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May 20 2013

The Deafening Silence of Nigerian Left on the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill and Lgbti Rights

On October 31, 2011, at the senate house in Abuja, many religious groups mostly Christians from the Catholics and Anglican denominations were mobilized to support the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition bill titled “An Act To Prohibit Marriage Between Persons Of Same Gender, Solemnization Of Same And For Other Matters Related Therewith”. The majority, religious homophobic groups showed up_45557832_gay_shirts_226 with placards and t-shirts emblazoned with hate words. It was a macabre dance of the majority and rich oppressors against the few voiceless minorities.  Children that were supposed to be in school were dragged to the public hearing as part of the homophobic crowd. The hate is already been fed to the next generation and yes, some of these children wearing these t-shirts today would grow up to discover that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or Trans. I cannot even begin to imagine the trauma this would cause them in future. 

 The angry, religious, homophobic mob and the not so bright selected senators at the public hearing rained abuses on the few Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transsexuals and human rights activists at the hearing. These activists had come to defend their human rights and point out how the bill violates their rights as Nigerian citizens, they were hardly given the opportunity to speak as they were constantly booed and shouted down.

Senators asked the few activists who presented papers inappropriate questions like:

“What is your religion?”

“Can you openly stand up right now and identify yourself as gay or lesbian?”

The few that stood up were further booed and humiliated by the senators and the homoph338200_2116761727337_1494540329_31789395_1105197553_oobic majority in the house. The senators violated the rights of the protesters by asking them to stand up and identify their sexual orientation or religious affiliation. It was supposed to be a parliamentary room not a guillotine room. 

Homophobes want sexual minorities to identify themselves publicly, and when they don’t , they claim LGBTs are ashamed because they know they are perverts. This discriminatory action of Nigerian lawmakers could be likened to Hitler asking Jews to stand up and identify themselves during the holocaust.  Homosexuals are now the target of hate and ignorance. Once upon a time, not so long ago, blacks were called niggers and considered only fit to be slaves,  Jews were considered sub-human, women were classified as property, now homosexuals are called faggots and considered only fit to be thrown in jail or stoned. 

Majority and class oppression manifest in all society, only the enlightened help to bring sanity, logic and democracy to the society.

Outside the hearing, the homophobic religious groups gathered round the few activists and threatened to beat them up. While I was getting all these reports, I couldn’t help but wonder:

“Where is the Nigerian left?” Where are the “progressives”? Where are the human rights defenders?

 Was it a case of ‘OCCUP972034_10151619091942948_1354672293_nY SENATE HOUSE’, only this time the 99% are the oppressors and the 1%, the oppressed? Of course there was conspicuous absence of the human right defenders, leftists and progressives who refused to OCCUPY or cover the show!

 This brought home to me what I have since termed the deafening silence of the Nigerian Left on LGBTI rights. The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and Intersex not to be discriminated against are not yet considered human rights by Nigerian Left, Progressives, and human rights defenders.

 In the course of my advocacy for LGBT rights, I have lost many “comrades” as friends, many called me unpalatable names and many used hate speech to describe gays and lesbians. Some claim it is not the right time to engage in this debate or fight for sexual minority because there are more important issues to be tackled like unemployment, removal of fuel subsidy and corruption. I wonder how the Right to Life and Right to be free from Discrimination could be termed as unimportant by activists.  Also disturbing is the fact that few progressives that supported LGBTI rights and signed the online petition I created against the bill,  were bullied by the “elite” leftists, our so called ‘senior comrades’  chastised them and claimed they are losing focus!

 Now, let us analyze this issue, let us have an open debate devoid of name-calling and attacks on personalities.

 Are we evolved enough as human and progressives to look beyond Heteronormativity and norms of today to envision the progress of our society and human race?

Are many Nigerian leftists and progressives still restrained under the shackles of religion and “culture”, that they cannot recognize their own prejudice against an oppressed minority?

 Do we only choose to fight a struggle that is “Mass based”, a majority support base that oppressed LGBT Nigerians do not have?

 Or are we just silenced by our ignorance on the issues involved?323110_305668739459190_122256581133741_1263217_1258111904_o cropped

 It is indeed sad that sexual orientation is not a topic of research taught in Nigerian schools; in fact sex education is hardly a comfortable topic in schools and a taboo topic in many Nigerian homes. Sexual orientation is something we are all born with, many researchers, doctors, psychologists and scientists have done enough research on the topic and have come to the conclusion backed by indisputable evidence that sexual orientation is not a choice, it is not a disease, it is not a disorder but just like skin colour, left handedness, eye colour, we are born with our sexual orientation. 

