How Social Media Is Helping Queer Nigerians Come Out, Find Community
Nigeria recently emerged as one of the highest users on a popular gay dating platform, Grindr. A stat report released by the world’s biggest social networking platform for the queer community “Grindr Unwrapped”, reveals the sex and dating trends among the nearly 13 million gay, bi, transgender, queer folks who use the app. The data released are the countries with the most “top”, “bottom”, and “vers” users, including the most-used emoji in profiles and the countries with the most active users.
It’s quite gripping to see the result shows mostly homophobic countries in the world leading the pack with Nigeria emerging as the third. Morocco and India take first and second spots while Chile and Israel are fourth and fifth.
Nigeria’s government in 2014 enacted the SSMPA, the law which prohibits a marriage or civil union by persons of the same sex, the solemnisation of such marriage in places of worship and the registration of homosexual clubs and societies.
It is not just the law that forbids same-sex relations. They are also criminalised under the criminal code and in Islamic Sharia laws implemented by 12 northern states in Nigeria, including Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina.
Even as Nigeria continues to be homophobic, mainly due to cultural and religious convention, Nigeria queer has taken to the digital space and become bolder about building online communities and meeting like-minded strangers for friendship and sex.
Maxwell, (not real name) a queer gender living in Nigeria, confirms in his account that the digital space has become a location for the representation and assertion of queer agency, a medium that gives voice to the socially, culturally, and politically excluded.
“Queer people have found their voices on social media and are helping others find their Voice. It has helped build that relationship with other queer folks, and that has assured me that I am not alone.”
With an annual growth rate of 4.4 percent, Twitter has evolved to become a very successful microblogging site in Nigeria, accounting for about 1.75 million users. Communities with a common interest are formed online. There is no question that the queer community in Nigeria is on the periphery, but it has found a stable haven for collective queer voices on digital platforms.
‘’The digital world is opening up Nigeria queer hidden lives with social media and other gay-friendly apps and websites and private groups offering anonymous spaces where they can come out and connect and find emotional and financial support and for some, to get the courage to go open about their sexuality’.
“In relating with like-minded folks, I think the best social media has come is linking queers up and from time to time, giving up an avenue to talk and share thoughts on certain happenings and events,” said Chike, another queergender who also declined to have his name published.
Social media now allows queer Nigerians unapologetically own and express their sexuality, for example, they incorporate vocabulary such as ‘’gay’’, ‘’homo’’ and ‘’queer’’ in their profiles. They use the rainbow, a global emblem of LGBTQ activism in their handles and addresses.
They also own their identity by including their preferred gender pronouns on their Twitter handles and other social media platforms.
Many campaigns were initiated in the digital space, with members of the Nigerian queer communities taking to social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to encourage conversations about LGBTQ+ life and rights. The recent prominence was the #EndhomophobiaInNigeria #QueerNigerianLiveMatters.
To Seyi (not real name), a 27-year-old queer Nigerian, Social media has provided an escape for many queers who are both in and out of the closet.
“Things are getting better, and the major reason things have changed is the internet; a lot more people are out on the internet, and that humanises the queer somehow”
‘’social Media gives queer folks a safe platform from the comfort of their space, and it has changed their perspective towards certain ideologies ingrained on them’’he said.
On a contrary, the digital space also exposes them to blackmail and assault as many queer individuals in Nigeria are hesitant to share their stories of victimization, fearing that others will blame them once they find out that they are queer.
Maxwell said” Sometimes people experience setups on social media, where they meet people who are not real or don’t have genuine intentions. Sometimes you meet people who hate who they’re, and they try to push that on you.”
‘You can’t report issues of extortion, theft, or people who want to scam you, and if you do have hookups and you decide not to have sex sometimes you’re almost raped or raped, and you can’t scream or shout for help because you know the repercussions”.
“I think the average Nigerian queer would always have this fear and challenge, especially when meeting up with a new person, because Nigeria isn’t exactly the safest place for the queer man” Seyi added.