Members of the LGBTQ community marched in a risky demonstration in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, protesting a bill introduced by lawmakers seeking to ban cross-dressing. This bill was introduced by lawmakers in Nigeria’s lower house of parliament. The members of the LGBTQ community were dressed in rainbow-colored vests as they protested against the bill, the new measures of which call for a punishment of six months in jail or a fine of about USD 1,200 for cross-dressers, as per VOA News.
This bill seeks to amend a 2013 Act banning same-sex. Activists are particularly concerned for the welfare of Nigeria’s trans community if the law comes to pass. One such disturbing incident took place when a transgender woman was beaten and stripped in Lagos weeks after the bill was introduced, according to Pink News.
This is an outcome the LGBTQ+ activists feared, the reason they say they’re fighting back. Kayode Ani is a chair at the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation, or QUEST9ja, says: “What laws like this do is that they basically encourage people to take violence into their own hands, just as we had after the SSMPA was passed — individuals forming vigilantes and going into people’s homes because they suspect that they’re queer, beat them, murder them.”
The cross-dressing bill is an expanded version of Nigeria’s 2013 Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. This Act punishes gay sex with up to fourteen years of imprisonment.
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The bill prohibits “crossdressing” in both private and public spaces. The only exemption is for “cross-dressing in the course of a stage play or any bonafide public entertainment”, which also means it would allow comedians to cross-dress for entertainment purposes. However, activists say it will worsen the existing violence against nonbinary or transgender people.
Nigerian transgender woman Empress Cookie, according to VOA News, says she’s been the victim of many horrible incidents and recalls one experience with a mob in Abuja two years ago. “They started stripping me naked, and they were, like, ‘See you’re even wearing a female’s pants.’ I was emotionally traumatized. I was drained. At a point, I was like, lifeless.”
Public displays like holding hands by sexual minority groups are outlawed in many African countries, as per VOA News. The authorities there often cite religious and moral reasons. Similarly, Nigerian religious groups that support the same-sex marriage ban also now support the bill restricting cross-dressing.
“We don’t know man and man. God didn’t create Adam and Adam or Adam and Steve, God created Adam and Eve,” said Archbishop John Praise, deputy president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria.
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The “cross-dressing” bill still has a number of stages to go through before it’s passed into law, as it will undergo several readings in Parliament. It will be debated before it is passed and forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for approval. Activists are speaking out against it and showing their fierce opposition to it. They do this as the law would further criminalize and marginalize their community.
Protesters gathered in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sunday (1 May) to protest against the much-maligned bill, can be seen dancing, playing music and waving trans and Pride flags in video footage shared on social media.
We just started the March! This is the first open queer protest in Nigeria!
— For Fags Sake!🌈 #WithdrawCrossdressersBill (@vicw0nder) May 1, 2022
Others at the protest could be seen wearing T-shirts emblazoned with messages of support for the LGBTQ+ community. They included “trans lives matter” and “queer rights are human rights” along with activists also holding a banner that urged Nigeria’s politicians to focus on real issues, such as injustice, inequality, and food insecurity.
Ani Kayode Somtochukwu was just “one of the fifty or so people who turned up in Abuja to protest against the bill” and is “profoundly concerned about the wide-reaching impacts the bill will have if it’s passed into law” as per PinkNews.
“People will lose their jobs, they will have their lives put in danger, they might have to move, their landlords might kick them out because there are no discrimination protections for queer people in Nigeria,” Ani told PinkNews.
“If this law actually passes, it will increase levels of violence and it will encourage prejudice and discrimination from our family members and in the workplace.”
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Ani and other protesters decided that they needed to stage a protest in the country’s capital city. This was to show the world that “queer Nigerians like them exist – and that they won’t be cowed by efforts to silence them.”
“We needed people to be able to see us in the actual flesh, that we are actually here demanding our rights,” he said.
“There is always this narrative that we don’t actually exist, that we’re just a few voices on Twitter or Instagram. That’s just an erasure of the Nigerian consciousness, so it was very important for us to come out and show that we actually exist and stake our claim to Nigeria because there’s always this discourse that queerness isn’t African.”
Protesting and being visible as a queer person, unfortunately, has consequences. Ever “since Ani shared pictures and videos online of the protest, he has received death threats and violent messages from complete strangers who hate him simply because of who he is”, wrote PinkNews.
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“My DMs were overwhelmed with messages from people telling me that they would kill me, that they would beat me until I couldn’t move and then they would hand me to the police,” Ani said.
“We want to take action. I really hope that with this protest people will come to the realization that if we don’t actually fight for queer liberation, it’s just not going to happen.”
The “cross-dressing” bill, if passed, would have horrible repercussions. It would make an already legally complicated situation even worse for Nigeria’s embattled LGBTQ+ community, as homosexuality is illegal in Nigeria. Queer people have no legal protection against discrimination in the country. In 2013, Nigeria’s parliament formally banned same-sex marriage. It introduced criminal penalties for those who marry somebody of the same sex.
According to Pink News, Nigeria’s ban on homosexuality originated as a colonial-era law imposed under British rule. This is the case in many African countries. Although the country achieved independence in 1960, the legacy of colonialism still stands tall for LGBT+ activists fighting for a better future.
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Featured Image adapted via PinkNews.