Nigeria’s lesbians to challenge Act that prohibits same-sex marriage

same marriageBlackmail, excommunication, mob violence, torture and rape. These are the realities Nigeria’s lesbian and bisexual women face – and they have become progressively worse since the passing in 2014 of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA).

This is according to Akudo Oguaghamba, executive director of the Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative and co-chairperson of Pan-African International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

Oguaghamba cites examples. “Two women suspected of being in a relationship were forced by their supposed friends to have sex in public. Pictures were taken, some of which were posted online. We’ve had incidents where women were lured by hoodlums – who posed as women online – raped and pictures taken of their naked bodies. Others are robbed, raped and extorted. One family locked their young sister in the house for weeks, forcing her to proclaim that she is no longer attracted to women. During this time she was physically and verbally abused – even after she denounced her sexuality.”

In addition to the country’s women being “disproportionately affected by poverty, gender-based violence and sexual reproductive rights abuses”, Oguaghamba says “lesbian and bisexual women are often faced with the double stigma of being women and possessing a sexual orientation that is contrary to Nigerian societal norms, which are highly patriarchal, hyper-religious and conservative. So, apart from having to navigate patriarchy and sexism, we have to work and live around the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.”

Signed into law by then-president Goodluck Jonathan in January 2014, the Act ostensibly aims to prohibit same-sex marriage. In reality it goes much further: it not only prohibits same-sex cohabitation and any “public show” of a same-sex amorous relationship, but also imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations” or “supports” the activities of such organisations.

A recently released report by Human Rights Watch, titled Tell Me Where I Can Be Safe, looked into the effects of the Act on the county’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. The study found that, “while the colonial-era criminal and penal codes outlawed sexual acts between members of the same sex, the [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act ] effectively criminalises LGBT persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.

“Many LGBT individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that, prior to the enactment of the [Act] in January 2014, the general public objected to homosexuality primarily on the basis of religious beliefs and perceptions of what constitutes African culture and tradition. The law has become a tool used by some police officers and members of the public to legitimise multiple human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people.

“Human Rights Watch research indicates that, since January 2014, there have been rising incidents of mob violence, with groups of people gathering together and acting with a common intent of committing acts of violence against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act]  contributes to a climate of impunity for crimes committed against LGBT people, including physical and sexual violence.”

Human Rights Watch’s Wendy Isaack is the author of the report. “The Nigerian Criminal Code Act of 1990 contains provisions dealing with Offences against Morality committed by men that carry terms of imprisonment of up to 14 years,” she wrote. “The Sharia Penal Code, adopted by several northern Nigerian states, prohibits and punishes sexual activities between persons of the same sex, with the maximum penalty for men being death by stoning, and for women, whipping and/or imprisonment. Our findings demonstrate that the [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act], in many ways, officially authorises abuses against LGBT people, effectively making a bad situation worse.”

Oguaghamba concurs with Isaack. “This law has been interpreted and misinterpreted by the police, landlords, family members, in schools and by employees. This has worsened the situation of lesbian women and drew a lot negative attention to masculine-presenting women.”

Ngozi Nwosu-Juba is a board member of the Vision Springs Initiatives. Although the organisation initially focused its efforts on promoting and securing the rights of women and girls, Nwosu-Juba says: “Following our experiences, especially with the passing of the [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act], it became mandatory to build capacities of LGBT people, who were facing all forms of violations, hence our programming in that direction.”

Nwosu-Juba says this shift was largely a result of “organisations working with men who have sex with men are receiving most of the attention due to HIV prevalence, as this group is at high risk. So far, however, no one has committed to studying or researching some of the issues lesbian and bisexual women face.”

Although there might be scant research, there are organisations that, despite legislation prohibiting their work, are working – often with very little in the way of resources – to improve the lives of lesbian and bisexual women.

