The fact that there have always been queer people in Nigeria is no news. There are a few recorded cases of transpersons, certain cultures with ancient lesbian-like rituals, love stories that have been retold as “great friendships”, and countless stories that have been lost with time. If you can boldy asset that being queer is not African, you don’t know your history.
In centuries past, queer people just like everyone else were involved in farming, hunting, trading, or the arts. They fell in love with the same or both genders. They made love. And when they became of marriageable age, they did what was expected of them and got married to the opposite gender (often times while still continuing a relationship with their same sex lover). It’s also possible some chose not to marry but couldn’t be open about their orientation. Theirs was the kind of love that needed silence to survive. Theirs was a love that thrived in darkness. But the problem is that for centuries, this cycle of ‘silent love’ has not been broken. This manifesto to queer relationships has been passed on from one generation to another. Even as many cultures in the world evolves and comes into a deeper knowledge of sexuality, this vow of silence still largely stands in Nigeria.
Movements for equal rights for LGBT people had taken hold in the first years of the twentieth century across North America and Europe. It’s the 21st century and Nigeria, and Africa at large, is still shuffling its feet when it comes to equal rights for the queer community.
There are many reasons for this lack of progress, one of which is the silence of the queer community. It can be argued that this silence stems from the fact that it is an uphill task to fight for LGBT rights in a society that has embraced fear and hate and uses both under the guise of religion and tradition. In a society deeply entrenched in a herd-like culture that fights against anything that goes against the norm and where queer folks are an easy scapegoat, it does feel like the fight against mass ignorance is not a battle worth fighting. But it is a battle that has to be fought. Quoting the Foo Fighters song ‘The line’ ; ‘The tears in your eyes/Someday will dry/ We fight for our lives/’Cause everything’s on the line this time.” It’s a battle which might not be won today, or tomorrow, but a battle that must begin regardless if we want the next generation to live in an authentic society that does not punish people for being themselves.Throughout history, no marginalized group of people have ever gained freedom by silence. They’ve gained liberation by standing up and fighting. The bittersweet fruit of freedom fighting is that sometimes the freedom fighters never experience the freedom they seek but their fight ensures that the next generation does.
How would a battle against homophobia be fought? Definitely not with guns or other weapons but with the pen, with words, with conversations and healthy debates, with queer people living their truth gracefully, becoming aware of their gifts and sharing it with the world. The cycle of silence generations past have upheld must be broken because we owe the next generation one thing – To live bravely.