AN ATTACK ON THE QUEER BODY IS AN ATTACK ON THE ECONOMY; AN EXPLORATION OF THE SOCIO-ECONOMIC IMPACT OF HOMOPHOBIA

*Ryan, The Protean.

The World Bank proves 40 percent of Nigeria’s total population lives below the country’s poverty line of 137,430 naira ($381.75). Over the current administration, the middle-class has shrunk from 38% to 10%. With purchasing power burning out faster than most Nigerian Idol winners, Nigerians have a problem. In this essay, we will highlight the impact homophobia has by excluding individuals from participating in the economy.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development describes Economic Inclusion as 

An inclusive market economy ensures that anyone regardless of their gender, place of birth, family background, age or other circumstances, over which they have no control, has full and fair access to labour markets, finance and entrepreneurship and, more generally, economic opportunity.

According to an NOI survey conducted in June 2013, 92% of Nigerians support the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act. You see, the figures are as scary as the personal stories you will be reading. With a collapsing healthcare system, government-empowered violence and corrosive religious activism, the queer** body is under attack. On this, we base our claim: The LGBTQ community is directly and indirectly alienated from participating in activities that support the growth of the country’s economy. We will be focusing on education and health. 

Education

The best predictor of an individual’s chances in the labour market is their education. As such, a disruption reduces prime chances to contribute to the economy. Queer persons face stigmatization, discrimination, and most often rejection by those around them. Linda*** lives in Lagos, Nigeria. In 2015, classmates caught her with a girl she had a relationship with. The next week, school authorities constituted a panel investigating her private sexual choices. She remembers sitting in a waiting room as the panel prayed for God’s direction and wisdom. The panel expelled her. 

Besides ostracism, discrimination in school can lead to suicide, antisocial behavior and increased chances of dropping out. Ebuka first left university in 2017 after his schoolmates burst into his room after 2am. They molested him into taking off his clothes to confirm if he is ‘really’ a man. In 2019, he tried to enroll in a school far into Eastern Nigeria. This time, his classmates were the ones taunting him. They made videos of him to show their friends, while calling him ‘XXY.’ He left school the second time.

Ebuka now lives in Abuja where he runs a Fiverr account as a freelance graphics designer. When needed, he heads to National Open University where he now schools. Ebuka battles high levels of social anxiety and prefers to engage on virtual spaces. He explains, “It’s easier for me. Less people on my matter and I get to hustle since Nigeria is getting more and more useless.”

Linda had dreams to become a celebrated petroleum engineer. After her family cut her off, she began navigating life in Lagos as a salesgirl and now an Instagram store owner.  They both agree inflation and the economy affect them. While Ebuka earns in dollars, Linda dreads choking exchange rates when importing from China.

Health

In 2019, 1.9 million people were living with HIV. That same year, Nigeria pledged $12m to Global Fund in a bid to fight HIV/AIDS. Medication and treatment are free. One would assume this goes a long way in combating the virus. Wrong. 

Assuming a queer person navigates the trenches of school, self-consuming violence and vaults into a workplace, they will have their productivity altered by an illness. David tested HIV-positive in October, 2019. He works in a leading Nigerian company as an agro-engineer. In recent generations, support can exist in friend groups. In his mid-30s, his support system is lifeless. He complains about the counselor at the HIV clinic saying he is the cause of his illness. She claims being one with Jesus and keeping to his words would have protected him. David says, “For a very long time, I thought I was being punished for liking men. I almost started thinking of getting married but I didn’t even know where to start from. My boss would complain about the way I would lose concentration in meetings and how I was beginning to miss work deliverables.” 

Queer persons lead lives inhibited by poverty, poor health and discrimination. Due to antagonistic systems, queer persons are prone to HIV, HPV and life-threatening STDs. 

HIV and the stigmatization it conjures in health clinics is as ready as another illness more prevalent—Mental Illness. In Nigeria, over 50 million people are suffering from some sort of mental illness. Yet, mental healthcare in Nigeria is both inexistent and incomprehensible to the average Nigerian.

