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  • Cultures of Public Intervention regarding LGBTQ Issues after Nigeria's Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA)
  • Kehinde Okanlawon (bio)

The political climate for LGBTQ persons and groups in Nigeria changed dramatically after Nigeria's former president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law on January 7, 2014. While homophobia and heterosexism had obviously been problems in Nigeria before the SSMPA legislation (Ilesanmi 2013), Nigerian LGBTQ groups and activists nevertheless had several stories of hope, achievement, and increased visibility (Okanlawon 2015). The introduction of SSMPA was a blow to the hopes and objectives of Nigerian LGBTQ groups; it transformed the political and social landscape by fomenting heated public anti-LGBTQ vitriol and creating an atmosphere in which otherwise "normal" citizens felt that they were working for the national good in acting upon homophobic sentiments. Since 2014, SSMPA has rolled back some previous achievements made by Nigerian LGBTQ groups. Without a doubt, the law has had a very direct impact on the lives of many LGBTQ persons through the increase in homophobic violence, police harassment and arrests, challenges in accessing health care, and reported cases of extortion and blackmail (Human Rights Watch 2016; [End Page 641] Okanlawon 2017). These are just some of the abuses now often reported across multiple news platforms and in forums that support LGBTQ persons.

Given this background, I want to describe how Nigerian LGBTQ activists and their allies in various fields have responded to the SSMPA and how they have adapted to the post-SSMPA context in which unbridled heterosexism and homophobia or even violence can be openly directed at persons simply suspected of being gay, lesbian, or transgender. Writing from my position as a Nigerian sexual health and rights advocate and social worker, I discuss the innovative responses of Nigerian LGBTQ persons who are finding solutions and overcoming diverse obstacles confronting them since the legislation came into effect. Additionally, I enumerate the positive developments, coping strategies, and some indications of hope for LGBTQ persons in Nigeria. Several objectives propel this article. To start with, it is necessary to take stock of the situation periodically and to inform readers of these post-SSMPA developments so that people appreciate how Nigerian LGBTQ persons have responded to the law. Although a lot of attention has been directed at African countries such as Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and South Africa in African queer scholarship, there has been insufficient attention to Nigeria (Okanlawon 2017, 66–67; Osinubi 2016, xiv). This inattention results in part from the challenges and difficulties associated with openly doing queer research in Nigerian universities—as is the case in other African countries—or in supporting LGBTQ causes in public. I seek to paint a picture of the Nigerian context especially for people interested in teaching about oppression, LGBTQ rights activism, social justice, and queer studies. This essay can help anticipate a future history of the LGBTQ movement in Nigeria because there are numerous progressive developments in the arenas of soft-power activism, proactive recourse to legal redress, public education, LGBTQ networking, and transnational collaboration with LGBTQ persons of Nigerian descent living abroad. Equally important, the displacement of queer scholarship from locations in Nigeria to sites outside the country—notably in Europe, North America, and South Africa—means that the kinds of activities I wish to capture in this brief article may well be off the radar of outer-continental scholars.

The position and work performed by non-affiliated individuals, groups, and organizations have become very important because most forms of work related to homosexuality cannot be adequately carried out generally in public and not even in academic settings. [End Page 642] The exception in this situation would be healthcare related matters because such operations are passed off as HIV/AIDS-related interventions. Thus, sexual minority networking and organizing often take place under the aegis of public health interventions. This is both good and disheartening. Good because it offers a minority group much-needed access to healthcare services and a space in which to convene without fear of the law. But it is quite sorry because it, paradoxically, confines them, at least in public perception and in issues of governance, to representation as members of...


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pp. 641-651
Launched on MUSE
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