Nigerian activist to archbishop: Nice words, now help us

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

A prominent Nigerian archbishop has spoken out against jailing LGBTI people for their sexual orientation, which Nigerian police and courts have done to dozens of people since the enactment of a harsh anti-gay law in January.

In response, a Nigerian activist has urged Roman Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama to back up his words with action.

In a press briefing on Oct. 8 at the Vatican, reported in the London-based Catholic news weekly The Tablet, Kaigama said:

“We are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations.

“We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished. …

“The Government may want to punish them – we don’t. In fact we will tell the Government to stop punishing those with different orientations.”

Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria supported Nigeria's anti-gay law in January 2014, as reported by the Catholic News Service of Nigeria.
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) supported Nigeria’s anti-gay law in January 2014, as reported by the Catholic News Service of Nigeria (CNSN).

Kaigama distanced himself from his announcement earlier this year that the Catholic Church supported Nigeria’s “Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” which  provides for 10 years in prison for any public display of same-sex affection, for joining an association of LGBTI people or attending a same-sex wedding. He said it was a “gross misinterpretation” to understand his previous statement as anything more than support for the law’s prohibition of same-sex marriage.

At that time, the Catholic News Service of Nigeria reported that Kaigama wrote to President Goodluck Jonathan to congratulate him on signing the law, stating that he showed courage in opposed “unethical and immoral practices of same-sex union and other related vices.”

The archbishop’s latest comments came during the ongoing Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family, a gathering of church officials that included a talk by a married Roman Catholic couple from Australia who said parishes should welcome gay couples, citing the example of a family who welcomed their gay son and his partner at Christmas time.

Kaigama spoke favorably about that talk, telling The Tablet:

“If the son is part of the family it is only natural that the family should be together. You cannot exclude a family member from a feast, from a meal. Our arms should be open.”

An estimated 14 percent of Nigerians are Catholic. Overall, the country is divided fairly evenly between Christians and Muslims.

In response to Kaigama’s statements, Nigerian LGBTI rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla challenged the archbishop’s account of the church’s stance in Nigeria, stating that “there is no record anywhere to prove that your church or any other church has seriously challenged the persecution of gay people in Nigeria.”

But Mac-Iyalla urged Kaigama to press onward: “I applaud what you are doing, but for the love of God, please continue to speak out, as strongly as you can against the barbaric treatment of gay people in Nigeria.”

This is Mac-Iyalla’s open letter to the archbishop, as published in PM News Nigeria and elsewhere:

Davis Mac-Iyalla (Photo courtesy of LGBT Asylum News)
Davis Mac-Iyalla (Photo courtesy of LGBT Asylum News)

Dear Ignatius,

I read with joy your comments condemning Nigeria’s draconian anti-gay legislation, and the consequent un-Christian persecution of gay people published in the PinkNews paper.

You added that there had been a “gross misinterpretation of the law” by the media. This is not true. As a Christian Nigerian man who is openly homosexual, and having lived in Nigeria until 2008 when I was forced to leave, I have been challenging the Nigerian churches over their homophobia for many years, and have seen and experienced the terrible persecutions which gay people face in their homeland.

I continue to receive reports from friends and colleagues of what gay people are going through in Nigeria. If anything the media underplays the terrible violence which this legislation has unleashed.

I strongly believe in family and marriage, but also believe that if two people of the same-sex want to make their relationship more stable and commit themselves more deeply to each other, this can only be for the good of Nigeria. It makes no difference whether the couple is gay or straight.

You said “we are not supporting the criminalisation of people with different sexual orientations. We would defend any person with homosexual orientation who is being harassed, who is being imprisoned, who is being punished”.

Following the passing of the Nigeria’s anti-gay law there was and continues to be wide-spread violent attacks against those suspected of being homosexuals in Nigeria. Indeed, the persecution of gay people in Nigeria is strongly influenced by religious homophobia.

The Nigerian Christian Association has stood firm in supporting the new laws, and there is no record anywhere to prove that your church or any other church has seriously challenged the persecution of gay people in Nigeria.

I applaud what you are doing, but for the love of God, please continue to speak out, as strongly as you can against the barbaric treatment of gay people in Nigeria. All right thinking Christians throughout the world, including His Holiness, will be listening.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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