As the #EndSARS movement continues in Nigerian cities, another protest, the LGBTQ-themed #QueerNigerianLivesMatter, has gained traction within it. #QueerNigerianLivesMatter is calling for exactly the same thing that #EndSARS is: the end of police brutality in Nigeria—only highlighting an underreported demographic. Over the years, criticism of SARS brutality focused mostly on male victims and survivors, and increasingly, with the start of the protests, on female survivors of rape and sexual assault. But the assault on LGBTQ Nigerians was largely overlooked and became normalized.
For years, all police units—not just SARS—have targeted people they believe to be gay and lesbian. Some police officers have tracked them on social media, lured them to secret places, and blackmailed, beaten, and extorted money from them. Many officers have used the road searches as opportunities to check people’s phones for sexual material and then use that to assault and extort. Still, the greater number of officers simply presumed people’s sexuality by what they wore, how they walked, leading to many unreported cases of assault on even people who are not LGBTQ.
Because of the wildly homophobic climate of the country, aided by the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), signed into law by then president Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, LGBTQ Nigerians have mostly borne their suffering in silence, occasionally sharing accounts on social media. Until #EndSARS presented an opportunity to, for the first time, publicly protest on the streets.
However, #QueerNigerianLivesMatter protesters quickly ran into trouble: at Berger, Abuja, they were attacked by fellow protesters. It is a shameful situation: protesters against police brutality turning around to brutalize fellow protesters.
A lady brought a 🌈 rainbow flag
and our fellow
protesters turned on us at Berger Roundabout Abuja.
they tore our placards and seized the flag.
I got it back but they refused that we fly it.
I wore it on my neck and they refused.
said we either take it off or leave.
I’m leaving pic.twitter.com/ZyaTzR7TQg
— Amara, the lesbian. (@the_amarion) October 14, 2020
On social media, a few people have suggested that the #QueerNigerianLivesMatter is “hijacking” the #EndSARS movement. That, of course, is false: only a fraction of the #EndSARS protesters are also #QueerNigerianLivesMatter protesters, so they cannot possibly “hijack” Nigeria’s biggest movement since we became a democracy. Some other anti-#QueerNigerianLivesMatter social media users have called for the protest to wait until after #EndSARS. That logic—if you understand homophobia and Nigeria—is simply unrealistic. Police and civilian brutality on LGBTQ Nigerians is also brutality on Nigerians, and we must protest all forms of brutality.
The #EndSARS movement will not be complete until the #QueerNigerianLivesMatter protest achieves its aim: an end to the Nigerian police—and army and every other security operatives—attacking LGBTQ Nigerians.
Yell it in your streets. We get killed for being queer. It’s crazy pic.twitter.com/KIGaaGbKk7
— Son of the Rainbow AKA LGBTQ+ CLASS CAPTAIN🏳️🌈 (@Blaise_21) October 10, 2020
Here are photos from the #QueerNigerianLivesMatter protests. (Please reach out to us for the credits.)
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, editor, journalist, and curator. He is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: business, art, photography, music, activism, health, food. He has vast experience working in literature. He has sat on the judging panels of The Gerald Kraak Prize and of The Morland Writing Scholarship. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria's first queer art collective, and Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. For three years, Nov. 2016 to Apr. 2020, he led the transformation of the literary blog Brittle Paper into a continental powerhouse, ideating and administering The Brittle Paper Awards, the first by an African publication. His work in queer advocacy has been profiled in Literary Hub. In 2019, he won The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians." He completed a collection of short stories in 2016 and his novel in 2020. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.