A Nigerian blogger reflects on his experience at school and in society of the profound ignorance that results in entrenched homophobia:
Nigerian culture is a multiple mixture of tradition and conflicting understanding of the contemporary Western life. Growing up in Nigeria, I was brought up in this culture, and I was taught not to question this culture that generations before me had spent years building in other to “strengthen” the social and cultural fabric of Nigeria. One of these cultures is the one of homophobia.
Homosexuality hardly was a pop up conversation in Nigeria: it simply was an accepted fact that homosexuality was an abnormality from morality, and gay people were therefore treated as abnormal people. In my secondary school, the homosexual act wasn’t really a matter to discuss because the school board never really talked about it. It was a government school, and just about anything was overlooked. There had been rumours of happenings of such in the dormitories, and when reported, the school would suspend the students or even expel them. Well, I never really experienced that.
I never questioned this homophobic culture, because I was not expected to, but meeting some experienced and knowledgeable people, reading the right books and articles, I began to dare myself to push cultural boundaries and break out of social norms. I rebelled against everything I knew, and for the first time I was armed with the information I needed to make my own decision. My newfound courage, birthed out of a need for understanding and a fear of ignorance, gave me a whole new perspective on homosexuality.
All my life, I had been told that gay people were not “normal.” I won’t say, per se, that I believed it, but I feared the uncertainty that breathed in the marginalized culture of homosexuality. I never believed that they were abnormal, but I never questioned the actions of my school mates, who called me names and threw stones at me, because to do that would be to risk suspension or expulsion. So I dwelled in ignorance and chose safety over my rights to equality and freedom.
After immersing myself deep into the issues of gay rights, I began to question everything I’d ever been taught. Nothing seemed right to me; somehow, homosexuality seemed as natural to me as heterosexuality. I could not understand where all the hate and fear came from. I could not understand why homosexuality always had to be this stigmatized and have violence floating all around it.
Nigeria has now stretched its homophobia to new heights: The Government has passed an anti-gay bill that contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison for same-sex marriages or any form of sexual relationships between people of the same sex. The bill also includes a penalty of up to a decade in prison for people who attend gay clubs or participate in gay societies or organizations. It has criminalized gay culture completely, even though this bill hasn’t been signed by the President.
Homophobia has infiltrated and infected the essence of humanity, and eluded the values of human rights in Nigeria. Homophobia is generally caused by so many factors, such as the blinding effect religion most times has on reason, the hatred that comes with adapting the Western culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with old-fashioned traditions that contrast completely with modern values.
Homophobia in Nigeria is groomed by ignorance clouding our reasoning. It is caused by a state of naivety that prevents freedom of thought. The real culture that Nigeria ought to embrace is one of equality and acceptance – equality and acceptance for all.
I really do hope for and dream of a better Nigeria, a Nigeria that I would love to live in forever, a Nigeria devoid of hate and discrimination, a Nigeria that breeds a safe space where I could one day raise my kids, a Nigeria where the belief in equality is stronger than the belief that certain people should be criticized because of who they are and whom they love.
I believe in the possibility of a Nigeria where sexual orientation is seen as a part of the variety of human nature rather than a Nigeria where people feel the need to stigmatize and discriminate against gay people. I believe, hope and would fight for a Nigeria where people are judged by their character and not by their sexual preference. I believe, hope and would continue to fight for a Nigeria that would one day be free from the culture of homophobia.