For lesbian visibility day, we must acknowledge the humanity of queer people living among us

In the shadow of widespread discrimination and legal challenges, Lesbian Visibility Day stands as a crucial observance that sheds light on the injustices and daily struggles faced by lesbian women globally, particularly in regions like Nigeria. Instituted to celebrate and acknowledge the identities and contributions of lesbian women, this day serves not only as a celebration but also as a powerful form of resistance against homophobia and social stigma.

In May 2021, an incident involving Amara, a Nigerian lesbian activist, exemplified the pervasive challenges faced by lesbians in Nigeria. Amara shared on social media that she was denied an apartment solely because of her sexual orientation. The landlady, having requested her social media handles, discovered her sexual identity and, citing her Christian beliefs, deemed lesbianism a sin and refused to rent the apartment to Amara. This personal story highlights a broader societal issue: many still harbour severe prejudices against LGBTQ+ individuals, often justifying their bias with religious beliefs.

This type of discrimination is not isolated. The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) in Nigeria has documented an alarming increase in human rights violations against the LGBTQIA+ community since the enactment of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA) in 2014. TIERs’ recent report highlights a record high in incidents, with violations ranging from arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, and physical violence to blackmail, forced evictions, and harmful conversion practices. Specifically, the report notes 346 cases of assault and battery, 170 arbitrary arrests, and 82 forceful evictions, underscoring a systemic issue exacerbated by homophobic legislation and societal discrimination. These figures underscore the adversities that lesbians endure, merely striving to live authentically within a society that frequently marginalises them.

Amara’s experience and the data reflect a grim reality: in Nigeria, heterosexuality is not only the norm but also a privilege that affords individuals societal acceptance and familial support—luxuries often denied to lesbians. Lesbian Visibility Day is, therefore, not just about visibility but also about highlighting inequality and advocating for societal change and acceptance. By bringing these stories to the forefront, the day encourages a reevaluation of what constitutes ‘normalcy.’ It challenges the exclusionary practices that diminish the humanity of queer individuals in Nigeria and beyond.

Existing as a lesbian in Nigeria

Image Credit: Temmie Ovwasa via Instagram

Whether in or out of the closet, homophobia is inherently intoxicating for lesbian women. In Nigeria, a country that outrightly criminalises homosexuality, it is even dangerous to exist as a lesbian woman.

In 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed into law by former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, stating that anyone who engages in a romantic activity with the same sex or participates in any activity that is inherently homosexual is subject to 10 years in prison. Anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union faces up to 14 years in prison. The law also states that any and every homosexual union or partnership entered abroad is considered null and void under Nigerian law. The law actively prohibits any and every form of expression by members of the LGBTQ community.

The brutality of this homophobic law indicates that Nigeria is not a safe space for lesbians to exist. This is why Abby, under a pseudonym, has chosen to remain in the closet despite being a lesbian woman.

“It’s quite restrictive; you’re not living an authentic life because you’re hiding parts of you so that your family and friends can accommodate you.”

Without the existence of the law, religious and personal sentiments also dictate how people view homosexuality. This is why Eva, under a pseudonym, has refused to hide her sexuality regardless of what people say.

“For me, being openly lesbian in Nigeria feels like a privilege because I know a lot of lesbians like my partner who are closeted due to the country and their families being heavily homophobic. But I love living as the authentic version of myself; it’s freeing.” 

Coming out of the closet in a profoundly homophobic society is also risky business, and Abby and Eva hold two separate sides of the coin. A few friends of Abby know that she is a lesbian; however, she has no plans to come out to her parents anytime soon because it’s not worth the drama. She, however, has plans to move to a country that is more accepting of who she is.

“My parents are pastors, so me being openly gay would sever their relationship with the people they associate with, and I don’t want that; I don’t want to put them in a position where they have to distance themselves from their friends.”

