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20 Jan Written by  Japheth Omojuwa

Let's Debate Gay Rights without Blackmail and Hypocrisy

Referring to the same-sex law in Nigeria, one of my friends said to me, “you better stay middle in this 'cos I don't want to hate a Japheth." I replied, “I'd rather you hate me for speaking my conscience than love me for saying what you'd rather hear. Life is too short for pretense.”

I don’t ever want to be loved for who I am not. I do not think my stand on issues are always right but I’d rather be wrong against those who expect me to always say what they’d rather have me say than be wrong against my own conscience.

One of the frustrations of a thinking person is the inability to have a rational debate with a non-thinking one. At times, it is like a conversation between a person who can think, speak and hear and one who does not think, and is deaf and dumb. Of these handicaps, that the person does not think is the only hindrance to a conversation. There is no chance of a conversation with this being, let alone a rational one.

Those who consider me a leader should be more worried if I choose silence on an issue like this, than if I take a stand different from their expectations. We are not zombies, and we cannot always agree on every issue. I already took a stand on Twitter but I wanted a stand that’d also be backed by my views beyond Twitter’s 14 times 10 characters. I am privileged to have quite a following, first online and now increasingly off-line.

Do I have gays and lesbians following me, who are inspired by my thoughts? Absolutely, yes! I do not have any male gay friends yet but I have quite a number of female ones, including Nigerians. Two of my best students at the Freie Universitat are gay. After my first day of taking a class at the Freie Universitat, one of the people who came to welcome me because they heard I’d be at the university on that day is a gay person. But my views predate my journey abroad.

The first time my followers attacked me on Twitter about three years ago was because of my stance on gay rights. I cannot for the life of me support any law that requires for these people to be sent to jail just for the fact that they choose to have sex through a shit-hole than they do through a vagina. This may sound crude but it really is what it is, when you reduce a relationship to sex instead of the humane feelings that make the sex only consequential.

There are certain rights humans take for granted today that cost others their very lives. Apartheid is gone in South Africa but some paid with their lives that other South Africans may be free today. Some of them like Bram Fischer were white people who were not personally affected by the discriminatory laws. It was a natural death sentence to be a Jew at a time in Germany. Women had no voting rights until the 19th amendment of the constitution of the United States.

Until the Reconstruction amendments, virtually every black person in the United States was a slave and the white men and women who fought against slavery were not slaves. Quakers and the Society of Friends were white organisations that fought for the abolition of a trade that dealt with black people as products rather than as human beings. Slaves did not start the war against slavery; freed slaves only later joined the fight. The men and women who fight for animal rights are not animals. Those who fight for the preservation of wildlife are not wild human beings.

The preservation of the lives of twins was against certain cultures until a white woman, Mary Slessor helped to fight and stop it. It used to be a taboo to be a Christian or a Muslim in certain African cultures; both religions are now the norm in most of Africa. I am not gay. I do not have the ability to be gay. I’d rather die than have sex with anyone but an intelligent, beautiful woman but like some of the people mentioned above, I need not be one of them to defend them.

I need not be a Muslim to defend the rights of Muslims if I find myself where Muslims are being persecuted. The ban on hijab in Lagos may not amount to a persecution to some but mine was one of the loudest voices against the ban last year. I got a lot of messages from Muslim readers and friends who were inspired by my stand. I am not a woman, and I will never ever need to wear the hijab. I am not a Muslim either but I will defend to death the rights of a Muslim to dress as a Muslim because these rights are not Muslim rights, they are human rights!

When some choose to defend the rights of gays, it hurts to see some people narrow the debate on gay rights to, “are you gay?” Are animal rights activists animals? Can we have a debate without blackmail as a shield of ignorance?

Sometimes I wish I had the ability to mince words when I state my beliefs but I don’t. I’d rather be hated for my beliefs and be rejected by all and sundry than state a position that is contrary to my beliefs. But I’d never choose to blackmail those who have different views from mine.

I’d rather die knowing I was hated for what I conscientiously stood for than die knowing I was loved for what I stood for but never even believed in in my mind and heart. Until my secondary school days at King’s College, Lagos, I never knew anything about homosexuality. Even at KC I only heard rumours until my last year when the realities hit me hard. A boy was caught having sex with a prefect.

As usual with justice in Nigeria, the prefect was allowed to go while the young boy, two years the prefect’s junior was picked. I needed to know exactly what happened so I asked the young boy. He confessed he did what he was accused of. Out of curiosity and disbelief, I asked if he was penetrated and the young boy confirmed he was. That was the very day the reality of homosexuality hit me. I went straight to bed that day very sad and very scared. It didn’t sound right or real.

You cannot fight for gay rights in Nigeria without paying attention to the people’s realities. Yes, gays exist in Nigeria but how many Nigerians are aware of this reality? Gay rights activists cannot go about fighting for these rights, assuming average Nigerians ought to know fighting against gay rights is wrong. Gay rights activists need to stop speaking from a moral and/or academic high ground. They need to stop demonizing those who don’t understand these rights. At the moment, we are not having any debates on this issue; all I see are people demonizing one another, with blackmail as the main weapon on both sides.

You will never win people to your side of the argument by making them look stupid and/or evil. It is even worse when you want to win an argument in an overly religious country like Nigeria and you start out suggesting that people like Jesus and David were gay. How can you in the world expect Christians to defend gay rights when you come out to suggest the Jesus Christ they worship day and night was gay? Is this about fighting back or about winning converts?

