A young boy was walking by a pond, which blackish and surrounded by tall weeds on an evening. Peering through the water, he saw a nest of snakes at the bottom of the pond, huddled together. He became concerned that this nest of snakes will end up causing harm to people, despite the fact that the snakes were non-poisonous and the path near the pond was rarely used because of the weeds around it.
He then took a giant stone and threw it into the pond, and that caused the snakes to break up. In a bid to escape to safety, many of the snakes ended up going into the main stream that ran through the boy’s community and constituting a nuisance.
Pardon my sucky creative writing attempt; I will explain the analogy I am trying to make here:
For weeks, I have followed the debates around the Same-Sex Act signed into law by President Goodluck Jonathan; I have heard all the arguments for and against the law, and I have partaken in a great number of the debates myself, online (especially on Twitter) and offline. It is without doubt that this is a very popular law; outside football when one of the national teams is playing, I can’t remember when last any issue got Nigerians so unanimous in their views, across ethnic and religious lines.
However, I belong to that small minority that is against the law and thinks the law is balderdash. I will try and distill my opposition to the law in a few points:
- As a Christian, I know and agree without doubt that homosexuality is sin. However, I do not believe that what TWO ADULTS CONSENT TO DO, no matter how much against my beliefs, should be a crime, in the same way I believe fornication and adultery should not be crimes, even if we all agree they are sins and unacceptable going by our religious and cultural values.
- Secondly, attempts have always been made in our society and many other ones to enforce morality, but they always fail. For example, despite prostitution being illegal in many places, it has not stopped the trade. The fact that adultery is a crime in the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria has not stopped many married people from cheating on their spouses. This law won’t be an exception – a law as this will not stop people from being gay unless they feel convicted in their heart to change.
- There are too many vague provisions in this law. For example, it says that public show of homosexuality earns the offenders 10 years in jail, but it does not define what public show of homosexuality is, leaving that to the interpretation of law enforcement agents.
- Enforceability is going to be almost impossible with this law; short of seeing two people in the act, a case of homosexuality cannot be proved, as in this case.
I could go on and on, but I will just stop here to why I think the law is BS since this is not the reason for this piece though.
Whenever I am engaged in a debate with someone over the Same-Sex Act and they begin to passionately state how this law will ‘prevent homosexuality from being rampant and homosexuals taking over us’, there is one question I always ask that stops them in their tracks:
“Do you know any openly gay Nigerians in Nigeria?”
The answer is always no; and prior to my friend who came out publicly a fortnight ago, the answer to that question was also a no for me.
The Nigerian gay community is a community that one can even be tempted to say does not exist. They are so underground that it is surprising to me how they even find partners. They are like the nest of snakes at the bottom of the pond the young boy was passing in my story.
From the times that the issue of LGBT rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite rights) became a hot-button issue in many Western countries, I had always felt it will take decades before it became part of the debate here, since openly gay people were almost non-existent.
However, with this law, we have effectively moved the issue of same-sex relations and the rights of those who practice it to the centre of the discourse way ahead of its time. Hardly a day goes by that I do not see an article or a blog post about this issue, first when the bill was signed by the National Assembly in 2012 and then when it got signed into law by President Jonathan.
A major reason of why many people are so up in arms against homosexuality is because the thought of two men having sex (let us not pretend – lesbianism is not as heavily condemned as male gay sex) repulses them, unlike heterosexual sex either done before or outside marriage.. It still has that shock value for them, and that shock value continues to exist as long as one is not exposed excessively to it that it becomes commonplace.
It is the same in almost any scenario: a man who is used to seeing women in only wrappers will get shock value from seeing them in, say, bum shorts or mini-skirts. However, when women in bum shorts around him become common, the sight of them will cease to shock him. Even if he does not accept it, he will not go out of his way to fight it. He then adopts a ‘live and let live’ approach.
An increase in talk about homosexuals coupled with stories of gay trials and gay people coming out will make people gradually lose their shock value for the practice. This is coupled by the fact that the issue of homosexuality being pushed from being a non-existent topic of debate to being THE topic of debate will amplify the voices of the Nigerian LGBT community.
Even if those in the opposition to the law are a minority, they are albeit a very vocal minority, and their voices will not drown out.
In the end, what we have done is to inadvertently accelerate gay rights by making it an issue of debate, making a very small community more vocal and visible, thereby reducing the shock value of people to their acts.
And while it may still take a very long time before whether legalization of gay marriage will become an issue, the timeframe for that to happen has definitely been reduced.
A law intended at correcting a ‘wrong’ will end up making people more used to it.
This is one of those situations where the saying, “Let sleeping dogs lie” becomes apt.
We should have let the sleeping dog that is homosexuality in Nigeria lie rather than waking it up.