I have always associated Pride Month with bright colours and riotous dancing, and that’s because of the many parade festivals I have seen on video clips and pictures. The month of June is set aside every year to bring all LGBTQ people together, in remembrance of the Stone Wall riots of 1969 and, beyond that, to be united against the society-wide pervasiveness of homophobia, intolerance, discrimination, and violence that threatens the existence of LGBTQ people. Pride, as a word, feels like a small reclamation. LGBTQ people all over the world are shamed and stigmatised for who they are, which is why Pride is positively operative as a bold, solid reaction.
“I guess pride symbolizes visibility and freedom,” says Nelson Noah. Not his real name, Nelson Noah is a queer Lagos-based lawyer who I met through a mutual friend, “Visibility in the sense that we’re telling everyone we’re here and we damn exist and we’re not running away.”
“For us Nigerians, it signifies hope,” he says, when I ask him about his opinion on Pride Month as a Nigerian, “We will celebrate one day what pride stands for, as other countries fought and are now celebrating.”
There is a small ray of dawning hopefulness in those words. But Thelma Ojo (not her name as well), a lesbian blogger and talk show host on an online radio station, doesn’t exactly share those sentiments: “Pride Month doesn’t matter to me because I’m a Nigerian and still in the closet.”
We are on WhatsApp video call as she speaks; the connection is bad but I can still make out what she’s saying, “Why pride if you’re not living it?”
Shortly after the call, her question burrows into my mind and stays there for hours. It’s valid, her question. Last year, in Orlando, America, a gunman entered Pulse nightclub and massacred 50 people, a full-blown assault on the LGBTQ community. It was June 12. The victims were celebrating their pride, living it, when they met their end. The story rippled through many news outlets as did Nigerian blogs—which was a frothing mix of breezy indifference and homophobic bigotry.”
“The reaction tells us that it’s a sorry state for our thinking and humanity,” Olumide Makanjuola tells me via e-mail. Olumide Makanjuola is the Executive Director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs), a non-governmental organisation advocating for sexual health and rights of LGBTQ persons in Nigeria, “It’s sad that we can’t see such an act of evil as evil but people try to be silly with their thinking, justifying such act as an act of God. I feel sorry for them, I feel sad that we are still at this level of thinking but I realize the level of work that needs to be done on sexual orientation and gender Identity but also beyond.”
The deadly shooting spurred the hashtags #LoveWins and #LoveIsLove. Commiseratory messages from world leaders and politicians poured in, one notably from ex-Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who was famous for signing the anti-gay bill into law in January, 2014.
The law, even till now, is a potent catalyst for horrific lynchings of suspected gay men, a Constitution-sanctioned mandate to perpetuate violent hostilities towards LGTBQ Nigerians. In its entirety, the law robustly undercuts the universality of human rights. Above all, and for the ordinary LGBTQ Nigerian who just wants to be left alone in peace, the law further invisibilises them, pushing them even beyond the margins.
The world’s best pride festivals, from Gay Pride Paris to Pride Toronto, indicates cities within societies that have flourishingly permitted the flexibility of sexuality and gender. That the Nigerian government still hasn’t opened a discourse on its oppressive anti-gay law, unbothered by international optics, clouds the future with bleakness.
Still, though, Makanjuola remains optimistic: “I do see a future where people wouldn’t need to hide who they are or lie about this to their friends, family and society, that day is coming with time. However, I can’t say if we will end up with pride or street parades, time will tell and our realities will determine. Pride must speak to us in a way that connect to our struggle and no, pride is not just about street parades even though some people think it about just parades. When we finally get to that reality, where no one must hide who they are, we will know if pride is important to us or maybe something much more than pride might be our reality then.”
Understandably, it might be difficult for LGTBQ Nigerians to ride on the unbridled wave of freedom that Pride Month evokes. But the LGBTQ movement, through Pride, is why they should keep hope alive.