“They say I use pampers because I’m gay,” a gay man recounts to the Bisi Alimi Foundation in 2017. “They call me possessed,” a lesbian reveals in the same report. “I feel like a prisoner,” Another lesbian reveals to human Rights watch in 2015. “There is nowhere to run to.”
Sexual orientation continues to be a taboo topic in Nigeria where perceived sexual minorities are stigmatised and discriminated against by a dominantly heteronormative society. Apart from everyday slurs and insults, they are physically violated by both police and members of the public. They are rejected and ostracised by their families and are forced into torturous conversion therapy. As a result, most are forced to remain closeted within heterosexual relationships.
What Nigerians do not realise is that these experiences can have devastating psychological consequences.
Last month, a gay father posted a story on Reddit where he described his experiences as a gay man in a heteronormative society. He recounts how he fell in love as a young man but pressured by society, abandoned his lover and got married to a woman. He then described how his own son’s coming out has opened the well of bottled up feelings. It was a coming-out story but it also seemed eerily like a suicide note.
In a report by the Bisi Alimi Foundation, another gay man describes the pressures of living in Nigeria, facing discrimination at home and at his workplace. He also recounts the fear of knowing how queer people are killed all over the country. In his words, “I feel more depressed than ever.”
In an article on Global Citizens, Bisi Alimi, LGBTQ+ activist who first came out on live television, recounts how the discrimination against him as a result of his sexuality led to feelings of worthlessness that eventually culminated in his first suicide attempt at the age of 17.
Sadly, these cases are only echoes of the experiences of most of the queer people living in Nigeria and other homophobic countries.
Research has shown that queer people are at higher risk of developing mental health issues than their heterosexual counterparts because homophobia, discrimination and stigma thrives. According to a 2018 review, they are almost 3.5 times more likely to commit suicide.
Dr Ade Toyin, a former caseworker at the international centre for Advocacy of Rights to Health in Abuja, told the guardian in 2018 that substance abuse and self-harm are common among queer people in Nigeria.
According to her, matters are made worse by the fact that these people have little or no access to mental health services.
“If you’re gay in Nigeria and you’re rich enough to even afford therapy, can you really tell your therapist and be open? You can’t.”
However, despite the harrowing experiences queer people face, homophobia still thrives and the majority still continue to act in ways that perpetuate discrimination.
If we do not eliminate homophobia and rise up in defence of queer citizens, they will continue to suffer, not just physically but mentally.