It is statistically unclear the amount of queer folks that are daily subjected to violence and abuse of human rights due to the fact that such crimes cannot be reported to the authorities. The system that is supposed to protect the rights of these individuals is one of their greatest enemies. Nevertheless, to be queer is to be happy, to be otherwise is to submit and give up one’s basic rights, that’s why in this present age a number of queer individuals have made it clear that they refuse to be silent.
One of the subjects of this article is popularly known James Lantern, he took to social media to advocate for gay rights and has become a source of inspiration for many. Mathew Blaise is a 20 year old gay man who also took to social media to share his experiences and has managed to address the topic of homophobia in Nigeria. Last but not the least, Kayode Ani is also a 20 year old openly gay man very accustomed to the dangers of being queer in Nigeria.
Are you out as a queer man?
James: Well, I won’t say I’m completely out yet because only one person in my family knows about my sexuality, but most of my straight friends know and are cool with my sexuality for the most part. I still look forward to the day my dad and sisters know the truth.
Kayode: I’ve been openly gay since about early 2017, so out to my parents, extended family, my social media accounts, in school and in general to just about anyone that is acquainted enough to ask me about it.
At what point did you decide to be openly gay?
Mathew: I decided to be openly gay 2 years ago, before then I was out of the closet to myself but not visible to other people—heterosexuals and other queers—and my reason was to let people know that we are not just names or mere statistics, we are more than those, we are fully blooded people. We are in their churches, schools, workplaces and every other aspect of life.
Kayode: It was in late 2016 after I was attacked for the second time in school. I kinda just thought, “you know what? F**k it”. I would suffer violence anyway for advocating LGBT rights or writing LGBT themed fiction and poetry, I did not want to keep playing defence, with the whole, “supporting gay rights didn’t mean I’m gay.”
I just decided to reject the violence foisted and that it did so much more for me being able to reject my oppression without hiding behind some rock.
What was the reaction of the person you first came out to?
James: My friend during my service year, a fellow corp member on my case, he apparently saw my chats with another gay friend when I left my phone unguarded.
He said “as you fine reach and all the girls wey dey around you wey want you to f**k them, na another man nyash you like to f**k.” I was shocked and was shaking, asked him to stop but he repeated it. At that point I had to rebuke him with utter acceptance so he would be more confused. I told him ” yes, why is it your business? Please mind your business and let me rest.” He was shocked and asked me if I’m not denying it, I said, “no, you can believe whatever they told you so you can have peace.” He indeed left my place confused.
Mathew: I can’t even remember the first person I came out to, but I remember a priest I told, he didn’t take it quite well. He said some hurtful things and offered to deliver me from “the spirit” if I was willing.
How have people around you come to understand your sexuality?
Kayode: Who says they have? It’s complicated, different people have different responses. My Dad till today pretends it doesn’t exist except the occasional accusing me of attending gay parties and “my son can’t be gay” rants. My aunts seriously think I’ll eventually repent. My friends are chill—most of them. A few are homophobic in that, “God I still can’t believe you’re gay” kind of way. Their stance on homosexuality has really softened through knowing me, same with relatives to a smaller extent. Then for other people around me, my classmates for instance, the struggle is real.
What’s your most traumatic experience as regards to homophobia?
Mathew: I don’t think I have “the most” traumatic experience because most of my experiences have broken me, that I fear I might not get the mental stability I have always craved.
Do you currently feel safe in Nigeria?
Kayode: Definitely not. I get constant threats being in school, some of which I write about.
You’ve been told a couple of times to keep it down with the “Nigeria isn’t safe” narrative but you’ve never listened, why?
Mathew: Yes, I have been told that many times and it’s kind of depressing because it comes from people who know that Nigeria has never been safe for non-conformists. Before I came out, I struggled with bullying because of my striking femininity, and even after coming out, nothing has changed, so what are we saying? Most of the people that attack me don’t even know me on social media which negates the fact that ‘being out’ exposes you to danger, it does but it’s not just being out, your non-conforming traits haunts them.
We are all in danger in this country, just the degree differs and for non-privileged effeminate gay men in Nigeria, it is high!
Kayode: In a country as homophobic and violent as this country, being out is making yourself a target, being in the closet is only marginally better, but both are very horrible situations.
What is your opinion on “Nigeria is not safe” as directed to LGBT+ people. Is it the laws or the people using the laws to fuel their hate? Is it the laws or the people that make Nigeria unsafe?
James: I think it is the people using the law to fuel their hate for what they don’t understand. As for those who understand and still hate, they are a big problem. The law says that mariage between people of same sex is prohibited. It also prohibited associations in favour of same sex unions. The law is outrightly denying us our right of association which is a fundamental human right.
What do you have to say to people who are hiding who they are to avoid the hate and potential harm?
Mathew: I don’t think “hiding” is the word because queer people in this society are left with no options. It takes a kind of super strength to be openly gay especially in a society where we can be killed, beaten and denied of opportunities. All I have to say is take your time, I know it’s important for us to add our faces and our lives experiences in this conversation but you can’t do that at the expense of safety. Take all your time until you’re ready to damn everyone and everything. To be open is not rosy.
How do all the experiences of homophobia you’ve been through affect you?
Mathew: On social media, I’m the ‘undefeated son of the rainbow’ but whenever I get indoors, memories of my traumas haunt me. Those moments, I wish I wasn’t open about my sexuality at all. Just a few days ago, I cried for 4 hours and drank to sleep because I felt so lonely. Did I mention this journey comes with loneliness if you don’t have real friends? Yes, I just said it. I battle with so much inside my house; anxiety, depression and PTSD.
If the laws against LGBTQ+ individuals were reversed, how do you think this would affect the current situation?
1. It would create a framework where gay people can fight back and seek reprieve.
2. It would make it possible for activists to campaign to improve public opinion.
3. It would also remove the state’s reinforcement of homophobia.
If queer folks as a community are to change the laws against LGBTQ+ people and at the same time remain safe, how best do you think this can be achieved?
James: I do believe changing the laws is obtainable in my lifetime but we need to be more strategic. Stonewall was a movement and they came together for a purpose and fought homophobia, but with Nigeria and Africa, a different approach from stonewall days will be needed. Every queer person must make it their voluntary duty to put the right narratives out there and speak up or challenge anyone who wants to look down on them as second class citizens. There are some gay men as legislators who voted in favour of SSMPA, we will need other gay men to push for its annulment there in the House and Senate. Last but not the least, internal homophobia is killing us as a community. It’s a bigger disaster than what CisHet homophobes do. We can’t go far if we continue to bind our legs with our own hands.
Mathew: The conversational tone with homophobes shouldn’t be with niceness anymore. They’ve proven insensitive to the plights of queer people and their insensitivity exposes us to further danger. There would surely be a revolution like stonewall someday.