In Nigeria, there is a sweeping sentiment that there isn’t an LGBTQ community in the country.
For many, the passing of the 2013 bill which criminialzed most parts of queer existence in the country equates to a total eradication of the queer community.
In reality, the bill simply forced queer people into hiding and existing invsibly in Nigeria in order to avoid becoming subjects of homophobic violence.
Today, things are changing and more queer people are coming out and living loudly, damning the consequences.
NewsWireNGR spoke to three queer Nigerians, one gay, the other bi-sexual and non-binary on coming out and what it’s like being an out queer person in Nigeria.
‘‘It’s quite frustrating to be erased or made invisible; people can only be hidden away for so long. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be who they are. I think it’s natural and it’s about time’’ Logan February, a non-binary poet tells NewsWireNGR.
Logan is a part of a generation of young queer people who are rejecting an existing tradition of queer people hiding their identities – a tradition that is inextricably linked to the natrual desire to protect one’s self in a country which has made it clear several times that it want’s you dead.
Over the years, and particularly after the issuance of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in 2013, queer people in Nigeria have been forced to exist invisibly in Nigeria – this is perfectly illustrated by queer people in Nigeria being forced to have two accounts, one where you can present as straight and an anonymous account where you can tweet and share queer things without running the risk of being outed.
However, as year pass and a new generation of queer people are coming into themselves.
Anoynymity is slowly becoming discarded as queer people are recaliming their time, occupying spaces and giving their voice and identities a face.
Logan February, 20
For Logan, being forced to exist invisibly is ‘barely an existence’. When NewsWireNGR asked Logan, a Poet, whose work explores many themes – queerness and queer intimacy in particular, how and why they came out, they said;
‘‘I’m not sure I ever publicly came out, in that sense. I guess it was just about trying to be real and be true to myself, because that was the whole point of my art. It would have been contrary to deny or hide an important dimension of myself in that way. There were also queer public figures who inspired a sense of, like, “Fuck what anyone thinks and just be you. You are good, you are normal, you don’t need their approval.’’
However, an ugly side of exisiting as visbily queer is that it exposes you to varying levels of emotional violence and homophobia which typically takes on varying forms.
‘‘I would say most violence that I’ve experienced has been more psychological than physical.’’
Logan tells me, describing the sort of violence they typically have to deal with. ‘‘So, a lot of anxiety and feeling unsafe or uncomfortable in public places, or around people I don’t know.
But not many immediate fears of physical harm, except in certain contexts which I try to avoid’’.
Cynthia Ugwudike, 20
Known on social media as Cynnerr, Cynthia Ugwudike has in many ways impacted feminist and queer rights dicourse on the Nigerian side of the internet and has been influential in helping or inspiring many queer people to come out as queer. Yet, Cynthia tells NewsWireNGR that she herself hadn’t always been out and proud on the internet.
‘‘I had ally in my bio for the longest time but after a rant about a queer topic that was going around on the timeline at the time, I just said fuck it and changed ally to pansexual.’’
Cynthia reveals ‘‘I think I was tired of othering myself, I didn’t want to keep pretending? Yeah, fear is normal. But I’m at a point where the fear that something might happen doesn’t outweigh the freedom it brings to be out in the open.’’
I find that this sentiment Cynthia expresses is one shared and reveberated by many – an acknowledgment of the dangers of being openly queer while understanding that living invisibly is not a life worth living.
Cynthia also tells NewsWireNGR, ‘‘I think more people are coming out because more people are coming out.’’ she explains, ‘‘Now, there are faces that come to mind when we discuss queerness, people are coming out more because they see more people doing it. Also because I think everyone is fed up with living in the shadows.’’
Collins Badewa, 22
‘‘Being out in Nigeria means you’ve decided to risk everything, including your wellbeing, to live freely.’’’ Collins Badewa, a university student tells NewsWireNGR, ‘’I could be walking one day and people who have seen my tweets or people from my school would attack me. This means I have to always be at alert which is a byproduct of being scared.’’
Collins’ fear isn’t unfounded. Stories of queer people being subject of homophobic volence are far from new or strange in Nigeria, even in 2019.
Often times, the identities of many queer people in Nigeria have been discovered by their friends and workers or classmates on social media turning into subjects of unwarranted scrutiny, violecne and making them a target for even police violence.
With all of this, one has to ask: why come out then? Why expose oneself to the dangers of being out in Nigeria knowing all this?
Collins attempts to answer this question: ‘‘Coming out was something I needed to do to move on to the next phase of my life. Being in the closet was a suffocating feeling I was tired of, and coming out was me breaking free.’’
Away from Collins, Cynthia and Logan, stories of queer people being subject of unwarranted scrutiny, violence are far from new or strange in Nigeria, even in 2019.
In 2018, activist, writer and publisher of Nigeria’s first LGBT publication A Nasty Boy Richard Akuson was subject to a violent attack by homophobes who were triggered by Richard’s boldness in existing visibly and putting out queer content on A Nasty Boy which led to him seeking asylum.
In 2019, several twitter users have tweeted out their experiences where they have been assaulted and attacked by homophobic enfrcement officers ad civilians alike. This highlights the very real danger in being out as a queer person in Nigeria and makes the decision by these young queer people to exist proudly and loudly even more revolutionary.