It has been over five years since the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was passed. In that time, along with advocating for their equal rights, Nigerian activists and Human Rights Organizations have been pushing for greater visibility and more accurate media narratives regarding the LGBT community. Public perception of the community has been shifting. Biennial polls conducted by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) in 2015, 2017, and 2019 show a general improvement in Nigerians’ opinions of the LGBT community and a greater tolerance towards the community, especially amongst the younger demographics (aged 18-40). The polls cover five key aspects of public perception, each of which tells us something different about the public perception.
Homosexuality: Innate or Learned
The first section of the polls asks respondents whether they believe homosexuality is innate or acquired—whether people are born with it, or learn it from others. This section is particularly important: if homosexuality is viewed as a learned behaviour, the logical conclusion is that it can easily be un-learned. The data under this section have not significantly changed since 2015. Approximately 90% of Nigerians continue to believe that homosexuality is learned, while only 5% do not. The remaining 5% are unsure. These statistics suggest that this aspect of public perception is one that activists may want to pursue more in the coming years. It is a difficult opinion to change, but one that, once changed, makes a massive difference. This can be clearly seen in the polling data from 2015. The poll further analysed the group of people who were the most willing to accept friends or family members who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It was noted that the majority of people in this group believed homosexuality was innate, while only a small proportion believed it was learned. This would suggest that people who believe that homosexuality is innate are more tolerant, and perhaps more understanding, of the LGBT community.
Willingness to Accept Homosexuality in Family Members
The second section of the polls asks respondents whether they would be willing to accept a family member who came out as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. This section has perhaps seen the most improvement since 2015. There has been a steady increase in acceptance over the last five years. In 2015, only 11% of respondents were willing to accept a homosexual family member. In 2017, this improved slightly, with 13% of people being willing. In 2019, there was a sudden leap in acceptance. In the most recent poll, 30% of people said they were willing, while 60% were unwilling. The majority of people remain unwilling and intolerant, but the gap is closing, and the 17% increase in acceptance in the last two years is significant. 10% of people are unsure, an increase in this statistic since 2015. Based on the trend of increasing acceptance, it is predicted that this 10% will gradually shift over to the more accepting group in coming years. Analysing the demographics indicates that this improvement is largely due to the younger groups: those aged about 18-40. Younger Nigerians appear to be significantly more accepting of gay, lesbian, and bisexual family members, now more than ever. This finding is hopeful: changing minds and hearts often begins at the level of individuals, and this appears to have begun happening in recent years.
Support for Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition
The third section of the polls measures support for the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA). This section asks respondents whether they “strongly support”, “support”, are “indifferent” towards, “oppose”, or “strongly oppose” the SSMPA. This section has seen some improvement. In 2015 and 2017, only around 7% of Nigerians “opposed” or “strongly opposed” the SSMPA. This number more than doubled to 17% in 2019. This could be tied to the increasing acceptance of LGBT family members. An increasing number of people are becoming indifferent to the law; 7% of people were indifferent in 2019. This suggests that more Nigerians are beginning to decide that same-sex couples do not have a significant impact on their lives, and, therefore, are no longer invested in supporting the law. Most Nigerians still support the law, however, there has been some improvement here, too. In 2015, 77% of respondents stated that they “strongly support” the law. In 2019, overall support remained at 75%—but only 57% of respondents said they “strongly support” the law, while the remaining 18% said they only “support” it. This may suggest a decrease in extremism. Overall, small improvements are beginning to appear, especially in the number of people who oppose the SSMPA.
Awareness of Homosexuals in Nigeria
The fourth tier of the polls measures awareness of homosexuals in Nigeria. This section asks respondents whether they knew anyone homosexual in their family, friends, locality, or in the media. From 2015 to 2017, there was an increase in awareness. However, from 2017 to 2019, these statistics all dropped. Awareness of homosexuality in 2019 remains higher than awareness in 2015. However, compared to awareness in 2017, the drop is troubling. The number of people who reported having homosexual friends halved, becoming 7%, while the number who knew someone in their locality dropped to 19%. Media awareness remains the highest, at 24%. Meanwhile, the number of people who knew a family member who was homosexual remained at approximately 2% for all three polls. The sudden decrease in people who personally know someone who is homosexual suggest that more people in the LGBT community may be going underground and not coming out to friends and family.
Perception of Homosexuality in Nigeria
The final tier of the polls measures general perceptions of the LGBT community in Nigeria. This tier has seen some improvements, although perceptions remain largely negative. The majority of people continue to believe that Nigeria would be a better country without homosexuals. However, this number has decreased from 90% in 2017 to 70% in 2019, a significant reduction. 27% of Nigerians now believe in equal rights for LGBT persons, compared to 15% in 2015. General tolerance seems to have improved, as well, with 38% of Nigerians stating that they do not mind homosexuality as long as they don’t have to see it, compared to only 28% in 2015. Perceptions regarding the SSMPA have not seen a significant change, however: 90% of Nigerians still believe that same-sex marriages should not be legal. General perceptions have not seen a significant improvement, but tolerance seems to be increasing on the individual level.
Overall, since 2015, public opinion of the LGBT community appears to be improving. The most significant area of improvement has been in acceptance of family members; opposition of the SSMPA has seen some significant improvement as well. Tolerance seems to have increased slightly; the Nigerian public is steadily becoming more accepting, especially amongst the younger demographic of those aged 18-40. Most people still have highly negative perceptions of the LGBT community, including support for the SSMPA and the belief that homosexuality is learned, but this trend is shifting slightly, especially regarding the SSMPA.
Public opinion is changing, slowly, for the better. As LGBT Activists and NGOs continue to strengthen their work, we hope that more people join them as allies, to see faster progress.