Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Statement on the International Day agaianst Homophobia and Transphobia 2011

Queer Alliance Nigeria

Statement on the International Day against Homophobia 2011

Fellow Countrymen,

Around the world today, the campaign against injustice on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is being marked. It may not be a popular day as compared with other dates on the calendar of the United Nations or national activities, but it also a day in which the United Nations stand in solidarity with all sexual minorities/organizations and progressive human rights group in calling for a climate of tolerance towards everyone irrespective of their perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity. As Nigerian citizens, we are also joining our voices in calling for this tolerance and to remind our government, religious bodies, media, schools and the general public that we may be run out of our churches, mosques, homes, jobs and neighborhood, but we cannot be run out of this nation because our contribution to national development is also needed. Most especially also, that Nigeria remains our country and this is the country we want to live in.

Permit me to on behalf of the sexual minorities’ communities in Nigeria congratulate the President-elect, President Goodluck Jonathan on his victory at the just concluded polls. Our message also goes out to all those who contested the elections but lost. It is not a loss per se but a step further in the development of our dear country. Barely two weeks from now, a new administration would be sworn-in to lead the quest for the development of the country for the next four years. Allegiance would be sworn by all those who won their election bid with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whilst during the electioneering; power, job creation, improved education, fight against corruption amongst other pertinent issues surfaced as issues to be address in the next dispensation, one notable election promise was the 35% that was promised to the women on the Goodluck/Sambo ticket. The sexual minorities’ communities welcome this initiative which will believe will propel gender equity and development, linked to the rights of the Nigerian women which inevitable includes lesbian and bisexual women.

At this point in the history of our country, it is important to note that we are going through a period in which the decisive support for the rule of law, principles of freedom of speech, artistic and intellectual expression, association, religious liberty, dignity of the Human Person, freedom from discrimination, an open society and the respect/recognition of the rights of all Nigerians have become an absolute necessity. These are also revolutionary times all over the world. The world is beginning to revolt against old systems of exploitation and oppression – whatever the form of oppression be it civil, political, religious - paving way for a world in which justice and equality are fundamental issues. But we must not also forget that the world is revolting against oppression on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Nigeria should not remain indifferent; it must lead the way in Africa.

Nigeria’s constitution guarantees every citizen their fundamental human rights. The Chapter IV of the constitution gives a list these rights. Notable is the Right to the Dignity of the Human Person, The Right to Freedom from Discrimination and The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association. Our ratification to international covenants and laws (notably Universal Declaration on Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women etc.), recognizes the fact that we know and acknowledge that sexual orientation and gender identity is and should be a protected clause in the context of human rights.

The Right to Freedom from Discrimination has been interpreted internationally to also from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While the constitution endorse the Right to Freedom from Discrimination, discriminatory and repressive laws found in the Penal And Criminal Codes of the nation gives a breeding ground for the perpetration of hate crimes and violations of human rights on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in the country.

In Nigeria violence against sexual minorities are frequent and occur on a daily basis, mostly under-reported. People with same sex orientation are being attacked by members of the society, using these discriminatory laws and religious texts to fuel their acts. These people go unpunished for these dastardly acts. Discriminatory laws found in the penal and Criminal Codes also prevent sexual minorities from seeking redress because state actors, especially law enforcement agencies use these laws to further abuse and violate their human rights. Edge, a Boston based news site for the gay community reports that a man in Lagos was attacked and killed by a gang claiming “they were ‘cleansing’ Lagos of homosexuals” (Edge 17 April 2008). So also the death of Innua Yakubu, a student of the Government College, Jigawa in 2002 was premised on the basis of him being gay by his classmates.

In September 2008, members of the House of Rainbow, Metropolitan Community Church, a gay-friendly church based in Lagos were harassed by the public and police. This harassment began when national dailies published personal information about church members and the Pastor. The safety of the Pastor, Rev. Rowland Jide Macaulay was at risk, making him flee the country in which he grew up. These examples violate the Right to the Dignity of the Human Person, The Right to Freedom from Discrimination and The Right to Peaceful Assembly and Association, which are guaranteed in the constitution. On the 12th of April 2010, my friend and I were attacked as we walked down the neighbourhood in the evening. Since this incident I have been careful of the places I go when evening falls within my own community. Countless examples abound in the country on violence and hate crimes committed on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity with impunity.

