I was having a conversation with one of my closest friends the other day, we were talking about life in general, and somehow the conversation veered to the LGBT activism in Nigeria and the way forward. We explored different things and we looked at the way forward especially as it affects the young LGBT people in Nigeria. I told him that I somewhat envy the younger generation of gay men and women, because of the era that they are born in. Yes, Nigeria is still deeply homophobic and all, but they were born in the era of technology and information, and somehow it makes things a bit easier for them. Allow me to digress a bit at this point.
I remember when I was in my finals in the university and working on my thesis; it was crazy, I spent lots of time reading journals, all of which I’d downloaded from the internet. I had a supervisor who wanted me to do the groundwork so he could publish the data I had generated as his own work. Anyway I remember one night I was working in my room, papers scattered all over the place, and I was staying awake with caffeine. And my mom came in to chat a bit. When I lamented about how my thesis was killing me, she laughed and said, “Young man, you are in the age of computers and the internet, and you are complaining about your research? Imagine what people of my age had to pass through while doing research? We would spend weeks in the library, going through large books to find relevant information, and here you are with thousands of relevant journals gotten at the click of a button, and I won’t hear word. My friend, keep quiet abeg and do your work!”
I tried to imagine myself with tons of books in the library, scouting for information, and I shuddered at the thought.
Now back to my conversation with my friend: I am not exactly old but I have been here a while and I remember when I was in my teens and early 20s, struggling to find myself as a gay man, I had no resources to look towards. The internet wasn’t even mainstream, as there were no smart devices. You had to go to cramped cyber cafes to read up stuff, with someone standing behind you, waiting for you to finish (and in the interim, entertaining himself with what you are doing, lol). We didn’t have lengthy articles we could read on human sexuality, neither did we have hookup apps like Grindr to help defeat konji (lol). Even on that note, technology has made it easier to avoid Kito (I will do an article next week on staying safe while cruising online).
But look at the world today; the internet has expanded with smartphones and devices and mobile apps. Young people can sit down at home with their phones and learn as much that they can about their sexuality. Look at a website like Kito Diaries and what it has done for all of us. I look at the comments of a lot of the young people here and I see that they are growing (no shade abeg o), and I always say to friends that if I had something like Kito Diaries while I was growing up, I would have avoided quite a few mistakes I made. So I can say in a sense that the underground work is ongoing. Information after all, they say, is power.
So anyways, my friend said that we should be able to find a way to help people who want to travel abroad and seek asylum, that not everyone should stay in Nigeria. At this point, I disagreed with him. I told him that no war has ever been won by people who abandoned the battlefront and that the fight for equality will NOT be won from abroad. I mean, there have been many times I thought of packing my bags and heading off to Europe (who knows, I may still do it), but I remind myself that people fought for the equality and liberties enjoyed in those lands. Some even paid with their blood. So while we are seeking a better existence for ourselves, we should think of the strategies we can employ to move towards equality. If we don’t act now, in 100 years, we will still be talking about the same things, and most importantly, we would have failed the generations of LGBT to come just the same way the generation that were before us failed us. We should consider also that eventually Nigeria will decriminalize homosexuality (even though homophobia is still going to be deeply entrenched in our culture, mostly fuelled by religion); Goodluck Jonathan was even quoted recently as saying that the legislation should be revisited. When that happens, how will those seeking asylum abroad get it? You see that this is not a long term solution.
At this point, my friend then asked me what I thought was the way forward. I want to share the thoughts I told him with you guys. First of all, I don’t have all the answers; nobody knows all the answers, and I believe in synergism (biomedical scientists here know how synergism plays out in pharmacology) and team effort. To win, we need to put our house in order. We must as a matter of urgency set aside all pettiness and squabbles and advance with one voice (this is a difficult thing to achieve, but not impossible). We must stop with masculine gay men denigrating the effeminate ones, Bottoms bashing Versatiles, gay men collectively excluding lesbians and bisexuals, and some of us thinking that the married ones among us worship at the feet of Satan himself. We will not move forward with this attitude and we won’t achieve anything.
