Lagos, September 7
After swapping nude pictures with Blessing on WhatsApp, Chioma got down to meet her potential lover however was accosted on the street by a person in navy uniform who accused her of “lesbianism”.
The man instructed Chioma he was going to strip her bare and take her to the Nigerian police, as instructed by Blessing’s father, a senior military official, as same-sex relations are against the law punishable by as much as 14 years in jail within the west African nation.
“I started begging him and asking him what he could do to help me because I didn’t want to go to prison,” stated Chioma, a pupil in her early 20s, who declined to have her actual identify revealed.
But the person took her to a resort the place he raped her.
The on-line world is opening up LGBT+ Nigerians’ hidden lives — with gay-friendly web sites and personal teams providing nameless areas the place they will come out and join for the primary time — however it’s also exposing them to new sorts of abuse.
Two months after the rape, the person threatened to put up Chioma’s nudes on-line except she paid a 2 million naira ($5,249) bribe, a terrifying prospect for a lot of LGBT+ individuals in Nigeria, the place homosexuality is extensively rejected as a Western import.
Unable to pay, Chioma determined to come back out to her household.
“For the first time ever, I felt super strong because I knew I had my family and friends in my corner,” she instructed the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Lagos, Nigeria’s business capital.
“I still feel like I am being monitored. Every single day, I wake up and wonder if today is the day. I am always waiting to see that text message of blackmail.”
While lesbians have historically been much less of a goal for blackmail than homosexual males, LGBT+ Nigerians stated this can be altering as ladies develop into bolder about constructing on-line communities and assembly strangers for friendship and intercourse.
“There aren’t that many lesbian ‘kitos’ happening like this in Nigeria,” stated the founding father of Kito Diaries, an internet site that warns LGBT+ individuals about on-line scams, often called kitos.
“That sort of story, they’d by no means use it to get a homosexual man.
“We’ve become so used to this, to being victimised,” stated the person, who declined to have his identify revealed for safety causes.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation interviewed two different ladies who had been focused on-line this 12 months in Lagos by a girl known as Blessing and a person in fatigues.
Faith, 22, texted her brother who rescued her earlier than she could possibly be compelled contained in the resort.
“If my brother didn’t know about my sexuality, or had hesitated in the slightest or wasn’t close, I don’t know what would have happened,” stated Faith, who declined to have her actual identify revealed.
A 3rd lady, aged 25, instructed the conman to take her to a police station however he known as her father as a substitute — at which level she realised it was a rip-off.
The man took her to a disused bus station, the place he hit her in entrance of a crowd of onlookers, telling them she was a lesbian, till her father — a retired navy man — arrived.
The two males talked in non-public and she or he was launched.
“I’ve been traumatised by meeting people on the internet,” she stated, including she would by no means make associates on-line once more.
Faced with such dangers, some younger lesbians have discovered the boldness to come back out with extra constructive illustration on-line and a softening of attitudes amongst associates and households.
A ballot by the LGBT+ advocacy group TIERS discovered that 30% of Nigerians stated they might settle for a homosexual member of the family in 2019, up from 11% in 2011.
“Things are getting better,” stated Faith, whose brother helped her escape the WhatsApp scammers. “The major reason things have changed is the internet; a lot more people are out on the internet and that humanises us somehow.” Pamela Adie, considered one of Nigeria’s most outstanding lesbian activists, broke new floor along with her 2019 documentary about her life and plans to launch Nigeria’s first lesbian love story, “Ife”, on-line this 12 months.
Like a rising variety of younger LGBT+ Nigerians, Freda stated she lives in a glass closet – that means many individuals know she is a lesbian however it’s not publically acknowledged.
“I have only queer friends; almost anyone that looks at me guesses I’m queer,” stated the 25-year-old software program developer, who has quick hair and clothes in a masculine manner.
But she is just too scared to inform her dad and mom she is homosexual.
“I’ve heard stories of people coming out to their family and the family locking them up at home and calling a pastor to chase ‘the gay’ out. I hate to say it but my family is very likely to do that … so I keep myself very away,” she stated.
“I have friends with progressive families though, some take their partners to see their families and stuff. It’s nice seeing some of us thrive here and live functional lives.” Young lesbian and bisexual ladies stated they worth the digital world for the alternatives it supplies to community, discover emotional, sensible and monetary assist and, for some, to get the braveness to go public about their sexuality.
“When I came out in 2017, I was able to do that because I found women who were like me – those who had already come out,” stated Marline Oluchi, who helped organise Pride Afrique, the primary continent-wide digital celebration this month.
“We also have our families on social media. They get to read (our posts) and so that plausible deniability is no longer there … they can no longer pretend to not know.” Nike runs an LGBT+ WhatsApp group which rallied spherical to search out housing for one member when she was outed to her mom.
“It made me so happy that we could do this, that we had this. It is risky business, and Nigeria is Nigeria, but being in the group and having the network is just amazing,” she stated. — Thomson Reuters Foundation