The statistics in the LGBTQ community is more frightening. A study by Stonewall found that in 2018:

• half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression and three in five had experienced anxiety 

• one in eight LGBTIQ+ people aged 18-24 had attempted to end their life 

• almost half of trans people had thought about taking their life.

There are no statistical reports discussing the impact improved mental health will have in Nigeria (obviously). However, according to a Nigerian study, a reduction in Malaria, HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis will increase labour supply and productivity. Results show increase in life expectancy will increase labour force participation by about 33% without controlling for other household characteristics—sex, gender and education levels. When controlling household characteristics, by about 83%.  

Moving Forward

Nigeria has a litany of problems. Ani Somtochukwu Kayode who leads the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST) proposes Nigeria’s solution is in dismantling capitalism. Rather than providing short-term aid, Kayode and his comrades are leading a movement to solve the core issues while offering long-term relief. “I want you to get something, Ryan. Rather than constantly doing GoFundMe to raise rent, we’re aiming to provide housing. It’s more sustainable,” he says to me over a phone call. Besides providing mutual aid, QUEST engages in community education to enlighten society.

In years to come, it is imaginable QUEST will be key in liberating queers across Nigeria considering its support to trans-persons. Kayode says, “It’s interesting because people think we are trans-focused. We are not, but it’s great we have come off this way.”

Organizations like Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative have taken the hard path to promote mental health in Nigeria. These organizations are stripping the stigma wrapped around mental illnesses. The Initiative for Equal Rights provides therapy to LGBTQ persons and key populations that fit its mission. They have come a long way thus far, and can only go further.

Moving forward, the government and businesses need to take responsibility for society. We need to call on institutions asking they be more proactive in supporting their workers and members of communities where they operate. The government should be held accountable in providing affordable housing alongside quality education and healthcare. 

We should recognize LGBTQ persons as societal minorities requiring protection. It is indubitable we hold ourselves responsible by shunning patriarchy and homophobic discrimination. In particular, holding perpetrators of homophobic attacks accountable to the Rule of Law. 

Paying attention to Linda, she argues supporting businesses owned by queer persons will allow people like her lead lives with better quality.

Most fundamental, to solve the distinction of LGBTQ persons as outliers, more open discussions need to be had. The Oasis Project is working to promote positive representation and humanization of queer people. 

The 10 best countries according to this report have 3 things in common relevant to this essay: A functional healthcare system, high literacy levels and favorable LGBTQ legislation. It is worthy to note Nigeria has voiced support for the United Nation’s Sustainability Goals. However, Stephen Chukwumah, a human rights activist believes

“For the SDGs to thrive, young people who are part of marginalized communities must not be left behind. Governments, institutions and leaders locally must keep their promises to ensure the promises faced by the youth marginalized communities around the world are addressed in their SDG responses.”

Conclusion

Education and health are necessary blocks in a well-built society. As such, they need to be paid particular attention. They need to be made accessible to everyone regardless of their identity. Homophobia has compound effects on society. While we might not perceive it at first glance, it cripples everything it grasps. While we might not understand or believe something, it does not negate its existence. In the same manner, while a majority of the Nigerian population might not identify as queer, it does not strip its members of their rights to enjoy basic healthcare and education. Thankfully, we are humanizing.

According to The Initiative for Equal rights, although Nigerians have shown a negative attitude towards LGBT rights issues, there has been a gradual increase in acceptance. About 60% of Nigerians will not accept a family member who is LGBT. While this number is high, in 2017, 83% of Nigerians were not willing to accept such a family member. This represents a significant change in acceptance levels. There were positive changes in the attitude to the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act as more Nigerians appear to no longer support the law representing a 12% drop in 4 years. 

With continuous awareness, education and media’s commitment to refuse demonization of LGBTQ persons, this trend will continue. A day at a time.

*Ryan, The Protean is alive.

** For purposes of this essay, I will be referring to a queer person as an individual who has demonstrated a sexual character and/or displayed a gender identity subverting a perceived order of biology. 

***The names of the people who shared their personal stories in this essay have been changed to protect their privacy.

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