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Okechukwu Effoduh: The incidence of Hate Crimes against the LGBT community – A tale of systemic idiocy
A while ago, I watched an online video of a group of boys beating some naked girls and eventually raping them all. I listened intently to the conversations and cries of the girls. I was able to glean the reason for the attack: the boys had overheard the girls moaning the previous night- in an all-girls room. Apparently, the girls were either lesbians or experimenting with the idea. The boys on the other hand were the agents of “change” swooping in to teach the girls the path of righteousness.
Such acts of sexual aggression against members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community are not new and sadly, very common. It’s known as “corrective rape”- a scenario in which a member of the LGBT community (usually a lesbian or female bisexual) is raped and sexually assaulted with the goal that after such encounters, the lesbian is fixed and becomes straight. This theory and the reasoning behind it is what the Englishman calls BULLOCKS
Maryam Abdullahi, popularly called Sarauniya (Which is the Hausa name for a queen, maybe because of her fair complexion or her beauty) was a graduating student of the Federal Polytechnic Bida in Niger State who did not find it funny because she had turned down several guys and it was common gist that she was only “into girls”. On the eve of Christmas in 2010, four boys had attacked her with the aim of “correcting” her sexuality. They would have succeed in raping her but for her struggling and shouting which caught the attention of some farmers nearby who came to her aid. The conversation that ensued before she was almost raped was premised on the claim that they wanted to teach her how to “receive”.
Corrective rape is rarely reported in Nigeria but it does occur. In a country where lesbians and gays will soon be committed to prison for 14 years simply based on their predilections, the report of corrective rape is as good as handing over yourself to the wolves for painful and shameful scrutiny. As proof of this, the girls in that video I saw haven’t raised hell. They haven’t complained to the authorities. Even the rape of straight women is hardly ever reported here.
Corrective sex is a very real phenomenon. It is not a joke. It is not conjecture. In South Africa (where, by the way, homosexuality is legal), corrective rape was the rave of the year 2011. Eudy Simelane was gang-raped, beaten and stabbed 25 times for being an open lesbian and lesbian-rights activist. Had she not been a popular lady, she would have become just another statistic in a swelling ratio of unfortunate women that includes a 13 year old who was raped for being openly lesbian and a 24 year-old lesbian stoned to death after an apparent gang rape. Ndumie Funda, the director and founder of Luleki Sizwe Project, a charity that assists lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women in the townships of Cape Town reports that an estimated 510 women report corrective rape in South Africa every year. With these damning statistics, corrective rape is not recognized as a Hate Crime in South Africa. In fact, of the 31 recorded murders of lesbians in South Africa between 1998 and December 2009, only one case had resulted in a conviction.
Nigeria and South Africa both model the argument that whether she’s permitted by law or not to pursue her lifestyle, the lesbian or female bisexual/transgender is an “endangered species” In Nigeria, that danger is both official (as modelled in the Anti-Gay Bill) as well as unofficial (as modelled by the many instances of corrective rape).
Corrective Rape as an argument and practice falls apart like a pack of cards. Even in itself, it doesn’t make sense. It is akin to dousing fire with coal- sheer stupidity. Below are my arguments against corrective rape:
One: Even heterosexuals have been reported to hate men after rape. Some lesbians opt for lesbianism upon their exposure to rape or some other form of sexual assault by a man they trusted. Some other heterosexual women are unable to come to terms with male contact for a long while after rape- even when the contact is that from a loving husband or a devoted male care-giver. How then can rape fix the lesbian?
Two: There is no moral, religious, cultural, philosophical or scientific proof that rape has a corrective angle to it. In the world over, the news of rape causes the hearers to cringe. In fact, in jurisdictions like Nigeria, there have been calls to amend the laws to make it legally possible for rape to occur between married couples. And in that same world where such agitations are put forth, some people canvass the “positive” angle of rape? It makes no sense.
