- The LGBTI community in Nigeria faces tough times
- Many people look at religion for help
- Deliverance and exorcism sessions are very common
People from the LGBTI community in Nigeria find it very difficult to talk about their experiences with s*xuality and being Christian.
Bree, who is a lesbian, has tried different approaches to try to change her tendency towards liking other women, even exorcism. “[It] was over in 15 minutes but nothing changed,” she said.
Cases like Bree’s are very common, and many people have tried to arrange their lives in their own ways, looking to reconcile faith and same-s*x attraction.
Bree (it is not her real name) has manged to find some peace, accepting the fact that she is both lesbian and Christian. She grew up in a conservative community, which did not accept anything related to the LGBTI community. She went through a series of unstable and abusive relationships, which only made her believe her s*xuality was wrong, and that she would eventually be punished for it.
A pastor at a Pentecostal church service back in 2009 asked all the women if they wanted “to be delivered from the spirit of lesbianism”. She and her girlfriend decided to approach him.
The pastor laid hands on both women. Bree said it was an intense session. They both thought they had been “cured” of lesbianism and broke up, but got back together again a week later, exhausted from acting “healed.”
“I finally had a conversation with God saying that if this is who I am, ‘you made me, then you fix me'," she said, adding that she felt “so tired of feeling rejected by God. I just wanted peace.”
Deliverances normally include forming a circle around the “ill” person, dousing him or her in anointing oil and holy water. A crowd of people start praying continuously, until a quiet calm comes. Then a hologram glides through the person’s body, who gets up and professing his or her salvation, as portrayed in a film that was recently produced.
On the other hand, Bree said her own deliverance was pretty normal.
The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS) is an organisation based in Lagos that helps the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bis*xual, transgender, queer and inters*x) community fight for its rights and s*xual health. Its executive director, Olumide Makanjuola, says that one of the most straining facts for people is the need to “perform”, act as if they are straight.
Makanjuola claims he has met many LGBTQI people dealing with acute anxiety and depression, from trying to act straight, after receiving deliverance or conversion therapies.
“Exorcism reduces people. They feel so incomplete and powerless,” Makanjuola says, adding that “we run a religious system that is full of condemnation as opposed to understanding, which is very problematic.”
On his part, psychiatrist Gbonju Abiri states that “Nigeria is deeply ingrained in culture and religious beliefs, and we are not able to deal with diversity just yet as we should. Our practice encourages that we should put health above all first.”
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Nigeria has outlawed gay marriage through the Same S*x Marriage Prohibition Act. People can get up to 14 years in prison for divergent s*xual orientation and gender identity expressions. It was signed in 2014 into law by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Exhausted from feeling depressed and condemned, Bree started deepening her study of the intersection between faith and s*xuality, looking at the works of theologians for example. She is working towards earning a professional counselling qualification to help others. This brave woman has found acceptance inside herself, she hopes to help others do the same.