14 Nigerian university students talk about being gay on campus

University of Abuja students take an exam. (Photo courtesy of iunc.net)
University of Abuja students take an exam. (Photo courtesy of iunc.net)

A Nigerian researcher, Kehinde Okanlawon, has released a report on the experiences of gay and lesbian university students in Nigeria, detailing harassment they experienced.

The report, titled “Homophobic bullying in Nigerian schools: The experiences of LGBT university students,” was based on interviews with 14 gay and lesbian students at a university in Nigeria and on accounts of Nigerian LGBT students’ experiences compiled from other sources.

In the interviews, the students said that the constant bullying that they received from fellow students was inevitable and that accepting it was preferable to complaining to school authorities, who would then suspend them or expel them for homosexuality.

The students said:

  • Verbal abuse is common. Fellow students openly call them names on campus such as “homo,” “faggot,” “lesbo,” “woman,” and “gay lord.”
  • It is common for gay students to face harsh condemnation from Nigerian school authorities, who often justified their homophobia by claiming that  morality motivated their actions.

Among the other examples of discrimination based on sexual orientation that Okanlawon cited from secondary sources:

  • A final-year student of Covenant University was expelled for lesbian activity.
  • A gay student was almost deprived of his certificate by the university despite his academic excellence. “He was on the disciplinary committee twice because he is gay. The disciplinary committee acknowledged that he graduated with a good grade but said that he didn’t have the morals required for a student who ought to be a good ambassador of the university. Fortunately, with the intervention of family and friends, he was eventually given his certificate.”
  • Heterosexual students blackmail and extort money from LGBT students, taking advantage of the fact that certain sex acts associated with homosexuality have been criminalized. Straight students make sexual approaches to students they think may be gay or lesbian,  sometimes simply because they are curious about the person’s sexuality, but sometimes to set them up for blackmail and extortion.
  • Violence sometimes occurs when certain gay or lesbian students approach other students whom they think are gay or lesbian.

But things have not all been bad. A few of the gay and lesbian students who responded to the survey mentioned positive experiences, such as being defended by tolerant students and lecturers who consider homophobic bullying to be unjust.

In his conclusion to the study, Okanlawon acknowledged that many Nigerians are ignorant about homosexuality and need to be educated on issues relating to sexuality.

Okanlawon argues that homophobic bullying in Nigerian schools impedes educational rights of LGBT students and contradicts the spirit of African Ubuntu, which calls for compassion, solidarity, and respect for human dignity.

Okanlawon suggests that Nigerian schools incorporate anti-homophobia bullying policies into their existing gender-based anti-bullying/anti-harassment-related policies in order to ensure respect for diversity. Those policies should provide for punishment of perpetrators of homophobic bullying in schools, he states.

To address the issue of homophobic bullying in schools and homophobia in the larger society, Okanlawan states that many Nigerians and other Africans need to decolonize their minds so as to build an inclusive society with our own rules, where tolerance, solidarity, and empathy for one another can thrive as opposed to a society where we are psychologically colonized by the ideology of U.S. evangelicals and antiquated colonial legacies of homophobia. Nigerians should challenge colonial legacies such as heterosexist and homophobic attitudes, which cause division and hatred among Nigerians today, he says.

Okanlawon notes that the belief that homosexuality is un-African is a fallacy. Actually, Okanlawon states, it is homophobic bullying that is un-African. Historically, before colonization, Africans have been historically tolerant of diverse forms of sexual and gender diversity.

For more information, read a summary of the report or purchase access to the full report here.

Kehinde Okanlawon, MA, MPH, is a sexual health and rights educator, activist, and researcher in Nigeria. He works with the LGBT-friendly House of Rainbow church and human rights association as project coordinator on human rights education and counselling for LGBT persons in Nigeria.

This article was updated on Sept. 30 to mention additional data sources beyond Okanlawon’s 14 interviews and to mention more of his report’s recommendations.

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Written by Mike Daemon

Mike Daemon is the pseudonym of the founder and presenter of the No Strings podcasts, based in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, which provide a voice for the country’s LGBTIQ+ community. Through the No Strings website, he reports on issues affecting the lives of LGBTQ+ Nigerians. He launched and maintains the Qtalk app, which provides safe and private access to legal and psychosocial counseling for LGBTQ+ Nigerians. Contact him by email via info (at) nostringsng.com.

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