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Nigeria to ban gay sex?

January 28th, 2006

Dr Petra

Latest reports coming from Abuja (Nigeria) suggests the Nigerian government is proposing a ban on homosexuality and same sex marriage. The justice minister Bayo Ojo claims this approach will prevent Western homosexual influences spreading to Nigeria.

All this is in response to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s concerns about homosexuality. Ojo told the press last week: “Basically it is un-African to have a [sexual] relationship with the same sex. If you look at the holy books, the Bible and the Koran, it is prohibited,”

If the bill becomes law gay rights activists or sex educators discussing homosexuality will be banned. Those found ‘guilty’ of having a same sex relationship, or attempting to participate in or sanctify a relationship with a civil service/marriage will be punished by up to five years imprisonment. There is concern that in 12 states in the north of Nigeria, implementation of Islamic Shari’ah law could endorse stoning to death as a punishment for gay sex.

These decisions are frightening and indicate a lack of knowledge of culture, sexuality and African history. Homosexuality is not a ‘Western fad’, but has a long global history – that includes Africa. Interpretations of religious texts can indicate a negative view on homosexuality, but many other activities that are not viewed problematically are also mentioned yet we do not try to ban them.

We have to be careful not to just blame Nigeria here, or respond to homophobic decisions with patronising or racist reactions. These views were commonly held in many countries in the past, and many nations believe in them still. In the UK it was only recently homosexuality wasn’t illegal or treated as a psychiatric illness, and in the US intelligence agencies and the government ran propaganda campaigns against homosexuals.

In outlawing homosexuality, not only will Nigeria be denying a considerable proportion of its society a basic human right, it will limit the safe delivery of sex education and healthcare, and increase risks of the spread of HIV and other STIs. Whilst Nigerian officials incorrectly perceive homosexuality as a ‘deviance’ they are ignoring those in their population who are gay, lesbian or bisexual. In a homophobic culture people will rightly hide their sexuality for fear of reprisals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It is also naive to assume you can ‘ban’ homosexuality. You can drive it underground and terrorise people into silence or acting straight. But you won’t stop them being lesbian, gay or bisexual.

It will mean the end to brave and creative sex education programmes, and may have negative impacts on neighbouring countries attempting to deliver sex education programmes and tackling HIV.

This decision represents a crucial problem around delivering sex education globally. In many countries what is and isn’t permitted in terms of sexuality, behaviour and education is not based on evidence or debate, but on the whims and prejudices of policymakers and politicians.

Those who oppose homosexuality look to the West and see it as a corrupt and immoral place where young people disrespect parents, and where everyone is more promiscuous and less religious. Those teaching more liberal views on sex are unable or unwilling to engage with those espousing homophobic views. Which means education is limited, human rights are ignored and governments are able to recommend arbitrary laws that have no basis in our modern understanding of sex and sexuality.

In my role as agony aunt I work closely with colleagues in Africa, as well as providing sex advice to some African media outlets. Questions about homosexuality are common, and indicate the fear and exclusion faced by African lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Sadly many Western sexuality organisations fail to recognise or help their African brothers and sisters.

Evidence suggests homosexuality is not a deviance, nor is it something that can or should be ‘cured’.

We need a more progressive and open dialogue to find a comfortable solution to this problem, which doesn’t mean passing judgement on those who try and make homophobic policies, but does mean having discussions that will at times be uncomfortable about human rights and a clearer understanding of what sexuality means.

There are plenty of scholars, activists and therapists tackling these issues globally and I hope this current crisis will lead to people working together to help those in Nigeria who are now facing an uncertain and terrifying future.

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