Sexual orientation describes a pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them. By the convention of organized researchers, these attractions are subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality.

The consensus among scholars is that sexual orientation is not a choice.  It is therefore important to note that this bill aims to punish people for what is essentially not their making. It is like punishing a black person for being black, punishing a left-handed child because he or she cannot write with the right hand or punishing a baby girl for her birth sex. This you will all agree with me is unfair and inhuman.

 Sexual minorities are more at risk on social, economic and political issues. Self-identified gays or even persons suspected to be gay are more likely to lose their jobs, get a quit notice from their landlord, be ostracized by family and friends, refused treatment by doctors and likely to be denied the right to education as some of us witnessed in the case of a transsexual who was bullied in University of Ife, discriminated against and eventually kicked out of school for her gender identification and “gayness”. What did the Great Ife student union activists do to protect the right to education of this young Nigerian whose future was left in peril because she had the courage to be who she is, a Male to female (MTF) transsexual? I am glad to say that the then victimized “Young guy” is now a fully transitioned beautiful woman, living free of discrimination in a more accepting, tolerant, advanced and socialist inclined country.gay-rights

  Many of us joined the struggle as student union and human right activists. We identified with socialists objectives, we joined socialist groups, and labour movements because we believe everyone has a right to decent living, rights of workers to decent wages and the power of workers to break oppressive rule. We organized, joined and participated in human rights and workers protest because we believe in the right not to be discriminated against. We risked bullets, we were tear gassed and ended up in detentions on many occasions because we believe we must stand up for our human rights, like Fela famously sang, “human rights na my property, therefore you can’t dash me my property” . new pixel 2.1

I identify as a socialist, human right activist, labour activist, atheist and as bisexual but above all, I am a person and none of these tags makes me more or less human.  Why is it so difficult for many comrades to rise above sentiments and be objective in their approach to issues? Yes we must fight for the masses, but all mass based causes also affect sexual minorities, even more so.

Are the Nigerian left and progressive afraid to identify with an oppressed minority because it is not a popular cause? What happened to equal rights and justice for all? Or is that a fairy tale spurned by capitalists?

socialism-3This debate we have not even started having in the Nigerian Left and progressives was debated decades ago by Socialist founders and advocates across the globe.  After the February 1917 Russian Revolution under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, the USSR abolished previous laws against homosexuality. 

The lowest point in the history of the relationship between socialism and homosexuality undoubtedly begins with the rise of Joseph Stalin in the USSR, after Lenin’s death, and continues through the era of state communism in the USSR, East Germany, China and North Korea. In all cases, the conditions of sexual minorities, including transgender people, worsened in communist states after the arrival of Stalin. Hundreds of thousands of homosexuals were interned in gulags during the Great Purge, where many were beaten to death. Some Western intellectuals withdrew their support of Communism after seeing the severity of repression in the USSR. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism_and_LGBT_rights

 Socialist Alternative (SA) is a Trotskyite political organisation in Australia. It has the largest active membership on the Australian far Left. Its membership is active in the trade union and student union movements. SA is most visible in student politics, on university campuses and through the National Union of Students, including their participation in campaigns such as those supporting same-sex marriages.

 In Cuba, private, non-commercial sexual relations between same-sex consenting adult 16 and over have been legal since 1979. Fidel Castro was quoted as saying that he is ultimately responsible for the persecution suffered by homosexuals in Cuba after the revolution of 1959 and he publicly apologized for this.ChewithCigar

The former president and revered socialist Icon admitted that there were moments of great injustice against the gay community. In the 1960s and 70s, many homosexuals in Cuba were fired, imprisoned or sent to “re-education camps”. Mr Castro said homosexuals had traditionally been discriminated in Cuba, just as black people and women. But, nevertheless, he admits he didn’t pay enough attention to what was going on against the gay community. Are the Nigerian Left groups and progressives repeating the same mistake?

South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and on 1 December 2006 South Africa made history by becoming the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to legalise same-sex marriage.

