Feb 11th 2010 | LAGOS | From The Economist print edition

ONCE a fortnight, 50 or so Nigerians furtively log on for an online Bible study class. “This is the only way we can worship because of the stigma,” says one of them. The reason for the secrecy is that the participants, ranging from students to married men, are gay. To go to a mainstream church in Nigeria would risk beatings or even a forced exorcism. So hundreds are turning to House of Rainbow, Nigeria’s only gay-friendly church, which is flourishing online after almost meeting a violent end two years ago.

Many Nigerians strongly disapprove of homosexuality. The dominant role of religion is widely seen as the root of the country’s homophobic culture. Punishing gays is one of the few common themes that politicians can promote with equal zest in the mainly Christian south and the largely Muslim north. Under federal law sodomy is punishable by a 14-year jail sentence. An even more stringent bill to ban gay-rights groups and homosexual displays of affection is also under consideration.

It is a similar story in many other parts of Africa. Uganda, influenced by evangelical Christianity, has provoked an international outcry over a still harsher bill that advocates the death penalty in certain cases of gay sex, for instance when one partner is HIV-positive. Barack Obama recently called the bill “odious”. In Malawi two men have gone on trial for gross indecency after holding a “traditional engagement ceremony”. The judge refused bail on the grounds that their release might provoke mob violence.

The founder of House of Rainbow, Rowland Jide Macaulay, a gay Nigerian pastor, knows all about anti-gay intimidation. Two years after he set up his church in Lagos in 2006, the project was brought to a halt. Members of his congregation had been beaten and sometimes raped as they left Sunday services in order—said their assailants—to “correct their sexuality”. After receiving death threats Mr Macaulay fled to Britain, from where he now preaches via YouTube.

Undaunted, he is now seeking funds in the West. He wants to start hairdressing and fashion courses to complement Bible study. The exclusion of gays from Nigeria’s mainstream churches can limit their educational chances. Mosques and churches often perform the duties of a state that has all but collapsed in many parts of the country. Muslim movements such as Izala build schools in the north, while Pentecostal groups have set up universities in the south. As Anthony, a 27-year-old bisexual living in Lagos, says: “In Nigeria the church is not just about a spiritual lift...they run our [social] services. If they say ‘We don’t want you’, where do you go?”

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Hi Jade,

it is the same here in Cameroon. A friend posted a comment on the recent blog on my journal about LGBT rights. She was asking me to reflect on the word "love" and asking why I was concerned, implying that I may be a lesbian. Many don't understand why, a heterosexual like me, will be so concerned about the rights of gays and lesbians.

I think it is a wonderful thing that this Pastor is preaching via youtube. Everyone supposes that gays and lesbians are satanists and demon possessed people. Well, do satanists want to listen to the Word of God too?

Cheers, Nelly

Thank you for posting this. I thing most country's in Africa are against the idea that homosexuals have rights. I believe they are human rights too. It's one thing to ban gay unions, but to arrest a human being for their sexual orientation is a bit extreme. And if you are sympathetic to their course, you are branded as one of them. The question is how to sensitize communities?How can we teach others tolerance- and that gay rights are human rights as well?? It is really a topic for debate that seems to lack a solution. So what can we do about it as women?

J.

Jade, you have raised some critical points and commandable approach in dialoguing for such a tremendous change in social-political system in Nigeria. Keep inspiring us with your magnificent reviews and articles -- always a pleasure to read you!

In solidarity, Shaheen 'ssd'

Cheers,Shaheen

 

I walk down my hallway and open the third door of the house to an almost empty room. A month ago, my bed was in this room and my lover/partner of four years slept in the room beside me. A rainbow flag still hangs in the empty room now. We, in the United States - had a chance to love openly, even if loving openly meant she was accused of being a man whenever she went into the women's bathroom, or being called a faggot while bicycling down the street. I have been reading about Nigeria for a few months and the laws against homosexuality, mostly through WorldPulse.

