The Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC is nestled in a cul-de-sac, amidst the Embassy of Malaysia and the Embassy of Brunei, about a half mile from the nearest Metro station or bus stop, so when about 50 sign-carrying, rainbow flag-waving people protesting the country’s new anti-gay law showed up there at 11 a.m. Friday, it was pretty exclusively for the benefit of those inside.
Still it wasn’t until about noon that someone who did not want to give his name, but said he was the head of the embassy’s political section emerged to see what all the noise was about.
In the meantime, Ugandan born protest organizer Sentamu Kiremerwa read from a letter by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, saying, “Gay, lesbian, and transgender Nigerians are your brothers, sisters, uncles, aunties, your wives and husbands, cousins, neighbors and they are your friends. They work in your banks, in your hospitals, they teach your kids, and they are your politicians.”
Others spoke of how existing anti-gay laws, increasing efforts to intensify their reach, and, as in India recently, the reinstatement of an existing anti-homosexuality statute reflect values that run counter to values of the once colonized countries where these laws remain on the books.
“Why are we forgetting our own values?” Tushar Malik, of India asked. “Our cultures have always been about family, about sharing, about caring for each other.” The Nigeria law criminalizes attempts by same sex couples to wed, public displays of affection between members of the same sex as well as offering support and services to people who are gay. In addition to the setback to human rights in the country that the law represents, and the immediate violence against people suspected of being gay that was unleashed in the wake of the law’s passage, the law also threatens efforts to address the nation’s HIV epidemic with information, preventive measures, healthcare and treatment to all who need it. Nigeria has the second largest HIV epidemic in the world and one of only a few in Africa that continues to far outstrip efforts to provide medicine that prevents illness and transmission.
When the embassy official emerged, protesters asked him to explain the purpose served by the law. “The law has been passed,” he responded. If the protesters wanted to send him an email detailing their grievances, he would pass it on, he said, and shook Kiremerwa’s hand.
He will receive this link, Kiremerwa said.