Photo exhibition highlights struggles of LGBT community in Nigeria

LAGOS, NIGERIA (REUTERS) – In an effort to change public perceptions about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Nigerians and support their rights, a photo exhibition that highlights their experiences and challenges was recently opened in the country’s commercial capital, Lagos.

Dozens of Nigerians showed up at the event to view photographs of survivors who had suffered stigma, sexual abuse and violence.

The photographs show LGBT people dressed in long robes, a reflection of the fact that many have to constantly keep hiding their sexual orientation or gender identity because of fear of intimidation.

The Initiative for Equal Rights and Stand to End Rape advocacy groups decided to showcase LGBT Nigerians in a way that had not been previously done in a country that upholds a same sex marriage prohibition act.

“We decided to come up and talk about the struggles of an average LGBT person in Nigeria, who needs support, who needs legal assistance, health assistance. We just basically decided to say okay let’s tell the stories of these young survivors who live and thrive everyday in our society, despite the fact that they have been raped, they’ve been named, they’ve been violated in so many different ways even — either by state actors or non-state actors,” Human rights lawyer, Omolara Oriye.

“We have the same sex marriage prohibition act, which often time people think of the title but forget the context of the law. Even though it is the same sex marriage prohibition act, that is not what it is intend to do. What that law has done, is to actually validate and then give power to violence either sexual violence, physical violence to LGBT persons and we have also seen in this country, where the issue of gender equality has been a really big issue in this Nigeria and women who often time get physically or sexually abused are often times blamed. So you have laws, you have social constructs, you have cultural, I mean cultural issues that often times create barrier for the work that we do,” said the executive director of Initiative for Equal Rights, Olumide Makanjuola who added that the law has far wider reaching implications that opens the door to hate and violence.

Nigerians involved in a gay marriage or civil union face imprisonment for up to 14 years under a law introduced in 2014.

Violence and harassment is widespread in Nigeria, according to a recent report by Bisi Alisi Foundation which promote the rights of LGBT Nigerians.

Stigma, family rejection, community exclusion and isolation are also common, adding to the mental stress of hiding their sexual orientation, the report found.

Visitors got to hear about experiences of LGBT Nigerians and the challenges they face daily because of their sexual orientation.

The photo display which opened on April 30 will run for two weeks.

“Well I think the most challenging part was listening to the stories, because we spent a lot of time talking about what they went through and it was after that we were able to take the photos. So I think for me the most traumatic period was when I had to listen to listen to the stories and because… also to see what they have gone through,” said Jumoke Sanwo, a photographer who took the photographs.

“I feel good because, in Nigeria as a whole it is not legalized. It is not something that happens every time this is the first time it is happening, so everyone can come out and meet each other and say your experience, your story and feel relieved that is what I feel,” said a gay Nigerian who didn’t want the identified.

On May 8, a court in the northern Nigerian city of Kaduna will hear a case brought against dozens of people who were arrested in April for conspiring to celebrate a gay wedding.