Akoro Joseph Sewedo
Sophia* (22yrs), a student and also a caterer working with Mama T Catering Service in Lagos State, Nigeria finished his secondary school education in 2006 and since then had sat for matriculation examinations into the university but unfortunately have been unsuccessful. Sophia is an out gay young man and transvestite living in Ilasamaja area of Lagos State with his father who divorced his mother in 2004.
Coming Out for Sophia
Sophia disclosure of sexual orientation was not his deliberate intention “I have being trying to bar my parent from knowing about my sexual orientation. My coming out was not deliberate but incidental.” Sophia said unhappily wishing that he did not come out such way. Sophia’s outing was championed by the homophobic attitude of a group of young men in his area. Sophia was introduced to Chuks*- a member of the group of homophobic young men, by a gay friend of his- Sharon, who confirmed Chuks to be a gay man with whom he had had sexual intercourse with, many times. Sophia became attracted to Chuks and since then he had looked for ways to engage in a sexual relationship with him. Chuks lives in the same area with Sharon and Sophia so luckily for Sophia, Chuks was easily accessible.
Sophia narrated the story of his outing incident to the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) – a LGBT human rights advocacy organization based in Lagos State, Nigeria.
“…….I became more attracted to Chuks on daily basis so we fixed a date to meet in his house one evening. I was very happy and couldn’t wait to be with him all evening. My house was closer to his so it was easy for me to leave the house without been noticed. I left my house at about 12:30 am for Chuks’ place that night and when I got there he opened the door to allow me into his room but I noticed that I was entering into a dark place. I insisted that he switch on the light that I could be more comfortable. I did not have the premonition of what was about to happen, I guess my sexual feeling for Chuks was responsible. I entered into the dark room believing I was safe. Chuks lives in a room apartment so there was no space to keep many things.
Despite the darkness, I could sense that there was some furniture lying in the room with his mattress on the floor. I sat on the mattress with Chuks and we started talking, as the talk went on, he told him that his elder brother was interested in me as well. It was not until then that I started to become nervous; I wondered how true that information could be but I kept cool. At about 2am, I noticed that we were not just two in the room but there were several other guys. Suddenly, they came out from their hiding places and started shouting Homosexual! Homosexual!!
I thought I was hallucinating but No! I only wished I was. I wondered where they have been hiding without being noticed. “Well it was dark” I concluded. They pushed me out of the room, still shouting and disrupting the peace of the neighbourhood. They beat and poured water all over me, I became terribly wet and hurt. They pushed me as if I were a criminal who invaded their room to steal. They paraded me on the street taking me to my house to report to my parents. I felt a bit lucky that it happened early in the morning; however there were quite a number of people on the street who had responded to the noise caused by Chuks and his friends.
Unknowingly to me, my parents had been looking for me. They had being to Sharon’s house to look for me thinking I would be there but they did not find me. So when I arrived home with these guys behind me, my siblings rushed towards me asking where I was coming from and why I was wet. Their initial thought which was that, I had been rescued from an attack by these guys was faulted when the guys narrated a false story to my parent reiterating that I am homosexual, evil and tried to lure their friend-Chuks into sex.”
Sophia was allowed into the house that morning; all issues were adjourned till it was dawn. When it was dawn, Sophia was sent packing from the home by his father. “My father sent me packing saying that I am a shame to him and that he could not stand accommodating such a shame in his home.” Sophia said. Sophia did not have any place to go, he could have gone to his mother’s place but the mother stays in far away Delta State, Nigeria. He had no money to travel to meet his mother so he stayed in the passage of the house which had about 8 rooms opposite each other. “I stayed there for weeks and my sibling saw me on daily basis. I had nothing to eat and no where to go, so I thought of reporting my father to the extended family. I did and my father was summoned in the family meeting to discuss my issue. The family resolved that I should pack in and that my father has no choice than to treat me like every of his child.” Sophia narrated victoriously.
Post- Coming Out
Sophia moved back into his father’s home where he his still living, successfully. Nonetheless, life at home has not been easy according to him. The father is threatening to send him packing again. Now, his father had refused to cater for him. “My father no longer does anything for me other than to accommodate in his home, no food, no clothes, nothing!” Sophia lamented. According to Sophia his father is not ready to sponsor any of his children to higher institution, Sophia is not exempted. Therefore Sophia who has the intention to further his education to higher institution would have to cater for him self. Sophia is also suffering the same homophobia attitude from other siblings who are not in approval of his sexuality. He has been a victim of discrimination, stigmatization and more so isolation even with them living together. Sophia had only received support from his young brother-Favour (16yrs) who is also gay. “I know that I am gay just like my brother because I have feeling towards boys as well. No one knows about me yet except Sophia and I do not hope to come out and be a victim of discrimination and stigmatization like my brother” Favour said.
Besides the humiliation Sophia faced in his home on the grounds of his sexual orientation, he has suffered many other attacks from his neighbours. “Many parents in the neighbourhood had been to my house to shout and clap hands warning me to disassociate from their male children.” Sophia said with a sarcastic smile. Sophia confided in TIERs about how he was attacked by some street boys who were curious about his femininity. The guys stripped his clothes off him to know if he was male, female or inter- sex, “I had to walk home with my pieces and bare footed as I could not find my slippers” said Sophia.
Sophia is subjected to these human violations on daily basis. He has suffered many and has many he his expecting. He mentioned, how he feels insecure when he goes to functions. He narrated his experience at a funeral ceremony where a Crosser Dressed male entertainer was arrested by the police. The entertainer who was well known in that area was alleged of attempted robbery and homosexuality. This will be a terrible incident for this male entertainer who has been innovative enough and determined to seek for a living in the most decent and enjoyable way to him.
Call to Action
The story of Sophia and the cross dressed male entertainer is typical for many other Nigerians whose behaviour or appearance do not conform to traditional gender and sexual roles. They are subjected to human rights violations on the basis of their actual and perceived sexual orientation like in the case of the entertainer. In several occasions, cross dresser have been alleged of attempted robbery or related offences, also they have been sentenced without the accused having legal representation in the court. This is an infringement on the right to fair trail of the accused person which Section 36 of the 1999 Nigerian constitution protects. Assaults against same-sex practicing people often go uninvestigated and unpunished.
The Nigerian Police who is to protect the rights of citizens would not make things easier for these men either. This creates a medium to advocate the protection of the fundamental human rights of individuals who are likely to be subjected to the similar human rights violation.
Nigeria’s commitment to various international human rights treaties such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UDHR) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights(ACHPR) to mention a few does not allow these kinds of human rights violations yet many people suffer various human rights violation such as extortion, blackmail, physical, verbal and psychological abuses, discrimination, stigmatization and isolation on the ground of their sexual orientation in Nigeria.