To mark this year’s international human rights day, a group of Nigerian individuals and organisations came together to adopt the Free and Equal Naija campaign to promote inclusiveness of LGBT rights as human rights.
I am a firm believer in equal rights; therefore, the Free and equal Naija hashtag appealed to the human rights activist in me. However, when I got the memo and guideline that came with the concept note, I was once again, disappointed. The memo came with the guideline-
The #FreeAndEqualNaija Campaign is not a marriage equality campaign. All advocacy outputs should be directed toward inclusiveness and accountability in the promotion and protection of human rights of all Nigerian citizens.
Once again, marriage equality is being treated as the taboo words that must not be uttered if we are to win the support of Nigerian human rights activists and organisations.
There is this growing stigma attached to marriage equality campaign especially amongst African LGBT activists. Although i appreciate the effort to speak up for LGBT rights in a country where it is a crime to do so, but as a staunch supporter of Marriage Equality, I could not fully get behind the Free and Equal Naija campaign because i did not wish to be part of anything that stigmatises marriage equality campaign.
I strongly believe that every citizen deserves to enjoy the same rights every other citizen enjoys, and that include the universal human right to marry and found a family.
Equality ensures access to the same rights, duties, and responsibilities. Equality is about non-discrimination. It is the right to be treated fairly and equally without prejudice or discrimination regardless of class, sexuality, gender, sex, or any other status.
Free and equal citizens would necessarily enjoy the same freedom and equality under the constitution. If my heterosexual counterparts enjoy the right to found a family which include the right to enter into consensual adult relationship and if they so wish, enter into consensual officially recognised marriage, why shouldn’t this freedom and equality be extended to Nigerian lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and Transsexuals? Why are my fellow African LGBT activists so quick to distance themselves from asserting that African LGBTs deserve the right to marry and found a family?
How free would we consider the black person if the civil rights movement campaign slogan was branded, “All we want is freedom, not the right to vote”? Would we be truly free and equal citizens if we were declared free from slavery but denied the right to vote?
Would I, as a woman, still be a free and equal Naija citizen if I got the right to vote but because of my gender, I was legally forbidden to drive a car?
I understand this is about strategy, but at what stage do we start asserting lgbt rights as human rights? Where do we draw the line at which human rights to assert as LGBTs rights? Should we really pick and choose the human rights we want to assert as LGBTs rights? If we truly believe LGBT rights are human rights, why qualify it with a but?
This has always been a divisive topic of discussion amongst fellow LGBTs. It is considered strategic not to mention Marriage Equality in our campaign for LGBT rights as human rights. This strategy is aimed at appealing to possible supporters especially within the human rights communities and religious organisations. However, what good is having allies who do not think we are equal enough to enjoy the same rights they already enjoy as citizens?
Why must we keep cutting back on our inalienable rights to appeal for the support of self-identified human rights organisations and religious groups?
The job of an ally is to support, not restrict what we can demand. Allies, who decide to sit on the table with us but start telling us what we can or cannot demand, are not true allies and they are not helping our cause.
As LGBT activists, do we get to dictate to other LGBTs not to assert particular human rights because it does not fit into our strategy?
No, I do not think we get to tell others what human rights we are willing to assert on their behalf. As Fela Anikulapo Kuti famously sang, “Human rights na my property, therefore you can’t dash me my property”
As activists, it is not our place to silence, stigmatise, or strategically isolate the voice of LGBTs who wish to assert their human rights in its entirety. Fellow Nigerian LGBTS, and African LGBTS activists in general must stop this continuous shaming and tagging as aggressive, fellow Nigerian/African activists who demand for the right to be free from oppression, persecution and discrimination including the right to marry same sex persons.
We should give room for freedom of expression. Issuing a memo to activists that implied that the Free and Equal Naija hashtag should not carry message of marriage equality is in and of itself a violation of freedom of expression.
It restricts the rights of LGBT Nigerians and their allies to demand for equal rights in its entirety.
It stigmatises marriage equality
It gives power and legitimacy to the false claim that same sex relationship is UnAfrican
It gives credence to the myths that homosexuality is UnAfrican
It gives the impression that we are ashamed of our sexuality
It conveys the message that although we think we are equal but we are willing to concede that we are not equals because of our sexuality. A sad case of accepting that all animals are equal but some are more equal than the others.
Yes, this is a sore subject amongst some of my fellow Nigerian LGBT activists; however, i hold strongly that there is no free and equal Naija until we are all free and equal to assert all our constitutional and human rights including the right to marry, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender of our consenting adult partner.
We must remember that we did not ask for the right to marry or any right whatsoever before unscrupulous politicians decided to propose the anti-gay bill to divert attention from their failure and score cheap points with religious overlords. They agreed unanimously to further criminalise our sexual orientation and slammed us with 14 years imprisonment for same sex relationships when they passed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Now that we are forced to assert and fight for our human rights, we should make it clear that LGBT rights are human rights. No buts attached.
Whilst i commend the efforts of the groups and individuals who took time to organise the media campaign, I must stress that A Free and Equal Naija campaign for LGBT rights should not imply that marriage equality is too much to ask for. If we are going to assert equality as human rights, let’s do so without a but.