Conversely, Eva has come out to her family and all her friends, driven by her resolve not to be constrained by homophobia. For her, the process of coming out was straightforward and occurred during a vulnerable time just after experiencing heartbreak.

“I came out after I lost my first girlfriend; it was very devastating for me. I had to tell someone. Because my guardians were very open to us freely talking about our friends or partners, it was easy to tell them even though my siblings knew way before I never had to come out to them.”

Is it really anyone’s business?

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In discussions about personal relationships and identity, it’s crucial to remember that these are intimate choices that shouldn’t be subject to public opinion or debate. Eva’s unwavering stance against homophobia showcases this principle powerfully. She actively challenges homophobic comments aimed at her and others, firmly stating, “It’s none of their business who people decide to love.” Her actions highlight the need for personal autonomy and privacy in matters of the heart.

“I shut down homophobia when it’s directed to me because I simply do not give room for it, and I won’t be bullied. And when it’s directed at other people, I tell them it’s none of their business who people decide to love because, honestly, is it really anybody’s  business?” 

Unfortunately, a lot of homophobic people think they have the right to speak about homosexuality. Describing it as “a work of the devil,” “evil,” or “pure foolishness,” homophobic people continue to maintain the idea that it is, in fact, their business. This is why, when Abby stood up to her homophobic lecturer, who was insistent on making a joke out of Bobrisky, she failed the course. Visibility and education can significantly shift societal attitudes towards LGBTQ+ individuals. For instance, studies by the UNDP have shown that positive representation in the media and inclusive public conversations can lead to broader acceptance and diminish homophobia. This reality is vividly illustrated by Eva’s proactive defence against prejudice and Abby’s punitive academic experience for merely standing up against derogatory remarks about Bobrisky, highlighting the severe repercussions of advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

“I didn’t fail the course because I wasn’t smart or anything. I failed simply because I had the guts to challenge him on the topic of a ‘person like Bobrisky’.”  

Homophobia does more than undermine individual dignity—it upholds harmful laws and societal norms that discriminate against LGBTQ+ communities. These laws create legal and social barriers that perpetuate inequality and hostility. Thus, promoting visibility and championing LGBTQ+ rights are more than acts of defiance—they are necessary steps toward dismantling persistent prejudices and fostering a more inclusive society. Such efforts are vital in educating and reshaping public perceptions, paving the way for legal and cultural acceptance that upholds the humanity and rights of all individuals.

Why visibility?

Image Credit: Uyai Edu via Instagram

Lesbian Visibility Day began out of the frustration of lesbians in West Hollywood who felt gay men received more visibility, acknowledgment, and sociopolitical capital than they did. It was created to address the limitations of lesbian women in society, raise awareness of lesbian identities, and celebrate the lesbian community. From 1990 to 1992, Lesbian Visibility Week was celebrated in June, but it was recently moved to April.

Visibility doesn’t mean “throwing homosexuality in people’s faces,” as people would often say. Visibility for lesbians is the acknowledgment of existence, the recognition that being a lesbian is not a curse but, rather, a part of life for millions of women all over the world. To Eva, lesbian visibility day/week is “really just set out for making people aware that lesbians exist in all communities, states, and countries and that we exist and will keep on existing. Lesbianism isn’t a sickness or a foul spirit; we don’t harm people, and this day/week for us is to remind them and also remind ourselves of that.”

“Even though I try not to make my sexuality my personality, I’m glad we have a day to remind lesbians of the naturality of lesbianism. I was raised to think I was possessed or unnatural for liking women, but I’m not. I don’t feel possessed, and there is nothing wrong with me. Love is love, and I happen to feel attracted to women only.” 

While homophobia continues to alienate and reject queer people in society, we must recognise the humanity of queer people living in Nigeria. Lesbianism is not a disease, and it’s okay not to accept it for yourself. However, lesbians will continue to exist regardless of what ideologies society or religious beliefs decide to uphold. In all this, we must remember, even on Lesbian Visibility Day, that it is humanity over everything.


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