Three: If rape was really meant to cure the lesbian and not a sorry excuse by a bunch of losers to skip the means and claim the end, why kill the lesbians- as in the case of Eudy Simelane? Why “correct” her and then rob her of the opportunity to live “corrected”? The reason is simple- rape doesn’t correct anyone and while he’s brutally thrusting in and out, the rapist knows this.
Four: Corrective rape is used against real or perceived lesbians. Assuming without conceding that rape could be therapeutic, shouldn’t therapeutic visitation flow from diagnostic analysis? Do we administer Folic Acid on girl because we SUSPECT she’s pregnant? Or do we force an inhaler on a boy we FEEL is asthmatic? Medical attention (however beneficial to the patient) in the absence of consent is battery. A lesbian should be given an opportunity to request for fixing before she is suddenly, brutally and fatally descended upon- and that is in the absurd assumption that rape could be corrective.
Rape is not the only form of violent aggression against LGBTs. Gay bashing is more common and less regarded- but just as dangerous.
A 1998 study in the United States by Mental Health America found that students heard anti-gay slurs at estimated intervals of once every 14 minutes. In Britain, 41 percent of gay students confessed to having been physically attacked while 17 percent admitted to having received death threats. Nigeria’s own Damilola Taylor was beaten, submitted to homophobic abuse and eventually stabbed to death in Peckham even though the word “gay” meant nothing to him until his mother explained it to him- another example of lashings-out based on perceived sexuality.
In the year 2010, a gay man from Cameroon sought and got asylum in the United Kingdom after he reportedly fled the attack of an angry mob that had spotted him kissing his male partner. That one is small. Kingsley a National Youth Service Corp member posted to Nasarawa state, Nigeria for his primary assignment in 2010 had metal objects forced into his body parts because he was perceived to be a homosexual. The sad part is that when the case was reported to the police, their only action was a statement that “it was good for him”.
In Nigeria, many members of the LGBT community who have been bashed or have been victims of hate crime in one way or the other prefer to remain silent about it. Many LGBT persons that are attacked and battered prefer not to say the truth about what happened to them because of the huge stigma that follows when people realize that such crime was committed on the premise of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Rather than say that they were bashed, they resort to saying that they sustained injuries through motor accidents. Some claim to be attacked by violent robbers or from engaging in a fight. This happens countless times and it is only on closer scrutiny and investigation does it revel itself that such a person was attacked because of their sexuality which in most times is based on mere perception.
Where the bullying and bashing doesn’t kill the LGBT person, the emotional burden of it all does. In 2009, 11-year old Carl Joseph Walker Hoover, in Springfield, Massachusetts, hanged himself with an electrical cord having been bullied and called gay by his classmates at Middle School! Closer home is the story of Justin Fashanu, brother to John Fashanu. He was an English footballer. He played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He came out to the press later in his career, to become the first and only English professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command One Million pounds transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Fashanu committed suicide in May 1998. Closest to home is the recent suicide story of a 15 year old boy of a private secondary school in Abuja who jumped off the third floor of the school after he was bullied for hours and demonstrated abusively on a sketched cartoon.
Whatever robs citizens of their lives without the sanction of the state or robs them of their will to live- however lofty and pious-minded- is downright wrong. And if we stomach hate crimes against members of the LGBT community simply because we loathe those members, we might as well stomach hate crimes spurred by racism, tribalism, ageism and caste mentality.
A crime is a crime. And it doesn’t matter who the victim is. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender needs no correction and even if they did, when I was a kid I was taught to fix broken things by holding them together- not by crushing them.
About the reporter: Okechukwu Effoduh has been a freelance journalist for 6 years. He anchors a radio programme under the BBC Media Action called “Flava” – a native youth programme on HIV and other sexual reproductive health issues which is aired on over 90 radio stations in Nigeria with about 24 million listeners tuning in weekly. Okechukwu is also a Human Rights Lawyer. Follow Okechukwu on twitter @jakechukwu, Facebook via www.facebook.com/flavapresenter or email firstname.lastname@example.org