I am a fan of Friedrich Engels book ‘The origin of Family, Private property and the State’. It SDC15088was an eye opener on the Origin of Marriage and its political use, just like religion was and is still used by the state and politicians to control human resources and the minds of believers. Even though I support the right to marry, I am not a fan of the marriage institution. 

I am not interested in same sex or heterosexual marriage, but I recognize that  people have a right to choose and if I changed my mind about marriage, I would like my choice respected.  I acknowledged that whatever my personal reservations on marriage, it would be wrong to prevent consenting adults from coming together in a monogamous, polygamous, polyandry, heterosexual, homosexual, civil partnership or Marriage. It is not my business and it should not be the business of the law.

 It is indeed sad that many Nigerians including Nigerian self-identified progressives still compare violent crimes like Rape and Pedophilia to homosexuality. How can we compare a harmful action with consenting, non harmful relationship between same-sex adults? Rape is the act of forcing someone into having sex without consent; it is a sexual assault, in most cases a violent act. Pedophilia is the act of having sexual intercourse with a child. An underage cannot legally consent to sex. What possible similarity do two consenting adults who want to share their life together have with a pedophile that entraps a child into an underage sexual relationship? Same Sex relationships are emotional sexual relationships between consenting adults of the same sex. How does such make the consenting adults rapist or pedophile?

 Sodomy law is a relic from British colonization. The British parliament and many of its former colonies e.g. Canada, Australia, South Africa and India have since repealed the law. Why is Nigeria clinging and seeking to strengthen this antiquated and erroneous law through the proposed Anti-same sex relationship bill? 

The argument that any sexual act or relationship that deviates from the standard heterosexual norm is against Afr326924_2116765247425_1494540329_31789398_184925909_oican culture is using “culture” to sanction the erasure of dialogue about alternative sexualities and to condone homophobia, therefore constituting a form of cultural violence. A society that stifles sexual and gender identities discourages the recognition of human dignity. LGBTI rights are human rights.


Fundamental human rights of sexual minorities are violated daily because of criminalization of same sex relationship and societal prejudice. The proposed bill violates fundamental human rights that are guaranteed under the Nigerian c
onstitution and various human rights regional and international laws and agreements that Nigeria have ratified.

Also, the bill would lead to political and social harassment of people for their actual or imputed sexual orientation. It would also stifle freedom of expression and association through the proposed ban on organizations that support Lesbians and gay rights. Individuals, general society and institutions including the police would use it as a license to intimidate and harass citizens based on their actual or suspected sexual orientation.

Nigerian Senators all voted to pass the Anti Same Sex Marriage bill, the House of Representatives has indicated its intention to unanimously vote to pass this homophobic bill as a gift to Nigerian299982_301756973183700_122256581133741_1248781_731715811_ns. 

 Can the Nigerian left really afford to keep silent on this flagrant abuse of the constitution and human rights of lesbians, Gays, bisexuals and transsexuals? Is it just convenient for the Nigerian left, progressives and human rights defenders to continue to bury their heads in the sand like the ostrich and wish this debate away? Remember, if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have taken the side of the oppressors. Whose side are you on?

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  1. 1
    steve84

    You mention East Germany. But East Germany decriminalized homosexuality about a decade before West Germany. Socially it may have been somewhat more acceptable in the West, but in the East it was effectively no longer prosecuted as early as 1957 (when the prosecutions in the West were at their peak) and it was officially decriminalized in 1968.

    See here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paragraph_175#Development_in_East_Germany

    It was certainly an oppressive country, but not so much in this area.

  2. 2
    Yemisi Ilesanmi

    @steve84 -- Thanks for the info. The intention was not to catalog all the communist/socialist states where homosexuality was criminalized but to draw the attention of Left inclined progressives to the fact that although many Socialists states were once homophobic, majority have since done away with homophobic laws. With this in mind and your pointer about East Germany decriminalizing Homosexuality a decade before West Germany, I’d say, East Germany is even a better example to cite in the overall spirit of the subject matter.

  3. 3
    Skep tickle

    Thank you for raising awareness of these issues. It seems like a daunting task, but without people speaking out it will not change.

  4. 4
    Yemisi Ilesanmi

    @Skep tickle- Thanks, it is a daunting task but the journey of a thousands steps begins with just one step. And when many people across borders take the necessary steps, speak out and act, we will get there faster and make the desired change.

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