I always feel hopeful. Fifty years ago in this country it was outlandish for an inter-racial couple to be wed. Now, it is common. Fifty years ago, police were pulling women who were dressed as men in attempt to "pass," from their barstools in Greenwich Village and raped and beat them - the act of violence an attempt to...I'm unsure...it is inconceivable, to me, to think that raping a woman will make her more heterosexual, or that raping a man will made him deny himself something he may feel is innate. We can waste all the time in the world on nature vs. nurture, but the fact remains that there are laws against LOVE. That is the only way I can view this. It is a law against LOVE. If we remove sexuality, we are talking about HUMAN rights. Love and human rights. That is what we are dealing with. Who, in their simple mortality, feels they are worthy enough to say who is meant to be/feel/share/give/receive love, or who is meant to be denied those basic human rights?

Certainly, certainly not me.

It reminds me of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," for some reason. Have you seen that documentary? The women of Liberia asked the same question J did, as women, what can we do? In Liberia, the women denied their husbands sex until there was peace. In Liberia, a grandmother stripped down in front of the solider who was to remove her for talking peace (it is a sin, or a curse, I cannot remember, to see a grandmother naked in their culture).

As a woman...and being within American Queer culture...I feel compelled, always, to continue to help men be more gentle and women be gently fierce. In the Queer community, I feel compelled, always, to educate the people around me about sexuality and society, the way the two interweave, the way sensual and sexual experiences have been entangled and overlapped in a way that confuses both intent and meaning. There are many things we can do...but we have to be clear as to what we are dealing with. It is not unlawful acts of homosexuality, it is love. It is not gay rights, it is human rights. I don't believe anyone has the right to define love or human rights based off of their own cultural perspective of the world.

It is a complex debate, let's get started :) We begin here, by communing.

"...our compassion is the practice of unconditioning." Jakusho Kwong Roshi

Dear Jade, I wish I can do something to help the women in countries like ours (Afghanistan). Let me know if I can share any information with you to help. Regards, Hawa

Allah (SWT) is the greatest!

Thanks for posting this article, as a Christian, I am often left horrified of what fellow Christians will do to gay and lesbian people. The case in Africa has become an eyesore for the world of Christianity, the difference between Africa and the Western world is the laws that protects peoples dignity, this is not to say that there are reduced violence or fear to be gay and lesbian. We are encouraged by the reposting and sharing of our stories and we are indebted to many people who are faithful and continue to support us in prayers and keep us in their thoughts. I also believe that the Holy Spirit is calling us to act now, spread the inclusive gospel of Jesus, and the ineffable love of God to LGBTI Africans. We can do this through our faithful actions and organisations. It is my vision and dream, that we will one day move the mission, so radically to speak to the hearts, mind and soul of People, let us give birth to the Radically Inclusive Mission to Africa today. Collectively we can bring hope to the people of Africa. I watched the documentary Missionaries of hate and I was appalled at the length of evil promoted by "Christians". My bible teaches that we should not repay evil for evil, I believe we need to stand strong and promote love in its entirety. God Bless. Rev Jide Macaulay, www.houseofrainbow.org

Wow....... In as much as we advocate human right,, we should also consider cultural religious and socially acceptable ways of acting. I do not believe that people are born to be homosexuals or lesbians, as studies have shown that exposure predisposes people's action ( I have not seen so much noise made about Male- Female Sexual Relationship?).

I am Prould Nigerian and I do not want a society that encourages male-male and female-female sexual relationship talk more of marriage.

Call me backward or uncivilized but it is my view. I do not want a Nigeria where our children have to grow up with the notion that Cinderella has to marry Kate... God forbid.

I love forever happy afters and I understand that for society to thrive there has to be order. I do not believe in coping what does not work as oposed to what does... Be sincere to yourself when you think of  a same sex relationship, you cring. It  takes continous exposure for it to 'seem' normal.

We are Nigerians, we have a rich culture and we will defend it not because we are selfish or unfeeling or unfair but because we want to leave value to our next generation.

We have a lot of problems that needs to be solved and we don't need people sholving sexual orientations issues down our throath.

Finally, show me a place in the Bible where same sex relationships are condoned and I will support you...... Finally we all know that it is not normal.

God help us.