LGBTI Africans speak out, despite ongoing repression
The recent reintroduction in Nigeria of the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), a 1980s programme that prohibits homosexuality, has done little to hinder the efforts of a popular news website in that country, which covers matters related to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people across the continent.
On the contrary, writer and blogger Mike Daemon (a pseudonym) is determined to continue producing NoStringsNG, which he calls his “own little contribution to humanity”.
He uses the platform “to educate and inform the general public about the true nature of the Nigerian LGBTI community. In doing so, I hope to change the negative perceptions people have about homosexuality,” he says.
Despite having no funding, the site manages to generate content that attracts 1 000 daily views from within Nigeria. According to Daemon, its Facebook page has more than 5 000 weekly visitors from around the globe.
LGBTI activists in Nigeria have raised concerns over WAI, which aims to promote and instil a greater sense of discipline among Nigerians. The programme was first introduced by then military dictator and now incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly after he seized office in 1983.
WAI also criminalises “indecent” dressing, which will mostly affect queer, gender-nonconforming and trans people.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Blade, LGBTI activist Adebisi Alimi wrote: “While it was hard under the first WAI to actually arrest anyone for the crime of homosexuality, today it will be easier since more people are out and vocal, either through their activism or by the way they present themselves.”
This, says Alimi (who was the first person to identify openly as gay on Nigerian television), is why Buhari’s relaunching of WAI “should be costing us all our sleep”.
Other anti-LGBTI regulations include the country’s Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which was passed in 2014 and criminalises same-sex relationships. Anyone contravening the Act could face 14 years of imprisonment.
“The anti-same sex marriage law was definitely a trigger for creating [NoStringsNG] … The law is clearly not about marriage but about criminalising human rights. And everyone should be concerned when it comes to the issue of human rights and protecting them.”
Daemon says, although he’s concerned about his safety, he believes “the minority should have their say”.
“As a journalist, I believe that it is my responsibility to speak the truth and to be a voice to people who, under certain circumstances, are unable to speak up when they are being oppressed.”
Meanwhile, in Kenya, a country also known for its repressive anti-LGBTI laws, two young women are equally determined to change the negative perceptions people have about homosexuality.
Using their podcast, the Spread, as a platform, actress Nini Wacera and singer Karen Lucas aim to “make sex a comfortable subject for all”.
Punted as “the first lesbian TV show in Kenya to be hosted by two popular lesbian celebrities”, the show was initially scheduled to be aired as a video podcast on WGN TV Kenya. But the plans were thwarted by the Kenyan government, who pulled the show earlier this year.
In an August 29 statement to the network, the chief executive officer of the Kenyan Film Classification Board, Ezekiel Mutua, said: “Our attention has been drawn to a blog news highlight being shared online about an alleged ‘first lesbian TV show hosted by two popular lesbian celebrities’. If investigations reveal contraventions of established regulations, [the board] will take firm action against the producers and distributors of the programme in line with the law.”
Lucas contends that the show “isn’t entirely focused on LGBT issues. But we can’t have a show about sexuality and leave out homosexuality or LGBT issues – they all come hand in hand,” she says.
The government’s reaction – and the network’s response to it – still leaves a bitter taste in Lucas’s mouth.
“We thought it was a very cowardly response of the network to pull down the episodes,” she says, adding that “the government’s reaction to the show was also completely uncalled for”.
Undeterred, the duo stuck to their guns, moving their podcast to a Soundcloud page, KarenkazLucas, where it now attracts about 2 000 Kenyan listeners weekly.
“Our number two country in terms of listenership is the United States,” Lucas adds proudly.
Annette Atieno, the media liaison officer of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, says the government should “do its due diligence and not get involved in what sometimes [appear to be] witch-hunts”.
“[The government has] a mandate to fulfil. But, in this instance, the mandate was overstepped. The fact that the government agency in question made a move based on social media ‘allegations’ before conducting investigations – by their own admission – is a sign of carelessness … Two people’s lives may be in danger [as a result].”
Atieno says, given the data on HIV prevalence rates, early sex debut and national averages on childbirth, the Spread is a much-needed forum in a country such as Kenya, where sex is a taboo subject.
“Studies have shown that where people are more informed about sex and sexuality there are reduced instances of HIV and Aids, better decisions about family planning and delayed sex debut,” she says.
Despite the government clampdown and unwanted public scrutiny, Lucas says they are discussing the truth: “So why would we stop?”
“We are very passionate about the things we do and will continue to do them as long as we are benefiting people.”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation‘s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian