerated in 2018. There are historical accounts of pre-colonial queer culture in Nigeria that beg to be remembered. Who knows, these Nigerian queer history and culture should even be taught in secondary schools. But the veils of post-colonial culture and religion would not let you see beyond your present sense of judgment. No! The religion passed down to you would not let you question things that are should be queried.

If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion.

Dear straight folks, LGBT persons are human beings like you. You do not have to be LGBT to show support and love for LGBT people. You do not have to be LGBT to be a humanist. Before you spew that hate speech next time, remember there just might be an LGBT person in your family and among your circle of friends. Do not dehumanize them.

LGBT persons have a history. They have always been around. They have always been in existence. That history begs to be remembered!

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D.C. mayor to lift all restrictions on bars, nightclubs on June 11

‘We will definitely be celebrating Pride’ next month

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Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that she will fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced at a news conference on Monday that a continuing trend of significantly lower numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths in the city has enabled her to fully lift capacity and other restrictions on most businesses, including restaurants and places of worship, on May 21.

The mayor said bars and nightclubs will be allowed to increase indoor capacity from the current 25 percent to 50 percent on May 21, with all capacity restrictions for bars and nightclubs to be removed on June 11.

The mayor’s announcement came after representatives of the city’s nightlife businesses, including the city’s gay bars and restaurants, expressed concern that D.C. had yet to lift its capacity restrictions beyond 25 percent while surrounding jurisdictions in Maryland and Virginia had already lifted most restrictions.

“On May 21, restrictions on public and commercial activity, including capacity limits, types of activities, and time restrictions, will be lifted,” the mayor’s directive says.

It says restrictions for bars and nightclubs would continue at a 50 percent capacity from May 21 through June 11. The directive says restrictions for large sports and entertainment venues would also continue from May 21 to June 11, which includes a requirement such events apply for a waiver of the restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“On June 11, capacity limits and restrictions will be lifted on those venues that cannot fully reopen on May 21,” the directive says.

In response to a question at the news conference, Bowser said the June 11 date would essentially end all restrictions on nightclubs and bars, including the current requirement that they close at midnight rather than the pre-epidemic closing times of 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends.

In a development that could have a major impact on plans for D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride events, the mayor’s revised health directive announced on Monday includes the lifting of all capacity restrictions on large outdoor and indoor sports and entertainment events beginning on June 11.

That change would remove restrictions that have, up until now, prevented D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance from holding its annual Pride Parade and Festival in June during Pride Month.

Capital Pride Executive Director Ryan Bos told the Washington Blade shortly after the mayor’s announcement that Capital Pride is assessing its options for expanding its current plans for in-person events in June.

“We will definitely be celebrating Pride in June,” Bos said. “We just received this information as well. So, we will be getting further information,” he said. “We have not been informed that they will be issuing any permits yet, so at this time we are moving forward with our original plans for doing things.”

Bos was referring to a city requirement for obtaining permits for street closings and use of other public spaces for events such as a parade or street festival. He said existing plans, among other things, call for an informal parade of cars and other vehicles on June 12 that will drive throughout the city to view homes and businesses that will be decorated with Pride displays such as signs, photos, and other symbols of Pride.

Those familiar with the city’s past Pride events don’t think there will be enough time for Capital Pride to organize the traditional large parade and street festival in time for June. But Capital Pride officials have talked about holding a possible parade and festival in October, and the lifting of the capacity restrictions announced by Bowser on Monday would likely make that possible.

In addition to lifting all capacity restrictions on May 21 for restaurants, the mayor’s May 21 timeframe for lifting restrictions includes these additional venues and events:

  • Weddings and special events
  • Business meetings and seated conventions
  • Places of worship
  • Non-essential retail
  • Personal services
  • Private at-home gatherings
  • Libraries, museums, galleries
  • Recreation Centers
  • Gyms and fitness centers
  • Pools
  • Office space
  • Schools
  • Childcare

“We’re very pleased that over the last several days, we have seen our case spread, our community spread numbers, venture out of the red into the yellow and fast approaching the green,” Bowser said in referring to a health department chart that shows the changes in coronavirus cases in the city.

“You might remember that our daily case rate peaked in January at 45.9. And today you can see it’s down to 6.6,” she said at her news conference on Monday.

“Throughout this process I have said how proud I am of D.C. residents and businesses who have responded, who have followed health guidance and have worked together to help protect our community throughout the pandemic. And we see it in these numbers today,” she said.

