Op-Ed

Peter Okeugo: More celebrity voices for Nigeria’s LGBT community

Historian and Human Rights Activist, Craig Murray, in 2007 wrote, “If you achieve a voice that will be heard, you should use it to speak up for the voiceless and oppressed. If you possess any power or authority, you must strive to use it to help and empower the powerless.”

This opinion has been inspired by a presentation made by the Creative Director of Hear Word and Founder of iOpenEye Productions, Ifeoma Fafunwa, on Wednesday, February 7, 2018. The presentation was part of the 2017-2018 Fellows’ Presentation Series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

She titled her presentation, “Who would choose to be LGBT and Nigerian?” She explored solutions to the homophobic environment in today’s Nigeria, contrary to the Nigeria she grew up in many years ago.

In her own words, she answered her question: “I will choose to be LGBT and Nigerian.”

Fafunwa is well-known in the art and theatre industry; and through her production company, she has been an advocate for impacting societal change, mostly on women and gender issues.

Only recently, she made the giant leap to advocate for the LGBT community in Nigeria, and will be shooting a film in this regard. Bravo! Fafunwa.

LGBT issues are sacred grounds most celebrities in Nigeria will rather not step foot on, stay mute to, not delve into or condemn for fear of being branded or labeled. However, in recent times, there have been some who have advocated for equality in different ways, either through speech, social media or filmmaking. I salute the courage of the likes of Seun Kuti, Tope Oshin, Tosyn Bucknor, DJ Jimmy Jatt, Oluseyi Asurf and M.I Abaga, who have at one time or another, stood or raised their voices in support of justice and LGBT persons. And they did not have to be LGBT.

But like Nigerians would say, “Among every twelve disciples, there is a Judas Iscariot.” In this case, they are more than one; the ones who would stop at nothing to dehumanise their fellow human beings because of their sexuality. Because? “Homosexuality is not our culture and against the holy books.” Entertainers like Bovi, IllBliss, Ogusbaba are quite popular for their unflinching homophobic stance, jokes and statements about LGBT people. And they are human beings. And they are also supposed to be opinion shapers in the society. The first and natural attribute of being a human being is to be human and humane. I do not know the best name for anyone who claims to be a human being but is insensitive to other people. Needless to say, they have received their fair doze of clap backs and trolling for being insensitive.

Dear celebrities, it would amaze you how many fans you have in the LGBT community. Have you even made an effort to understand them? Have you made an effort to rid yourselves of the ignorance that makes your sexuality the only one nature validates? Have you even made an effort to research the ‘act’ you constantly condemn? No!

When you receive an award on stage and you thank your ‘fans’ for supporting you and then dedicate the award to them, is it a selective gesture? Do you exclude the queer people from the straight ones? Do you have straight fans, and then queer fans? Or do you just say those words because they are the most cliché things to say at that moment? Who would you be without your fans? If you must truly thank your ‘fans,’ then walk your talk. Stand for something that is just and right; support the ones who are being marginalised.

Ignorance is not a virtue to be proud of in 2018. And of course, maybe sheer laziness to read, learn and understand that variety is the spice of life. Whether black, white, coloured, straight or queer, we all exist for a purpose, and not in isolation. Nature abhors vacuum. Nature is diverse. The beauty of life is in nature’s diversity.

Dear unapologetic and unashamedly vocal homophobic celebrities, listen! If we have to explore the concept of sin and what sin is or not, you do not get to play the custodian or the gatekeeper of righteousness. No! You do not get to discriminate anyone simply because they ‘sin differently’ than you. The next time you want to try, listen to Asa’s Jailer and thank me later.

And you, dear silent celebrities. Yes, you who would rather stay mute than speak out in solidarity for fans that are LGBT and still support you tirelessly, please repent from being the parasites in a celebrity-fans’ relationship. Parasitic relationships are toxic. Do not be like Nigerian politicians. Desist from taking all the support of LGBT fans and giving nothing in return. Give back. Giving back these days is overrated. I do not mean going to the orphanage. Give them your voice. They need your voice, not your silence. Your silence could be doing more harm than good. Silence is not always golden. Do not be afraid or ashamed to be labeled or branded. If you do not stand for something, you will fall for anything. Or would you rather fall?

Even Martin Luther King Jr. said “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great sweeper who did his job well’.” Be a good celebrity. Be remembered for something. When you think of the meaning of Legacy, let the words, “Remember my name,” always ring in your mind. Your legacy is not on the number of screens you have dazzled, but on the impact and change you created or contributed to by dazzling the screens.

Dear supportive celebrities, I encourage you in your efforts. Your labours of love will never be forgotten. They are written in the sands of time. They are like the blue clouds in the sky.

This is a clarion call to all celebrities in Nigeria. Please make use of the voice you have as opinion shapers in the entertainment and media industry in Nigeria, to speak up for the LGBT people. You do not have to be LGBT first before you become a humanist. You do not have to be LGBT before you love your fellow human being equally, irrespective of who they are. You have a voice, you have a platform, and you have your sphere of influence which is the media. Use it well, and use it wisely. Your platform does not have to be an instrument to malign or dehumanise other human beings simply because you have a different perception of love from the way they love.

I will end with this quote from Chaka Khan, “It is time for those of us who have a voice to speak out for life, for love and for justice using the same media we’ve used throughout our careers.”

Thank you, Ifeoma Fafunwa, for standing up for justice, equality and diversity.

Peter Okeugo is a Nigerian journalist, and a 2018 Media Justice Fellow of the Bisi Alimi Foundation.

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this Op-Ed by the Writer are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Rustin Times.

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