The hardening of homophobic nationalism in settings such as Nigeria forces us to question how and why compulsory homophobia is deployed as a form of moral discipline that is made to seem compatible with modernity. Peace is not the absence of conflicts or differences, but the ability to tolerate ‘conflicting interests’. Tolerance, or in this instance, the lack of it, has always been a major source of conflict and violence in Nigeria. From religious, cultural, and startlingly, the inability to tolerate people’s personal life. It is this lack of tolerance that led to the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage prohibition Act (SSMPA) and other anti gay laws in Nigeria.
There has been a major reliance by Nigerians on religion to justify the enactment of the various Anti gay laws and this raises three questions; Is Nigeria a religious state as opposed to being a secular state? If Nigeria is a religious state, what then is the state religion recognized by our constitution? If religion is the basis for enacting the Anti gay laws in Nigeria, what happens to the Atheist and traditionalist; should we force our religiosity on them or are we just pretending they don’t exist? As shameful as the justification is, even on their level of hypocrisy, the ‘punish the gays’ advocates do not see the relevance of criminalizing fornication, intoxication and many other individual private matters that are seen as sinful in both Christianity and Islam.
Backed by anti LGBT laws in Nigeria, acts of violence are committed or condoned by officials of national authorities, including law enforcement officials, leading to a fear that encourages human rights violations and deters most gay men and other MSM from seeking HIV treatment, care, and support services.
In the words of Chinue Igwe, “the enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) is destroying Nigeria’s advancements in the battle against HIV/AIDs and undermining the wellbeing and social insurances of all Nigerians by demonizing the Nigerian LGBT community”.
Graeme Reid, the LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch once advised that “the Nigerian Anti gay law criminalizes the lives of gay and lesbian people, but the damage it would cause extends to every single Nigerian.” From undermining the basic universal freedoms that Nigerians have fought for, to hindering the recognized need in targeting vulnerable groups in HIV/AIDs outreach.
The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS is a huge obstacle in treating its heterosexual sufferers, one then can imagine what a gay person living with HIV goes through in a society where being gay is outlawed. While this stigma may manifest itself in a number of ways across different countries, communities and religious groups, its consequences share many of the same traits: a cycle of alienation, psychological damage, depression, low self-esteem and a fear or reluctance to seek help.
Bringing it down a notch, punitive legal environments, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity impedes sustainable national responses to HIV. The various laws relating to LGBT in Nigeria makes the environment freely dangerous for both LGBT Nigerians and non-LGBT Nigerians who are perceived as homosexual to access healthcare and HIV services. The most common is the inability of these individuals to give certain details because of fear of discrimination due to lack of adequate representation or perceived persecution generally. ‘Amidst a group of friends came the information that a gay man in the area has been infected with HIV. One individual unbothered, shrugged and responded; “that serves him right! Perhaps that is his punishment! All gays will die of AIDS!” This response in the scenario is typical of most homophobic Nigerians especially when human/health rights advocates raise such issues as LGBT members’ rights to adequate access to healthcare facilities and representation. But these responses, aside being hateful are merely ignorant. These set of people only see the sexual mode of transmitting HIV, forgetting that the virus can spread through many other ways, putting the entire community at risk.
The very few Nigerians who give little room for logic over hypocrisy would understand that the effect of this fear and limited access to health care by the LGBT community in Nigeria is not only limited to the LGBT groups. As rightly stated by IGWE in her Article titled How Homophobia and Transphobia Threaten National Health, “If LGBT Nigerians do not have access to sufficient healthcare and preventive HIV interventions, HIV and other diseases will continue to wreck havoc in Nigerian families”.
Today, as always, between the existence of many bisexual men and women who swing both-ways, there are many married individuals in Nigeria who have same sex activities outside their matrimony; it is only reasonable that homophobic Nigerians and the advocates of the SSMPA and other related enactments see this as a link between the LGBT community and the Heterosexual community which in the least deserves protection. While recognizing the impressive work of some human & health rights Organization in Nigeria with regards to representation of the vulnerable groups; because of the level of ‘state endorsed homophobia’ both the public and private health facilities in Nigeria do not provide health services that meet the individual need of members of the LGBT community.
Why is it so important for Nigeria to squander public resources in the repression of gay men and lesbians citizens? Why is it that political and religious leaders seem to see or interpret being gay and lesbian sexual preferences and practices as if more of existential threats and or, inimical to the pursuits of health, wealth and happiness than malaria, AIDS, unemployment, unclean water, broken and decrepit public infrastructures?
In this context, homophobia is like destroying your left arm for its inability to work as much as the right; forgetting that such destruction will affect your entire body. If health is wealth, then in the spirit of being true to our country, the Nigerian SSMPA and other anti LGBT laws driven by homophobia, is our way of shredding down every ounce of wealth we ever had.