Atilola Owen is a sexual and reproductive rights activist, who heads the organisation Faith Initiative, “a group of young African feminists whose vision is to contribute to the national and global promotion of the human rights of vulnerable persons, especially women in Nigeria”.

“The [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act] is a very draconian law, which makes it difficult for us to render services property. Many community members don’t even know there are organisations such as ours that offer services that cater to them,” she says.

In addition to the organisation’s work to inform more LGBTI people about their rights, particularly in rural areas, it also initiated a two-week football competition, which brings together lesbian and bisexual women from the eastern parts of the country.

Says Owen: “We essentially use it as an opportunity to build their self-esteem and empower them, but also to bring them together and foster unity.”

The sports event also fosters unity between the women participating in it and the broader society. “The atmosphere is always cheerful. And the fact that the community attends and is supportive makes it a really great way to bridge divides.”

Julia Chukwu, who did not want to give her real name, is a Nigerian-based legal practitioner and executive committee member of the Coalition of African Lesbians.

“It is very difficult for organisations working with LGBT people in Nigeria to function, but there is a strong presence. They’re really trying, but what has been the impact on the community and larger society? It’s good to empower LGBTI people, but we need to change the mind-set of people.”

A study released in October 2015 shows that attitudes are shifting – slowly. Titled A Closer Look at Nigeria: Attitudes on Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual People, the study, put together by the Bisi Alimi Foundation, noted: “In 2015, 87% of Nigerians supported the [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act]. However, polling about this issue has been occurring since the law was in planning stages, starting in 2010, and measures of support have been steadily declining ever since. In 2010, 96% of respondents supported the [Act], 92% in 2013 and 87% in 2015.”

Chukwu says active steps are soon to be taken to challenge the constitutionality of the Act.

“A core group of activists are in the process of challenging clauses within the [Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act] they feel are unconstitutional. For example, the Constitution allows for the right to freedom of association, but the [Act] has stated in its provisions that [people] cannot have LGBTI clubs, groups or gatherings. This is affecting the work of organisations working within the community on, for example, HIV prevention and treatment.”

Whether this challenge yields the desired results remains to be seen. Until then, activists like Owen will continue their fight.

“You know, since this Act was passed in 2014, so many women I know want to leave Nigeria to find shelter somewhere else. But not everyone can leave Nigeria.”

“Besides,” she says, after a slight pause, “I don’t believe in running. If we all leave here, who is going to be left to conquer this? Who?”

Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian

The article is from: http://mg.co.za/article/2016-11-23-00-nigerias-lesbians-to-challenge-act-that-prohibits-same-sex-marriage

What Does The Removal Of Proposition 8 Mean For The Bisexual Community?

communityWith all the depressing headlines lately, last week when I heard that Prop 8 had been overturned in California,at first I thought it was either a joke or I had to be dreaming. I admit I had stopped following the progress of the anti-Prop 8 fight, having lost faith in CA ever giving BLGT people back their rights after they voted in Prop 8 in 2008. I never thought they would strike it down so quickly (within two years).

Naturally what followed was a lot of celebrating in the BLGT community (especially in CA!) and then the sober realization that Prop 8 or something like it could very easily be reinstated; within 24 hours anti-equality groups had already filed an appeal, and hateful articles and quotes have sprung up all over the internet.

In the aftermath of everything, an interesting question popped up: what does the overturning of Prop 8 mean for the bisexual community, and how will it affect us? For starters, many of us remember it was only a few months ago that we were being brought up as a scapegoat reason not to get rid of Prop 8! Some cynically said that’s the only time we’ve been mentioned in the whole Prop 8 saga; and unfortunately there is some truth to that. It seems that one thing the celebrations have shown is that we’re still barely being acknowledged as even being part of the fight for same-sex rights; at least not when there’s good news.

I kept hearing and reading last week about the rights of “gays and lesbians” to marry and how this will affect them marrying in California. Occasionally someone said or wrote all four BLGT letters, I think I actually saw the word bisexual written out once. You’d think after being listed as a reason not to take away Prop 8, we’d at least get more than that!

