There are events too traumatic even for the human memory – its evolved glory notwithstanding – to hold in a place it can easily access, hence the forgetfulness that follows a traumatic experience.
However, when it is a group trauma like the events of October 20, 2020, that ended the #EndSARS movement in a bloody mess that literally drenched the Nigerian flag in blood and metaphorically the nation’s collective conscience, it is hard to forget or move on from.
Hence, a bar conversation that should be about the delights of the day the Lord has blessed – a Monday evening in August 2021, devolved to trying to make sense of what transpired.
A stranger, who made sure to mention some 5 times over the 2 hours the discussion lasted that he is, “Straight,” a bar owner who is an openly gay man, and a writer who mentions if asked or in the heat of conversation that he is, “Queer,” wondered “Where did we go wrong?”
“The moment FemCo sided with the LGBT community was the death of that protest,” said the straight man.
“It just wasn’t the right time or platform,” said the gay bar owner, who added for clarity that, “I am looking at this thing from an unbiased perspective, and I have a right to a unique opinion.”
The opinion, while bizarre coming from an openly gay man who has been through the wringer at the hands of violent homophobes, is far from unique. It is a widely circulated opinion during the protests when some impressively bold queer Nigerians took to the street flying banners inscribed with a number of iterations of, “LGBT+ lives matter, end police brutality.”
Yet, perhaps it isn’t so bizarre an opinion when you think about how trauma can force us to retreat into whatever relative safety we can maintain. Even if that safety is predicated on the open possibility that the straight people in our life could withdraw their support whenever they feel like it.
I was exasperated that these two uniquely different men are unable to see, almost a year later, how it was the right time because there is never a time that isn’t right for one to demand a life of dignity as a human being. Also, that they couldn’t see how LGBT Nigerians suffer police violence specifically because they are LGBT+, which gives them every right to join a protest against police violence exactly as themselves – the very thing that is weaponised for their violation.
We swapped the stories that humanised the protests and galvanised people to protest. Each one had one thing in common – a young person sporting locs, a computer, ripped jeans, or simply looking human.
We agreed that these cases that were highlighted didn’t feature any vilification of the victims by the police for their heterosexuality.
“When the police stop you they don’t care if you are gay or straight,” the straight man said straight-faced.
“Until they do,” I helped him along. It didn’t catch.
I then told him about a beloved trans woman acquaintance who was stopped by the police earlier this year because she was wearing a crop-top and her budding breasts seemed “Suspect,” to the officers, who then went on to frisk her and grill her about her hormone pills.
She didn’t suffer too much because this happened in a highbrow neighbourhood in Lagos, and she had a ready lawyer to call who could speak the language of the police.
We passed my phone back and forth so they could read the story of yet another trans woman – shared on Twitter – who was not so lucky.
Interstate travel is fraught with danger for all Nigerians – by air or by road even though the road is often worse because one can meet robbers in and out of uniform, and she was unlucky to meet the uniformed kind, who after slapping her several times, extorted for some icing on the cake.
The pejoratives that dotted this ordeal, like shit raisins on that putrid cake, went everything from “Homo,” to “Bob Risky,” and “abomination.”
Her phones were confiscated never to be returned, and she was driven to an ATM at gunpoint by men clad in the black uniform of the Nigeria Police and driving a van, to withdraw all her savings – 65, 000 naira monies she did everything she could to make so she could get her medications. Her 20, 000 naira that she had in her wallet was also taken.
I told them about a friend who when he was stopped by the police saw his life flash before his eyes because he immediately remembered that the last chat in his WhatsApp is the endearing messages he exchanged in the morning with his boyfriend of 4 years who was in another state for work. The police did check his phone, but luckily those particular officers were too poorly exposed to pick on the private language they use, and there weren’t pictures to help them along in their evil plans.
It is impossible to argue against the necessity of the LGBT+ protesting against police brutality we all agreed; unless one’s intention is that the LGBT+ remain out of sight and mind in life as well as in death.
In life, because the existence of the LGBT+, which Nigeria demands must remain hidden, she went on to enact brutal laws to punish these human beings for existing as the good Lord demands that they do.
In death, because the deliberate disappearing of the lives LGBT+ Nigerians from public space – asking them to protest their violation at a later time, forces their death too to be unregistered, lest we all remember we are complacent in their murder by the police which goes on still, #EndSARS or no #EndSARS.
Yet, remember we must, because however much we remain averse to the unique humanity of LGBT+ people, they remain human lives, the loss of which must matter the same as every other Nigerian’s if we stand a chance of attaining a nation that values human life.
Only when all lives matter – LGBT+ as well as cis-heterosexual – can we be assured that we won’t be rudely annihilated on live television by our own armed forces for peacefully protesting the violence of our police against us.
That, we agreed as the cigarette smoke swirled around us, and we finished our flat beers, is where we went wrong. The moment we reminded the country’s leadership that we accept that some lives may not matter, yet.