However most importantly, we need money to wage this war. Let me explain the context. We need to consciously groom an army of financially independent gay men and women, all of whom will be committed to the cause in different ways. Think of a football team; there are strikers, midfielders, defenders and the goal keeper, all of who have distinct roles but with a common target of winning the match against the opponent. We may not all be like Bisi Alimi, using our voices and travelling the globe to advance equality in Nigeria; some of us may work in the background, doing quiet work but still fighting the fight.
How then do we create this army, you may ask. First of all, make up your mind to be the best at what you do, and when you are good at what you do, success will follow (this is a rule of the universe). It is often said that there is no space in the world for mediocre men; I would adapt that quote and say there is even less space in the world for mediocre LGBT people. We live in a country where people believe you are cursed for being gay and that you won’t make something out of your life for going against the course of nature. So you have to work at proving them wrong. This is the reality of the system we live in, and we have to find ways to press forward. Make up your mind that nothing will stop you; not discrimination, not the judgmental looks, not how your family treats you, not HIV! Make up your mind that nothing will stop you and vow by whatever it is that you believe in that you will be successful and a person of influence in whatever capacity. It is a proven fact that anything we desire strongly and pursue, we will find. That is another law of the universe.
We also have to support one another (again here, unity comes in). In America today, there is a wave in the black community in which black people patronize black-owned businesses; they spend black, watch black, listen black, wear black etc. We can do the same here, just NOT at the expense of mediocrity. If for instance your company is hiring, send word to your qualified gay friends to apply and put in word for them with human resources to get them shortlisted (they can take it from there). If your company needs vendors, look out for gay vendors who can get the job done. Patronize gay people who run legit hustles and help them move their business to the next level. This is how we create an army of gay people who are financially independent and who can finance this war, and with this money, we can for example build safe houses (for teenagers thrown out by their parents), run clinics focused on the sexual health of MSMs, even create scholarships and SME funds for businesses run by our people. Even if help will come from the West, we must be seen to have started acting.
I came across an app recently on the internet. It is called “My g-work”, which is essentially like LinkedIn for gay people – a network of professional gay men who share information with one another and help themselves move ahead career wise. They share job vacancies including insider information; gay business owners and company heads also use it to recruit staff, and other business owners seek for more business and advertise their services on the network. This is a clear cut strategy to win, and we can employ and adapt models like that to win in Nigeria.
When we are well off financially, we can influence government policies from the inside (isn’t that the way super PACs work in America?); we can sponsor people into parliament and they will cause disturbance there. Imagine if we put someone like our very own Dr. Francis in NACA? Gay men would be included in the HIV policy of Nigeria. Or think about if Khaleesi was our attorney general, or works in that office? This is how viruses work in medicine; they invade the host and multiply over time, and slowly take down the host’s defenses, and before you know it, you are down with an infection. Ladies and gentlemen, we can invade and infect Nigeria and slowly take it down and make it easier for the generations coming behind us to be gay. This is what we owe them, a debt we should pay.
Consider this another clarion call to action! We may have support from outside but ultimately we will wage this war ourselves and we can win, albeit in stages. Learn as much as you can learn; don’t use all your data downloading ‘Drake bangs Daquan’ on breeditraw.com (lol, sorry I couldn’t resist), but also use the internet to educate and empower yourself. We need as much soldiers as we can get; from those mounting podiums to raise their voices against homophobia, to those quietly diffusing homophobic bombs at dinner tables and workplaces, even down to those mentoring the young ones! We are all important and together we can win. Information is power and when dealing with logical people, if you present higher information, they are most likely to concede.
REMEMBER, MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, WE STAND TOGETHER, WE INVADE, WE OVERWHELM AND THEN WE INFECT!
This has been very preachy, but please, excuse me today. I needed to get this off my chest!
*Drops mic and exits stage*