Nigerian culture is a multifaceted mix of tradition and conflicting tensions with contemporary Western life. Growing up in Nigeria, I was immersed in this culture, and I was taught not to question this culture that generations before me had spent years building in other to "strengthen" the social and cultural fabric of Nigeria. One of these cultures is one of homophobia.
No one ever spoke about gay issues in Nigeria; it was simply an accepted fact that homosexuality was an aberration from morality, and gay people were therefore treated as second-class citizens. My high school was simply a microcosm of this homophobic culture. If you were homosexual or engaged in homosexual activities, you were instantly expelled.
I never questioned this homophobic culture, because I was not expected to, but coming to Canada and being immersed in their culture of acceptance and equality, I began to dare myself to push cultural boundaries and break out of social conformity. I rebelled against everything I knew, and for the first time I was armed with the information I needed to make my own decision. My newfound courage, birthed out of a need for understanding and a fear of ignorance, gave me a whole new perspective on homosexuality.
All my life, I had been told that gay people were not "normal." It wasn't so much that I believed that, but I feared the uncertainty that lay in the marginalized culture of homosexuality. I never believed that they were second-class citizens, but I never questioned the actions of my school, because to do that would be to risk suspension or expulsion. So I dwelled in ignorance and chose safety over equality and freedom.
After immersing myself deep into the issues of gay rights, I began to question everything I'd ever been taught. Nothing seemed suspect to me; homosexuality seemed as natural to me as heterosexuality. I could not understand where all the hate and fear came from. I could not understand why homosexuality always had to be this ghettoized issue that floated in an abyss of discrimination.
Nigeria has now stretched its homophobia to new heights: It has passed an anti-gay bill that contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison for same-sex marriages or any form of amorous relationships between people of the same sex. The bill also includes a penalty of up to 10 years in prison for people who attend gay clubs or participate in gay societies or organizations. It has criminalized gay culture completely, even though this bill is bereft of constitutional legitimacy.
Homophobia has infiltrated and infected the fabric of humanity and eluded the values of human rights in Nigeria. These roots of homophobia stem from so many factors, such as the blinding effect religion sometimes has on reason, a post-colonial hatred of Western culture and a disparagement of all the ideals that stem from this culture, and the incompatibility of homosexuality with ignorant, archaic traditions that contrast starkly with modern values.
The culture of homophobia in Nigeria is bathed in ignorance, clouding reason. It is tightly bound to a naïveté that prevents freedom of thought. The real culture that Nigeria ought to embrace is one of equality and acceptance.
I really do hope for and dream of a better Nigeria, a Nigeria that I would be proud to go back to, a Nigeria devoid of hate and discrimination, a Nigeria that cultivates a safe space where I could one day raise my kids, a Nigeria where the belief in equality is stronger than the belief that any class of people should be berated because of who they are and whom they love.
I believe in the possibility of a Nigeria where sexual orientation is seen as a part of the variety of human nature rather than a Nigeria where people feel the need to marginalize and discriminate against gay people. I believe, hope and would fight for a Nigeria where the content of a person's character is used as the sole determinant of who they are and how they ought to be treated. I believe, hope and would continue to fight for a Nigeria that would one day be free from the culture of homophobia.