Thursday, March 22, 2007

It's 'Un-African' For Nigeria To Treat GLBT People This Way

photo-Nigerian president General Osegun Obasanjo and his good friend president George W. Bush

I gripe with my friends sometimes about the way that GLBT/SGL peeps are treated in the United States and how backward we are legislatively compared to enlightened countries like South Africa, Canada, Great Britain and Spain.

But to some of our African cousins, we are the enlightened ones in terms of the hell they are catching all over the African continent, with South Africa, Mali and Burkina Faso being the glaring exceptions.

Nigeria is about to pass a draconian new law in advance of their upcoming national elections next month that is the wet dream of our homophobic Religious Right.

Nigeria already punishes people with 14 year jail sentences for consensual homosexual contact under the provisions of a law dating back to the British colonial period. If you are a Nigerian who is unfortunate enough to live in the 12 northern Nigerian states with Muslim population majorities, they are under Islamic Sharia law and the punishment is death by stoning.

But the proposed law being billed as a same-sex marriage ban has some alarming provisions that would make ANY public or private expression of homosexuality in the Federal Republic of Nigeria a crime.

Under this proposed Nigerian law you could get five years in jail for:

*Being a member of a gay group

*Attending a gay meeting or protest

*Donating money to a gay organization

*Advocating gay equality in any way, shape, or form.

*Hosting or visiting a gay Web site

*Expressing same-sex love in letters or e-mails

*Attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony

*Screening or watching a gay movie

^Taking or possessing photos of a gay couple

*Publishing, selling, or loaning a gay book or video.

The proposed law goes beyond a simple same-sex marriage ban. It punitively targets GLBT/SGL peeps for simply existing. In addition to criminalizing the activities listed mere everyday socializing by two or more gay people would potentially be interpreted as illegal.

Even heterosexual allies would be affected. Nigerians could find themselves being charged with the crime of 'promoting the lifestyle of homosexuals' with broad parameters on what constitutes the 'crime' of 'promoting homosexuality'. For example, simply selling a house to a gay couple could earn you a trip to prison.

The proposed Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was introduced last year by Nigerian Minister of Justice Bayo Ojo but a firestorm of international criticism temporarily tabled it.

While the proposed law has 100% support from Archbishop Peter Akinola, the homophobic leader of the Nigerian Anglican Church, its passage is still in doubt. Reportedly one third of the Nigerian National Assembly supports it, one third opposes it and one third is still undecided.

While President Obasanjo is term limited, his hand-picked successor is Umaru Yar'Adua, the governor of Katsina state in the Nigerian Islamic north. If he becomes president of Nigeria he is expected to enforce the new law if enacted.

Realizing that this is a watershed moment for GLBT civil rights in Africa, Nigerian GLBT people and other citizens concerned about its anti-civil rights provisions traveled to Nigeria's capital city of Abuja to testify against the bill. They were initially barred from testifying on the pretext that it was an 'invitation-only hearing' but after intense pressure from the European Union and international embassies they were allowed access to the hearing room to speak out against the bill.

Cary Alan Johnson, senior specialist for Africa of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said in an interview for the Direland Blog that there is still time for United States GLBT people to help kill this bill.

"While Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin have both weighed in against the bill, Americans still need to put pressure on their representatives to condemn the bill. Your readers should call their members of Congress and the State Department and ask them to speak out against the Same-Sex Marriage Act. Full-scale activism is what is needed at this point."

Nigeria is the largest country on the African continent in terms of population. The OPEC oil-producing nation has been making a serious push over the last few years to raise its stature and become an international leader.

But if you want to be an international leader, respect for human rights is a primary prerequisite for that status. It's something that we've unfortunately forgotten over the last six years in the United States. There's another recurring theme in this situation that has proven to be an uncomfortable reality for GLBT peeps all over the world.

Hating on GLBT peeps not only helps lousy leaders hang on to political power, it distracts the population from tackling the serious issues impacting your country.

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