Adunni Tiwatope is the Programs Director of Queer City Media and Production, and the Project Officer of FEMMEHIVE, the foremost trans focused initiative that caters support, resource, and capacity development for Trans Women and Trans Femme persons living in Lagos, Nigeria.
As a response to the erasure and discrimination that Queer and Trans people faced in West Africa, QueerCity media at the completion of 5 years of thematic works has successfully provide capacitating resources, partnered with international networks, stakeholders and organisations that support Queer organising to improve LGBTIQ lives in Nigeria.
We sat down with Adunni during this year’s Pride In Lagos festivities for #MCNWorkLife to talk about the work she is doing with FEMMEHIVE during Pride In Lagos Festival and the future she envisions for Trans liberation in Nigeria.
Hello, please can you introduce yourself?
My name is Adunni Tiwatope. I am the programs director for QueerCity Media and Productions, the organisation that produces the Pride In Lagos festival, The Third Cafe, Haus II gallery and FEMMEHIVE. We are a media and advocacy network that works to create safe spaces for LGBTIQ representation in Nigeria.
What else do you do outside your work at QueerCity Media?
Apart from my work as a Director, I also work as a cyber intelligence analyst, a researcher, and an educator with work focused on gender literacy and capacity development for women of Trans experience.
As a woman of Trans experience, I do many things as I could, I do not have the privilege to put all my eggs in one basket. Globally, Trans people experience much more discrimination than the average person, and as such I have become proactive about addressing my own needs and the needs of my community.
I believe that Trans people are experts in solving their own problems so I do what needs to be done while I work and learn on the job.
What does Pride mean to you personally?
Pride to me is work. Pride is joy and happiness, but personally, pride reminds me of how far we are from equality and the work that needs to be done to close that gap. In Africa, LGBTQIA lives need to be acknowledged and protected, so for me pride is as strategic as it is joyful.
People do not consider queer and trans people to be competent or capable of creativity, power, elegance, positioning. This year’s Pride in Lagos Festival, FEMMEHIVE organised a capacity building workshop and also virtual panel conversation focused on support coordination, empowerment and safe space
navigation for Trans/NB community in Lagos Nigeria.
This is such work that is achieved with Pride in Lagos Organizing. Pride In Lagos allows us to create a space for the community to connect, share resources and express their qualities. I love for people to be in spaces and take up space, to live and take up positions in social, political and cultural spaces.
These are my values and Pride In Lagos is a festival that supports these values.
What is Pride In Lagos?
Pride In Lagos is one of the events we organise at QueerCity through which we champion our agenda for queer liberation in Africa.
When did Pride In Lagos start and what was the inspiration for starting it?
Our first Pride In Lagos festival happened in 2021, it was a much smaller festival, but we had diverse panel conversations that spotlighted the challenges we face as a marginalised community.
Why do you think it is important for a festival like Pride In Lagos to exist?
One thing we are focused on at Queer City Media is spotlighting our many diverse experiences, and creating opportunities for diverse persons under the broad definition of ‘queerness’ to congregate and find common ground.
Pride in Lagos is first and foremost a political movement. Queer lives in Nigeria have been politicised by the government and by religious organisations and they have chosen to push certain negative narratives and stereotypes. Pride In Lagos exists to challenge those narratives and show that LGBTQIA lives and LGBTQIA living is complex and diverse.
We also host Pride In Lagos to build community in Nigeria, to showcase the spectrum of queer lives and to show that despite all the challenges, queer people are living and thriving. This festival allows us to create a safe space where all the internal politics that segregate different queer groups from each other is temporarily suspended and we can all share happiness and love, and celebrate ourselves and each other.
It would be somewhat weird to discuss a Pride festival without discussing the SSMPA Bill that was passed in 2014. Why have you chosen to organise the festival despite these laws?
From the discussion we had in the Pride in Lagos town hall summit, it is no longer illegal to congregate for queer events or to run organisations that cater to the needs of queer persons. It was announced during our Pride In Lagos Summit this year, but I think it bears repeating.
As at 2022, Sections 4 and 5 of the SSMPA Bill that restrict queer persons from gathering and prevent organisations from catering specifically to queer persons without breaking the law have been successfully challenged and struck out as a violation of basic human rights as enshrined by the National Constitution.
Activists within the country worked to challenge the legality of the original provisions of the SSMPA Bill. While the Bill has been revised in theory, a lot of straight and queer persons are ignorant about the present reality. If we don’t exercise our rights and insist on our right to associate, the general public will continue to uphold the old law. We evolve, test the limits of the interpretation of the law and ensure the safety of our communities while we gather.