The provisions in the Penal and Criminal Code allows for the rampant abuse of the rights of sexual minorities. It has been the breeding ground for all kinds of assault, abuse and violence that sexual minorities face. From discrimination by state actors and non-state actors to family and societal rejection, sexual minorities will remains victims of homophobia and other forms of abuses, if the laws remain unchanged and nothing is done when peoples’ rights are violated on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nigeria’s signatory to international treaties and covenants that protect from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity must reflect in the nation’s application of the rule of law and the principles of freedom. Fundamental human rights that are accorded to everyone in the constitution must not be in conflict with other laws of the land which fuels discrimination and violence. The constitution remains the guiding document for us all in Nigeria, and its contents under Chapter IV must be respected and made to take full force, such that violation of human rights on whatever grounds becomes a criminal offence. Hence, these laws need be reviewed, repealed or amended. This is the first step in ridding our society of intolerance and hatred based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity.

Sexuality is not a dark part of man’s life that must be shrouded in secrecy. But is a rare gift of life from the creator that must be expressed lovingly. No one should suffer abuse and violence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The law should aid in helping members of the society respect one another’s sexuality.

As a country we do not need a religiously ordered society but a spiritually ordered mind that will propel us to love our neighbors as ourselves irrespective of our civil, political, religious and sexual differences. This in turn will transpire out into the socially ordered Nigerian society that we all yearn for. We must re-orientate ourselves from a ‘thing-centered’ perspective to ‘person-oriented’ perspective. Archbishop Desmond Tutu captures it all: Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn't it amazing that we are all made in God's image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And do any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love? My rights affects and is linked with your rights too.

Our own, Noble Laureate, Wole Soyinka, who with other distinguished African writer have condemned the wave of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity sweeping across Africa: We wish to state emphatically that homosexuality is neither a sin nor a social or cultural construct. It is a biological given. Homosexuals are human beings like everybody else. Scientific research has been helpful in clearing the fog of ignorance entrenched by some religious texts in regards to homosexuality. Our opinions of same sex oriented persons must change for the better just as our opinion of slavery has changed even though it was endorsed by those same religious texts. All violence against gays and people deemed to be gay in Africa must cease forthwith.

Today we call on every citizen to abide by the principle of ‘love your neighbour as yourself’f and not love your neighbour as yourself unless he/she is gay. As the most populous nation in Africa and in our self-acclamation as the giant of Africa, we should lead the way in the respect for the rule of law and principles of freedom. As a country wanting to be among the 20 most developed nation by the year 2020, we cannot afford not to protect the rights of everyone. The protection of these rights would result in an enabling environment for the development of the individual and the nation holistically. Our nation should be known as a land in which the diversity of the human family is appreciated, respected and recognized.

We also call on African governments to learn from the South African example by expunging from their laws all provisions that criminalize homosexuality or treat persons with these orientation as unworthy of the same rights and entitlements as other citizens. African states must protect the rights of their citizens to freedom and dignity. People must not be denied these rights on the basis on who they attracted to.

Today we call on all African governments, especially governments of sub-Saharan African countries to:

• Decriminalize homosexuality and repeal all forms of discriminatory laws that impede the growth of every individual

• Legislate to criminalize violence and human rights abuse on the basis of perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity

• Uphold the fundamental human rights of their citizens, most especially sexual minorities

Let us appreciate the diversity that is present in our different societies and countries, of which sexual diversity is part. We are all unique and different. It is this uniqueness and difference that completes our humanity. Let us display the spirit of humanity towards each other.

As we use today to call and clamor for the respect and recognition of sexual minorities’ and a climate of tolerances, we urge our governments, legislators and policy makers to look back, reflect and repeal laws that deny citizens their fundamental rights and make them objects of violence and abuse in their respective communities. We look forward to the day that our rights as sexual minorities shall be upheld and protected constitutionally in Nigeria and across the sub-region region.

God Bless Nigeria and Long Live Africa.