February 22, 2018 at 6:00 pm EST | by Peter Okeugo
LGBT History Month: Whither Nigeria?

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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!

Peter Okeugo is a Nigerian journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. He is a 2018 Media Justice Fellow of the Bisi Alimi Foundation.

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