“Containing the virus will continue to require all of us to be focused on maintaining a robust health system,” the mayor said, adding that while over 200,000 D.C. residents have been fully vaccinated since December 2020, “many more thousands” still need to be vaccinated. “Vaccines are free and available on demand at walk-up sites across the District,” she said.

The mayor also noted that the city will continue to require residents and visitors to use a mask in accordance with existing and updated guidance set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mark Lee, coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, an association that represents restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment venues, said the mayor’s directive on May 10 leaves some details to be addressed but will open the way to bring nightlife businesses back to life.

“What we do know is that on Friday, May 21, businesses begin returning to normal operations and, three weeks later, on June 11, all restrictions for all businesses in the District will end,” Lee said. “It’s a day we’ve long awaited and one that will save much of our community enterprise from financial ruin.”

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Family code bill to be introduced in Cuban Parliament in July

CENESEX made announcement during May 4 press conference

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Mariela Castro at a CENESEX press conference

 

Tremenda Nota is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Cuba. A Spanish version of this story was published on May 6.

HAVANA — The National Center for Sexual Education on May 4 during a press conference in which it unveiled the program for the 14th annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia events in Cuba announced a bill to amend the family code will be introduced in Parliament in July.

CENESEX Director Mariela Castro Espín said during a meeting with official and foreign media outlets at the International Press Center that this year’s events are part of the process of amending the family code.

She added that this legal change will reflect several rights guaranteed in the constitution, which is why it is necessary to sensitize and educate the Cuban population to avoid prejudice and discrimination.

“I was able to appreciate that the majority of the population … is in favor of recognizing the rights of LGBTI+ people and especially the rights in the family sphere that include the possibility, the option, of marriage,” said Mariela Castro during the press conference.

The official referred to the results of the National Survey on Gender Equality in Cuba, conducted in 2016 and published in 2019. According to this official study, 77 percent of the Cuban population between 15 and 74-years-old said that gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people should have the same rights as any other citizen.

CENESEX’s director, however, did not use this information in the 2018 parliamentary debates sparked by Article 68 of the bill to amend the constitution. The idea that it was not the appropriate time to implement same-gender marriage in Cuba eventually won out.

Mariela Castro told Tremenda Nota a few days before the referendum in which Cuban voters approved the current constitution that she was aware of the survey, but she did not explain why she did not use the data it revealed as an argument (in favor of marriage equality.)

“It was a wasted tool that now we can only use in the next referendum,” then-MP Luis Ángel Adán Roble told Tremenda Nota during a February 2019 interview, as did Mariela Castro.

The moment that Adán Roble mentioned has arrived.

It became known during the May 4 press conference that the family code will be introduced in the scheduled parliamentary session in July. The Council of State on March 22 appointed a commission that will be in charge of preparing the bill, but the list of its members was not made public until April 30. None of them are openly LGBTI+.

Activists over the last few weeks have demanded that Parliament reveal the identities of those who make up the commission and the deadline they have to prevent the Family Code. The May 4 press conference resolved the last outstanding point.

The Cuban IDAHOBiT program

Mariela Castro and CENESEX Deputy Director Manuel Vázquez Seijido explained that numerous activities with the goal of making visible and fighting against all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will virtually take place from May 4 through May 30.

The IDAHOBiT events in Cuba have a program that includes academic dialogue, social activism and artistic presentations from virtual spaces.

Forum debates are among the activities. The Juventud Rebelde newspaper will host the first one with the theme “Deconstructing myths around same-sex families and partners” and Cubadebate will hold the second called “Constitution and Sexual Rights in Cuba: Progress and Main challenges.”

They also announced at the press conference the books “Paquito el de Cuba: A Decade of Online Activism” and “Non-Heteronormative Sexualities and Gender Identities. Tensions and Challenges for Human Rights” will be presented.

There will be virtual panels titled “Diverse Families: Histories of Non-Hegemonic Lives,” “National Program for the Advancement of Women: Opportunities to Confront Homophobia and Transphobia,” “Keys for Inclusive Communication” and “Sexual Rights and Religious Fundamentalisms.”

Castro Espín explained that CENESEX will use its social media accounts to promote the program, contribute to the sexual education of Cubans and the recognition of rights for all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

A show against homophobia and transphobia that will officially end the events will be broadcast on social media and on television.

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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