You cannot on one hand rightly say people should not use their Bible and Koran to defend their stance on a secular issue while on the other hand you try to read your own beliefs into the Bible and then try to use that skewed representation of facts to defend your stance. That act in itself is sheer hypocrisy. If you decide to use the Bible, there are many messages of love in the Bible that can be used to defend the rights of gays to be free but you will never be able to defend gay rights in a country like Nigeria by suggesting Jesus Christ and King David were gay. That argument will not only die on arrival, it will create for you more enemies than converts. It should also be stated that not all who oppose gay rights are bigots and fanatics; some do so because doing so is what they think is right.

I also believe western countries demonizing Nigeria as a country, because of the law against same-sex union are hypocrites of a different colour. You cannot choose what rights to defend based on what suits you. There are many ways to get the Nigerian government to repeal the law but bullying and moralizing cannot be two of them. Britain and the United States will be standing on a sinking moral ground if they choose to moralize on Nigeria’s stand on this issue. The same way a man who commits adultery with one woman cannot think his own sin is better than the sin of a man who commits adultery with several women.

Well-meaning Nigerians continue to suffer because of the sins of some other Nigerians. Yesterday a Nigerian was going to board a plane from England to Germany. The airline officer had to first make a call to security to say, “there is a Nigerian about to board the flight to Berlin!” How can you do that?

Nigerians, no matter how much they have contributed to humanity cannot travel through the United Kingdom to Nigeria or other parts of the world without a transit visa. If that is not some kind of denial on the rights of people to move around because of their nationality, I wonder what is. Africans are severally discriminated against in the West just because they are Africans. As I speak today, it is a subtle crime to be a Muslim in some countries that continue to pose as moral leaders of the free world. In some Western countries, you are guilty of being black before you commit your next crime. Being black is your first crime.

To an average Nigerian, there is no wealth common about the Common Wealth. Women and children continue to be killed by bullets and drones of countries that assume the role of messiah yet unleash a different kind of terror on defenseless people. The war on terrorism and terrorism itself are beginning to both look like just one word: terrorism. You cannot bully a sovereign country into the box of morality and expect it to accept to be bullied when it knows even those that pushes it into that box should be there in the box too.

We cannot choose what human rights suit us to defend; all human rights are equal and none is more equal than the other. One may be safe to even assume the Nigerian government passed the law just to prove it cannot be bullied. Another reason would of course be that the government knew it would serve as a useful distraction to the citizens. None of these are good enough reasons to reduce a person’s worth to society to what choices s/he chooses in a consensual sex bargain. You cannot criminalize two adults for choosing to engage in a consensual sexual activity.

"The overriding message of love and compassion that I take from the Bible, and certainly the Golden Rule, and the fact that I believe we are all created by our maker, that has all influenced me in terms of my change on this issue" said United States’ Senator Rob Portman.

It was one of the biggest victories for the gay community in America. Senator Rob Portman had been anti-gay marriage and would not support any call for gay people to be married. The Senator then reversed himself. He changed his mind and indeed became a known supporter of gay marriage in the United States. What happened to the Senator? Was it a book he read or an argument he heard or he had just seen what he didn’t previously see? Was there a new research that had convinced him that there was a huge chance some were born gay so should not be criminalized for a cause of nature they had no hand in?

It was none of these, it was something much more simple. Senator Rob Portman’s son, Will Portman, came out to his dad. Will Robman had, of course, always been gay even though the dad was oblivious to this. Then the son told the dad about his sexual preferences, then Senator Portman’s position changed on gay marriage. Had Will Robman not come out to his dad, had the dad not been confronted with the emotional and mental battles faced by gay people through his own son’s pains, Senator Robman would still be anti-gay.

He didn’t just come across the Bible, and the Golden Rule was there all the days he was anti-Gay. But something was not there-- his son had not told him about being gay. Was Senator Robman’s reversal a selfish decision? Was it an act of hypocrisy or was it just what it was; he just changed his mind? You decide for yourself. Do we need to be in the shoes of those who suffer discrimination to at least feel some of their pains? What is empathy?

Since my confirmation of the realities of homosexuality, I have had 14 years to understand it. Heterosexual Nigerians who are defending the rights of gays must have this in mind; most, if not all of them, would not be defending these rights if they did not have many years, many experiences and encounters to deal with the gay question. For many Nigerians, homosexuality is a new reality; not because homosexuality is a new reality in Nigeria but because secrecy is one of the main pillars of our society. Only recently are many coming to terms with this reality like I did 14 years ago.

We cannot then expect that these people will see the issue the way you see it let alone address it the way you address it. It took the West 50 years to arrive at where they are today on gay rights and in most of their societies, most gays are only right in the legal books. Demonizing those who don’t see your point amounts to assuming that everyone knows what you know. Let us not forget that even in the most western of nations, gay rights may be legal, they are not yet seen as normal or readily acceptable in society. I know this because my gay student told me.

In closing, I’d say that the hardest thing in this whole issue is the inability to have a debate. It is understandable in a country where the debate culture is not well established but one should at least see a semblance of debate amongst educated and enlightened Nigerians.

I have published both sides of the argument on my personal blog because I believe both sides deserve to be heard. I have my own stand too: it is an infringement on their human rights for two adults to be sent to jail for choosing to love each other. It would be discriminatory to see these adults first as gays before seeing them as humans.

That is essentially what discrimination is about; to deny a person a visa because of where s/he comes from and not because s/he is a criminal in her/his own right. All acts of discrimination are bad and no act of discrimination is worse than the other. Discrimination is a global phenomenon and it is the number one challenge for justice and peace in our world today. All societies are guilty of discriminating against some kinds of minorities or the other; no society is guiltier than the other.

Let each man, woman, each country and state take a look in the mirror and those who point fingers at others should spend a moment to seek the direction of at least three of their other fingers when they point one at those they believe are bigger sinners. Let us all cut the crap!