Surviving Nigeria As A Member Of The LGBTQIA+ Community

While Pride Month is celebrated internationally during the month of June, still in Nigeria, being queer often means “hiding your face”. There's a complex web of cultural, religious and legal barriers. 

The legal barriers are one of the most restricting challenges as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, passed in 2014, not only criminalises same-sex marriage but also prohibits public displays of affection between individuals of the same sex. This legislation reinforces the marginalization of queer communities and perpetuates a culture of fear and secrecy.

So how do Nigerians survive as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Speaking with Eli who would like to remain anonymous, they say that the best way to survive is to find peace and validation within themselves, independent of societal acceptance. 

They go on to share their personal journey. In their words: 

“My personal journey as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community in Nigeria is one that many queer individuals can relate to. Initially, I started off as an ally, passionately advocating for queer issues and debating the humanity of queer-presenting persons. Over time, my own understanding of my sexuality evolved. I identified as bisexual at one point, then thought I was pansexual, before finally accepting that I am a lesbian. This self-realisation took me about three to four years.”

When asked if there have been any challenges, here's what Eli had to say: 

“As a feminine-presenting woman, I don’t face overt daily challenges related to my sexual orientation because people typically don’t assume I’m a lesbian. This, in a way, is a privilege. However, when I speak up about queer issues or challenge discriminatory conversations, it often raises eyebrows and draws suspicion. 

In my family, it’s a difficult topic. They sometimes suspect, but it’s not a pleasant conversation, and I’ve decided that coming out to them isn’t worth the drama. The emotional manipulation, gaslighting, and threats of disownment make it an unbearable prospect.” 

They've also had their share of dating struggles as a lesbian living in Nigeria. To quote them:

 “Dating as a lesbian in Nigeria has been bittersweet. Once I consciously started identifying as a lesbian, I began actively dating women. I've met some amazing people, but societal repression affects relationships and individual psyches. Many people don’t think long-term due to the societal impossibilities, which influences how they approach relationships. Other times, there’s individual traumas we have to work on and that makes navigating relationships hard – not having access to therapy whether personal or as a couple is a struggle. Then there’s the financial constraints – a lot of queer people have a lot going on in their personal lives and most times are not in a stable enough place to be in a relationship; this makes it harder because for two women to be in a somewhat balanced relationship, they both need to have a stable source of income.” 

Eli didn't fail to address one of the most pressing issues of all which is navigating safety and discretion. They say that while they don't generally care much about discretion, they have dated people who are very cautious. To ensure their safety and comfort, they had to avoid posting about our relationship on social media and choose carefully who they share this information with. Relationships are often discreet, especially when dating more masculine-presenting women, as they draw more suspicion than feminine-presenting women.  This truly is the premise of most queer relationships – secrecy. A level of secrecy which most non-queer relationships cannot survive on. 

There's also an unsurprising lack of community. To quote Eli

There’s a significant lack of support within the LGBTQIA+ community in Nigeria. Many of us are seeking safe spaces, but we bring our own traumas and challenges, which sometimes make the community itself less supportive. Discrimination and lack of safety are issues, because we have queer people from all walks of life sometimes with conflicting views too which can make the spaces unsafe particularly for trans individuals.

There are however a few organizations and safe spaces, but their support is limited. The community’s resources are often stretched thin.”

For Kiki surviving in Nigeria as a member of the queer community is to live constantly with the fear of being outed or fear of being killed at least for them it is. They say

 “You don't know who is queer or who is trying to take advantage of you, we hear about queer people being outed and we fear the violence of the society that we live in.” 

They have a community but it has been quite challenging to create a community that doesn't have prejudice whatsoever.

 “I met a lot of my queer friends on social media maybe two or three years back, they are family. The kind of family that you get to choose and the kind of family that you know are going to be there for you for whatever. At the same time I lost a lot of friends, mostly religious ones, because they like to believe saying things like "I hate the sin but not the sinner" makes sense. You can't believe I will spend all of eternity in hell and still be a part of my community.”

Kiki said. 

When it comes to friendship and family, Kiki  has had just a little bit of struggle. 

For the most part being friends with Women (especially Feminist women) and queer folks is tight knitted but every now and then you realize that even people in your community have some prejudice. It's hard finding friends who are void of that (some queer folks are misogynistic and some feminist women are homophobic and transphobic). It's a little challenging trying to create a community that doesn't have prejudice whatsoever.

I like to believe that my family knows I am queer they just don't care about it. But my cousin is present and she is always trying to set me up with other queer women. It's so cute.” They say 

When asked how they have been surviving, Cee had this to say

 “In real life, I do have struggles finding a community just because I'm around more conservative people. But online I have a very perfect community of queer Nigerians and for my family, the only person that knows is my sister and she likes to act like she doesn't. She never brings it up and  if I bring it up she ignores it. The rest are horribly homophobic” 

They are however having an amazing dating life with their girlfriend.

The reality of queer Nigerians living in Nigeria is one that is filled with uncertainty. There is such a huge lack of community due to the huge existence of queerphobia. It’s however important that the queer community continue to be a safe space for one another as the strive for change continues. 

* The names in this article were changed to protect the respondents’ identities.