So while we exercise our rights to gather, we are also taking personal safety precautions by hiring queer friendly locations for our events, ensuring we put a premium on safety during our events and educating our guests on our safety policies.
In what ways do you think this bill has affected the rights of queer people across Nigeria?
The SSMPA Bill denied queer persons the right to associate and put a target on our backs for intimidation, extortion and harassment. So many queer and trans people experienced violence, so many people fled the country. It also forced us to mobilise to fight the bill.
It has taken 8 years but we have successfully fought and repealed certain aspects of the law, but the panic that came from the Bill persists. The SSMPA Bill is biassed, criminalising our existence and helping us to truly understand the fact that our lives are political and our visibility is political.
Are there any parts of this year’s festival line up that really excite you?
As a woman of Trans experience, being able to take up the space to moderate the pride in Lagos Town hall summit was outstanding.
This is the first time that an openly trans woman took the figure to speak and moderated a public intellectual forum. There is some social acceptance, but the visibility of trans women is often tokenized or made the butt of some misogynistic or transphobic jokes. For me to anchor the space during a forum with the theme ‘What is the state of our movement?’, feels like a full circle moment.
Also, the presence and representation of the FEMMEHIVE community and the support we got for our workshop and panel conversation also stood out.
Lastly, I am very proud of QueerCity for being the first to acknowledge the 30 year career of Nigerian queer rights activist, Michael Akanji. He has worked extensively since the 90’s to ensure that queer rights in the country has been institutionalised and it was a bittersweet moment that we were finally able to acknowledge
his tireless work, but in doing so, highlight the fact that his work has gone largely unnoticed even within queer spaces for 30 years.
What efforts has Pride In Lagos put in place to ensure that the festival’s events this year are more inclusive for women?
We are very keen on inclusion at Queer City Media and Pride In Lagos. The focus of our work is intersectionality so whether the person is cis, trans, queer or an ally, we welcome everyone who wants to be part of the festival and contribute to the work we are doing.
This year, PRIDE IN LAGOS spotlighted FEMMEHIVE, the first Trans Focused initiative under the auspices of QueerCity Media. FEMMEHIVE works to engage, support and empower Trans Women through a series of trans-focused strategic programs that we run, one of our programs is the Transitioning Home- a safe residency that caters housing and development for trans women in their early stage of transitioning.
Our other programs include; resource provision in terms of welfare, monthly community dialogue, micro grant support for startup trans initiatives, capacity building and support groups engagement. Pride in Lagos festival opened the floor for Trans women to be positively represented through FEMMEHIVE workshop and panel discussion.
However, Pride in Lagos is open to women of all orientations irrespective of their background and identifiers. One of the outcomes of this is a report about the living conditions for trans women published by QueerCity Media and the analysis from this research support us in formulating extensive policies.
What are your thoughts on the rising wave of homophobic and transphobic legislation that seeks to strip the rights of queer persons in countries like Ghana and Uganda?
I would like to answer this question by first discussing what is happening at home. When the Crossdresser Bill was introduced by the Nigerian National Assembly, our first line of response at QueerCity was a public campaign to protest the bill, expose the sinister ways it can be implemented and educate the public on why it needed to be abandoned, the ambiguity of the bill and advocating that it be abandoned. We had learned from previous experience that early pushback and advocacy is how we change minds.
The Ugandan Bill and Ghanaian bills are not just to erase queer identities but also to politicise queer lives. We cannot specifically name their motives, but their actions are never driven by concern, but from private agendas. So we push back because we know our rights even as queer people are inalienable, and public protest brings results.
I commend the global community for supporting activists on the continent with campaigns and sanctions, and pushing back against the individuals who attempt to infringe on queer rights. We hope that even as bill has been passed in Uganda, that support will evolve to accommodate the needs of the queer communities who are affected by these laws
What is your hope for Pride In Lagos for the next decade?
I want to watch Pride In Lagos grow. I feel any growth Pride In Lagos experiences will be my own growth. We, the team, have worked tirelessly to bring this idea to life, lost sleep over this, just so we can celebrate queer lives and queer culture in Nigeria, and to help others experience it in a holistic way.
And I want to see Pride In Lagos grow bigger and the team getting better at achieving this.
What advice would you have for young women and other people who identify as queer in a country that criminalises their existence?
I won’t say leave the country, because I feel that is insensitive to the people who do not have the privilege and resources to escape the bigotry and discrimination in the country.
So instead, I will say, find peace.
However you can find peace, prioritise your wellbeing and safety and continue to thrive in spite of all the negativity we experience, I would say, find peace.