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A Queer Activist opens up on homophobia in Nigeria

“I have the power to make any decision I want over my body”, Matthew Blaise, a young queer advocate based in Lagos shares his experience about homophobia in Nigeria.

In the early dates of March, the gruesome murder of Willswaggs will hit major news outlets, adding his death to the increasing number of homophobia motivated murder. This brutal act would go on to spark social media outrage from the Nigerian LGBTQ+ community, where every pain, voice, anger, a similar story of unsafety will be recorded under the #endhomophobiainNigeria. 

At the forefront of this activism was Matthew Blaise, a queer activist who has taken up space for themselves by being unapologetically vocal as they document and share the never-ending journey of discovery and ownership of what they are.

The belief abomination of homosexuality in Nigeria often starts from the home. Where children who behave contrary to predetermined gender stereotypes are mocked and treated unfairly. “No dey behave like women or man”, this is how your family tells you they will not tolerate contrary actions that can bring shame, including the attraction you might have for the same sex.

This treatment, and the fear of unacceptance, leads growing individuals to lengths as they try to suppress or completely obliterate their sexuality. For Matthew, they submitted themselves to conversion therapy and deliverances multiple times where they were bathed with water, asked to pray, fast, given a prayer book, and instructed to never stop praying if not, the gay would return. 

Conversion therapy is the process of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality to heterosexuality. Matthew had religious leaders breaking them mentally and infusing fear by weaponizing HIV, terming it “the gay man’s disease” and subjecting them to physical abuse where they were beaten, strangled, and made to fast in secluded places commonly referred to as mountain.

The worst thing about abuse and homophobic attacks is that it transcends to other places like schools. Held guilty for being “too girly”, or not “man enough”, Matthew would experience violence in the most physical and emotional form like being stoned, thrown out of buses, slurred at or judged for being unserious.

Of course, all these takes its toll on someone’s mental health and when asked how they manage to have a good and stable mental health regardless, Matthew would admit, “first, my mental health is not good”, before giving ways they have managed to escape from it all. After being conditioned for so long to believe that gay people will go to hell, they admit to currently being at a point where they simply do not care.

In recent times, Matthew has been known to share a lot of themselves, their body, thoughts, and emotions on social media. In response to the show of skin, they reply, “I think it is a form of love language because I come from of a place of not liking my body because I am femme and fat.” This is their step to reaffirming the fact that they have power over themselves and the power to make any decision over their body.

But all these do not go unnoticed by the homophobic community who insert themselves and go to lengths such as invading Matthew’s privacy and sharing pictures that would later make them a target for harm and threats. In Matthew’s experience, the worst form of negativity comes from fellow gays who expect them to be less vocal and tone down their level of expression.

“I know they don’t owe me support but the fact that I am living freely shouldn’t bother anybody.”

It is the desire of every queer person in Nigeria to know comfortability in their skin and in their sexuality but the homophobic nature of people prevents them from having that. From internalized homophobia to the shaming, “homophobia sets a very unsafe and uncomfortable atmosphere for gay people and hinders our productivity”, Matthew adds. “One thing we forget is that homophobia is hate speech, and hate speeches put many lives in danger. We are a minority, we do not have the power to take over the majority especially when we are not represented in the government. So the little reckless words like God can never make anyone gay, kill gay people, beat them up, jail them, to hell with homosexuality, really matters.”

 

 

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