That being said, this also presents several positive opportunities for the bisexual community; to celebrate with the rest of our BLGT brothers and sisters, to be more vocal and visible, and to remind people that as bisexuals, this is a victory and a right for us too. A big part of the victory is that bisexual men and women living in CA will now be able to marry their same sex partners, and for some in the closet, it may mean finally coming out.

It’s also a new opportunity to put ourselves in the spotlight more as out bisexuals and help in the fight to keep Prop 8 (and other laws like it around the country) from coming back and/or from being passed. This can be accomplished both by working with other BLGT people and by focusing on the unique needs of our own community. If we step back and get discouraged, things will never change.

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

Is the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

obamaWhen I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

doma protestLet’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.

Massachusett: Where Same-sex Marriage is Legal

gay marriageHi everyone, my apologies for being gone for a while — I am getting over an injury that has prevented me from typing much until now. I recently visited the great blue state of Massachusetts, where same sex marriage is legal and has been since 2004, and did my best to record my experiences and observations.

For starters, the lies of the religious right became even more amusing. They would have us all believe that society would literally fall apart at the seams if same-sex marriage becomes legal. I found the opposite to be true. MA seemed to be functioning quite smoothly. Both opposite sex couples and religious institutions (both of which I saw plenty!) are doing just fine, and no one is “persecuting them.” There is a very active Catholic population.

From what I saw — most of the people seem pretty liberal and easygoing (unless the Red Sox8 loose!). Boston itself is very diverse, and they appear to be proud of that fact. I saw much diversity and all kinds of couples-interracial, opposite sex, and same sex. A pleasant surprise was that I saw several same sex couples walking about openly holding hands in the “mainstream” public. Where I live, you really don’t see much of that except in the ‘gay section” of town, even though I don’t exactly live in a conservative area. I saw one same sex couple sitting in a park being very affectionate with one another-and no one around them seemed to care. There wasn’t starting, or pointing, or laughing. It was just another couple being cute with each other like all the couples. Now granted, MA has had five years to get used to the idea, but I really hope what we are seeing is a trend-that hopefully in a few years in most states, the idea won’t be such an alien one, and a same sex couple will be just “another couple”.

Boston of course, is the proud home of the Bisexual Resource Center. They had a meeting while I was there, but unfortunately I couldn’t attend. I did talk to some people at the center, which is downtown, and they told me that Boson has one of the largest bi networks in the country, and that the BRC participates heavily in pride every year. They were preparing for pride, and they do a lot to promote bi visibility. Although Boston is better than most places when it comes to bi visibility, there is still work to be done, and I’m glad that the BRC is there to do it! I was really proud to speak to them and hope to actually go to a meeting next time I visit.

I did have a chance to check out the BTLG bar scene, and I met some really interesting people, B’s, T’s, L’s and G’s all of which seemed cool with the fact that I was bi. The bars were pretty interesting.

Unfortunately, no trip seems to be complete without at least one homophobic experience, and even though MA is a great liberal state, it’s no exception to that rule. From what I was told by the locals, up there it happens quite a bit less then a lot of other places, but it still does happen. I personally experienced it myself-coming out of a gay bar where I’d met up with some friends who unfortunately had to leave. I was planning where to go next, when big guy approached me and started screaming homophobic slurs at me. I admit my response wasn’t the smartest-I yelled back at him. He started walking toward me. I pulled out my pepper spray and said “if you come any closer I will spray you”. He stopped and we stood there. What happened next was totally unexpected. There were some guys walking by, on their way to the bar I had been at, and they stopped and defended me-and told him to leave me alone. Outnumbered, he left. They and I started talking and hung out for a while, and they escorted me to the subway to make sure I got there safely. They told me to be careful, that homophobes in that area like to come out at night and especially like to pick on girls coming out of BTLG bars alone. I guess no area is perfect unfortunately, but I have to admit it was nice to have my own little gay liberation army! To me this really underscores how we all need to stick together when confronted with bigotry.

