The video is gritty but the observer can make out the sound of lashes descending on a male figure screaming in fear. Men are yelling, whipping the fully naked victim with objects ranging from belts to large sticks in a small room with its ceiling nearly hanging on. The mob is demanding that the victim denounce his homosexuality as he is being beaten merciless. More people are trooping into the room to join in the beating. No one is stopping them.
The victim is shielding himself with his hands as he pleads while some other person threatens to stab him with the knife he is wielding. This is the content of a humiliating video, which has since been taken down, that made rounds on twitter some time in August. A video used to fan the propaganda of homophobia on Nigerian social media. The video drew a lot of comments applauding the violence, and calling for his death.
Homosexuality is currently criminalized in 33 out of the 54 countries in African, and the sentences range from paying fines to imprisonment of up to a lifetime depending on the country. In some Islamic states, it is punishable even by death. On 13 January 2014, on the order of President Goodluck Jonathan, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), which parliament passed in May 2013, was signed into law. The law was passed shortly after a similar one passed in Uganda in December 2013, which imposes life imprisonment for some types of homosexual acts.
The pervasiveness of these homophobic laws in Nigeria has comprehensively suppressed sympathy for the LGBTQ communities and made public. pro-LGBTQ activism a dangerous endeavor in this country. While the signage of the law which has caused LGBTQ organizations to further fight for the rights of queer people and the decriminalization of same-sex relationships has been pursued by an increasing visibility, the visibility, under this draconian legislation, has led to intimidation, arrests, torture, death and blackmailing of LGBTQ activists and people.
These challenges people LGBTQ community face have not deterred their fight for recognition. In fact, African queer people are bringing the matters of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights into regional and intercontinental guidelines and legal spaces. Never before has there been more visibility and interest in LGBTQ issues and understanding of the experience and needs of African LGBTQ people and effective representation of African LGBTQ communities globally.
This raises the question, how has the LGBTQ movement been presented in the African media? This question is principal because it allows the examination of homosexuality and homophobia through a historical context. The Igbo culture has long fostered same-sex couples consisting of “woman-husband” and “woman-wife.” The custom is entirely aboriginal and the marriage tradition pre-dates Christianity and the western culture which is the base of most of all homophobic rants today. In northern Nigeria, there is the history of cross-dressing amongst men which was accepted within the society prior to colonization.
In Ghana there has been a spike in the homophobic attacks in newspapers, on the radio, pulpits and in parliament. Alongside the verbal and written attacks there have also been equivalent to the increase in physical assaults on queer people. A few months back, a proposal was made by the Ghanaian government to introduce Comprehensive Sexuality Education to the educational curriculum. The purpose of the program is to help young people develop the skills for self-development, sense of self and decision making. Members of the media, religious groups, civil society organizations, traditional leaders, politicians, influential individuals, as well as the public. generally expressed objection of the policy. The media in particular, as expected, was buzzing with all kinds of commentary and reactions, much of which suggested that. it is even evil to think about introducing the subject of sexuality in Ghana. Ironically, while many people talked about the subject, it appeared that not many really understood the issues involved or saw through the political motives. Media discussions on the subject have tended to be deliberately elusive and mischievous.
Social media serves as a safe haven for queer people as it has been central in connecting members of the LGBTQ community together, a necessity in a country which is hostile to queer people. It has also been beneficial in raising awareness about hate crimes and has also provided smooth access to information about health, politics and sexuality without making making a queer person feel their identity is inappropriate.
With the colossal increase in the homophobic attacks in the media, queer people have increased visibility through fighting homophobia on social media with the help of organizations like The Initiative For Equal Rights (TIERS) in Nigeria and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) in Uganda. Using social media has provided the opportunities to explore interactive, post-modern, and personified approaches to sensitizing and mobilizing an audience in favour of human rights and in turn, proffered the avenue to challenge the mantra by religious and political leaders about same-sex relationships being “unafrican.”
Through the works of people in the LGBTQ community, activists and human rights organizations on social media, there has been increase in the number of people showing support for queer people. There is no doubt that social media is an important element in advancing the rights and well-being of the LGBTQ community. Whether it is used as a tool to disseminate information for educational purposes or raise awareness of the daily struggles of many queer people, it remains essential for the promotion of LGBTQ rights.