The Importance of Visibility to LGBT Rights Advocacy in Nigeria

Sexualities expression is an integral part of the effective functioning of any individual. However, in certain part of the world, this expression is shrouded in secrecy and fear. Localizing it to the African continent more than 40 countries are with draconian measures regarding sexualities expression on grounds of rashidisame sex orientation. In this context, we explore the relationship of visibility to the emancipation of the LGBT community in Nigeria, its clamour against homophobia and contextualizing it within the fundamental freedom of the right to expression, guaranteed by the 1999 constitution. For the purpose of this article, visibility is defined as the degree to which an issue or a people have attracted attention.
Since the early 2000, LGBT people started organizing for their political, social and economic space in Nigeria. This was at a time when no one could say here goes a homosexual person. I remember vividly at this point in our history as a community, that you could count the people who expressed their sexuality openly. However, the tides were to change for the community when the government introduced the Same Gender Marriage Prohibition Act on grounds of being embarrassed by international activists. That step by the government brought national attention on an issue rarely discussed. Thus the government gave us the first step on the visibility ladder and we have not looked back since then challenging the government on issues of discriminatory policies and even going beyond to contribute to the discourse of the 1999 Constitutional Amendment in 2009.
Foremost, as citizens of Nigeria, the pertinence of change in current legislation from discriminatory to that enabling people to seek redress of injustice on grounds of their sexual orientation and or gender identity cannot be achieved by keeping a low profile. Discriminatory laws and policies have changed for the better in jurisdiction where the tempo for the visibility of the issue and the people affected have been sustained. From apartheid in South Africa to racial discrimination in the United States, visibility for the issues close to the heart of the people kept glowing until the authorities were compelled to change the laws. Connecting that to LGBT advocacy, the laws would not be expunged if we sat comfortably in our corners, not showing the nation how discriminatory laws on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity connects with other sphere of national life. One could assert, in two ways, that it was the lack of visibility that prompted the former minister of foreign affairs, Ojo Madueke to tell the world that gay people were not existing in Nigeria and thus no need to change the status quo. But it was to a greater extent intellectual naivety. If we want the laws to change we must become more visible, first as individuals, secondly as a community and thirdly as a national issue. We did prove Ojo Madueke and indeed the evangelicals that we did exist with the call for the respect of our constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms.
There can be no separation from wanting a change in legislation to actively participating within the political space of our nation. Thus, our visibility as a community of same sex loving individuals is our political power, to be wielded in favour of groups with propensity for human rights respect and recognition not grounded in statuses. Using example from developed nations (forget that western invention thing, it is an evangelical rhetoric), LGBT visibility have forced the government of countries such as the US, UK and Canada to take a decisive foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Other factors can be called into play but the power of visibility cannot be underestimated. Back to Nigeria, the imperativeness of LGBT visibility is a matter of political power for our community. If we keep up the tempo of visibility and connect our issues to broader national issues, we are not far from being a political force in the country. So that even if we use the 1950’s statistics (Alfred Kinsey research on sexualities) we would know the political power that lies in the hand of our community. 1% of 170million is whooping! What political party does not want the vote of this community putting aside that there may be dissenting voices regarding politics amongst LGBT people? Our Visibility is our political power. Little wonder if 1.7million people had poured into the streets chanting against the draconian Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act the government would not have itched in its seat for a systemic review of obnoxious laws. Visibility is our political power and we must wield it if we earnestly yearn for a legislative change in the nearest future.
Stop and consider the label the media put on us as individuals and community. There is stark distinction between pedophilia and homosexuality. But most times, the media exchange it. Visibility can conquer this stigmatizing exchange. The socialization of same sex loving people to conform to heteronormative standard, this writer, believes that our visibility as a community of same sex loving people can change the paradigm. Our visibility as a community also remains a strong evidence for our struggle against fundamentalism, oppression, impunities and stigmatization. It is the lifeline of our advocacy. The lower the visibility, the lower the attention we bring to our issues. And need say that putting and keeping our issues our there is part of visibility. We give the people something to talk about and we are not just sitting idly, but also engaging in the conversation to change minds.
In closing, it is essential to distinguish between coming out and visibility. A rigid diffserence can be placed along the lien of communities and individuals. Coming out is an individual agenda. Visibility embodies the notion of collectivism. The potency in visibility to effect changes in the lives of LGBT people, especially on issues that pertains to legislation is sacrosanct. Visibility must be encouraged across board. Starting from the gatekeepers of the community to the very person who identify as LGBT. Changing the status quo means being visible. Conquering stigma and discrimination means taking the visibility bull by its horns. The public needs to see what it means to be LGBT. In being visible as individuals and a community, we challenge heteronormativity and normalize our sexual identities and choices. We trash norms that disenfranchise not just the community of LGBT people but every other population that feels and bear the weight of discrimination and marginalization.

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