Thirty-eight countries in Africa have laws criminalizing homosexuality, some with the death penalty, and many more with harsh jail sentences, including Nigeria. By far it’s the continent with the worst laws when it comes to homosexuality and other sexual minorities, a phenomenon which is in part rooted on bad colonial-era laws, religious autonomy, strong negative belief in traditional and family values.
More than 50% of African governments have taken steps to formally criminalise same-sex unions, whilst the most profound is the current 2009 Anti-Homosexual Bill in Uganda. Recent cases of criminalisation of same-sex unions in Africa including harassment, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture and humiliation, include Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, Comoros, Botswana, Swaziland, Senegal, Central Africa Republic, Congo, Cameroon, Gambia, Burundi, Kenya and Algeria. There is no part of Africa with equality laws where criminalisation, capital punishment and honour killing on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity has not been highlighted in the last few decades. These abuses are happening and it must stop.
Homosexuality is no more a choice than race, gender and ethnicity. Sadly, there is a lack of education on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Nigeria. There are no protective laws for homosexuality or those living an “alternate” lifestyle. What we are dealing with today is the prejudice of civil society, religious obscurity and discrimination.
Homosexuality in Nigeria has been blamed on Western European influence and colonialism. It has also been blamed on the radical intervention of technology. Homosexuality has been present in the African culture throughout history. In many African societies it is not uncommon to acknowledge same sex unions, unfortunately, modern sceptics are leaning to a narrow understanding of same sex desire in Africa thereby ignoring factual history.
The popularity of gay rights and advocacy for the social status of same sex union in Europe and North America has provoked politicians and governments in Africa to react. There have been many voices in the continent that dehumanise same sex relationships. The Nigerian anti-gay bill had the blessing of the Nigerian Anglican Church as well as the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo who stated that homosexual practice “is clearly unbiblical, unnatural and definitely unAfrican.” It is the hope of Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) Nigerians that the new government will fulfil its promise of fairness and democracy.
Stigmatising and victimising
Popular religious communities especially Christianity and Islam have failed in many ways to embody and recognise the humanity of same gender loving people, they have increasingly added to the furore of scepticism by using the religious platforms and podium to stigmatise, victimise and alienate homosexuals.
House of Rainbow Fellowship in Nigeria, a Christian movement for Queer Christians and the Inner Circle in South Africa, an Islamic movement for Queer Muslims, both continue to promote an inclusive and liberal interpretation of Holy Scriptures which includes homosexuality.
Historically, Africa has always been the most friendly and tolerant continent, homosexuality and same gender behaviour dates back to time before colonialism and the intervention of religion. The arrival of colonialism contributed to the mass hatred. The influence of religious fundamentalism contributed to the argument for homophobia even though Christianity encourages, “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” Sadly this concept has been abandoned for the sake of hate missions condoned by religious leaders. Such examples can be found in countries like Botswana, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi where the churches, mosques and other popular religious communities are aiding and abetting their governments to pass laws that would criminalise homosexuality and some as far as the death penalty.
Freedom fighters often lose every protection to their own lives, Jesus was the most compassionate pastor and leading activist, he spoke against injustice and protected the vulnerable ones. Many people in history have done likewise, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Troy D. Perry, Gene Robinson, Yvette Flunder, and many more.
Religion is a beautiful concept and only when people hold religion as a place of sanctuary for those forced to the margin of society then we can appreciate religion. The homophobic religion is adverse and fundamental in nature, not pertained in the original concept of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. It is sad to say that gay and lesbian people today avoid the church and the mosque and thus are losing out on the opportunity to welcome all of God’s children. Homosexuality is not a sin, therefore it is not a choice, but hatred is a sin as it is a choice.
Nigerian Criminal Code: Section 217 “Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony, and is liable to imprisonment for three years.”
Politicians fail when they collude with religious fanatics against the human rights of LGBTI people, until the last colonial penal code is removed from the laws of Nigeria, and government is empowered to understand the rights of sexual minorities, homosexuals in Nigeria will not experience peace.
Rowland Jide Macaulay is the founding pastor of House of Rainbow Fellowship, an inclusive and affirming religious community open to all people including lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. Rowland is an inspirational speaker, author, poet and holds degrees in law and theology. He focuses on inclusion and reconciliation of sexuality, spirituality and human rights.
For more information on House Of Rainbow Fellowship, visit www.houseofrainbow.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org