On the whole, I had a lot of fun, and I hope to go back soon. I also hope that my experience of seeing so many same sex couples blend will be something we’ll all start to see in many more states!

Figuring Out Obama and DOMA

obamaIs the whole BLGT community up in arms about President Barack Obama’s position about DOMA? Read our Op-Ed from our Blogger Mizz.

When I heard that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), I was surprised, but then I’d read somewhere that there was a legal reason they had to defend it for now. Then I actually read the defense, and along with a lot of the BTLG community, I was shocked. Had President Obama just thrown us under a bus after all the promises he made? Did he have a hand in writing this? Did he know about it? Did someone else write it to make him look bad? I didn’t know what to think. The brief seemed rather passionate in its defense and even seemed to recall some of the stereotypes about BTLG people (a connection to pedophilia, etc.) and going so far as to say DOMA is good for the economy. Many activists began calling for Obama’s head, saying he’d betrayed us. Several are pulling out of DNC fundraisers, and not supporting the Democratic Party anymore. Not long after Obama gave some legal benefits to same-sex partners of government workers; and he has promised to do more, and recently some BTLG activists (including Bi activist Robyn Ochs!) were invited to the White House to talk with him. However, many are saying that it’s “too little too late”, that we “wasted our time with him” and that we “never should have voted for him”. While I too was dismayed, I’d like to ask one question: “Would we be better off if the opposition had won last November?” The answer is a big fat NO. Somehow I doubt anyone would have been invited to the white house or even acknowledged. It could have been worse than the past eight years.

Let’s face it, this administration is the best we’re going to get, at least for now. While I can’t understand [DOMA] it was written as it was (if they had to defend it, they could have done so in a less inflammatory manner), there is progress on several other fronts-the inclusion of BTLG people, the government benefits, the invitations to the white house, the rumors about repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT – a trans-inclusive EDNA.

Let’s remember, that BTLG issues are not the only ones – when it comes to things like war and poverty, understandably, those will take a back seat. I don’t envy the president’s job — every group wants what they want NOW, you’re expected to fix everything immediately, and no matter what you do, someone will call for your head – sometimes literally. Plus some people hate you for nothing other than being black. You have to try and govern from the center. My personal opinion; if Obama was in on the writing of the brief, he probably figured he’d go ahead and throw a bone to the conservatives since for now, he had to defend DOMA anyway. I think it backfired. The right is going to hate him no matter what he does, and if he wants to throw them “bones”, it shouldn’t be at any community’s expense.

I’m ticked about the brief, but I also understand that when you are a politician in the position of the president — well, let’s just say you aren’t always going be able to keep all your promises, and yes, some things will have to take a backseat, at least temporarily. Then there’s the strong role religion plays in all this-the president is liberal but still religious, and is going to have pressure from several religious groups. To be fair, he’s been honest the whole time that he doesn’t support same-sex marriage because of religious reasons, so maybe supporting the “Defense of (heterosexual) marriage” shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise.

What’s odd is the contradiction between reaching out to the community, the language in the brief, and then reaching out again? As I said, perhaps it was some attempt at a bad concession. I don’t think anyone is really sure, and it’s immature to try and draw too many conclusions. The best thing to do is wait, take every opportunity given us when the administration does reach out, work on educating the public, be cautious about any DNC support, and to hope for the best. When the administration stops inviting our leaders over to the white house to talk, and/or starts behaving more like the previous administration-then I will really worry. For now, I am going to extend the benefit of the doubt, try and reserve judgment, continue with activism, and wait and see. If some in the community don’t agree with me, fine, that’s their prerogative. For the record, I don’t regret my vote at all last November — because I’ve seen work on several other issues — and as far as BTLG issues go — if the other side had won, we wouldn’t even be having this debate because there would be nothing to talk about.