Friday, September 30, 2011

Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill 2011: Homosexuals to Nigeria at 51

In spite of the fact that the constitution of Nigeria guarantees each citizens its basic human rights, the Nigerian Senate just last week again re-introduced the Same Sex Marriage Bill which if passed into law would criminalize person with same sex orientation and other activities connected with them. Is this a Greek gift to the gay at community at independence by the Nigeria Senate as we begin the second leg of journey as a nation into a century? It occurs to us as homosexuals that as a nation, the second phase of our nationhood is to begin by criminalizing our own citizens and denying their basic fundamental human rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.

As citizens of this great country and as sexual minorities, we strongly condemn the re-introduction of Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill and urge the Senate to shelve the bill.  It is a totally unnecessary
Bill that will further exacerbate the hardships of homosexual Nigerians. This bill is a waste of parliamentary time and a disgrace to our democratic society.

The Criminal Code of Nigeria, Section 214 and 217 already criminalize people with same sex orientation. Why then criminalize something that is already criminal by the statue books of the country?
Nigeria remains signatories to various International Covenants and Treaties that protect from discrimination even on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Notable among this is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Our signatories to these covenants and treaties mean and suggest that we do know that persons with same sex orientation exist in the country. The mere fact that we still hold on to colonial laws that discriminate and criminalize persons with these orientations means that the second phase of our existence as a nation should be a time in which we make the country non-discriminatory by repealing discriminatory and repressive laws.
We as homosexuals’ citizens of Nigeria are amazed at the ignorance of the Senate in wanting to pass a law on Same Sex Marriage when there is no tolerance, acceptance and freedom for persons with a same sex orientation. There is no place in Nigeria with evidence of same sex cohabitation. This therefore makes this bill totally unnecessary and waste of tax payers’ money in organizing public hearing and call for memorandums. This is total confusion.
The current laws in the criminal code of Nigeria have made it largely possible for all sorts of violence to be committed on homosexuals in the name of purging Nigeria of homosexuality. Just recently in Abia State University in South Eastern Nigeria, a gang of 5 men raped a female student and these people have not been brought to justice. Edge in 2010 reported the rape of lesbians in Port Harcourt by a gang, saying they were curing the ladies of their homosexuality. Where is the evidence that rape cures one of his /her homosexuality? Edge also reports in 2010, the killing of a man in a suburb in Lagos because of his homosexuality with Lagosians and the perpetrators of this heinous crime claiming they were curing Lagos of homosexuals. Where is the evidence that outright killing of homosexuals would make Lagos and Nigeria an overtly heterosexual society?
In the spate of the recent violence and insecurity that our nation is engulf now is time the Nigerian Parliament should rise and enact laws criminalizing and prosecuting violence accordingly and not criminalizing the ordinary Nigerian citizens who has a dilemma he or she cannot overcome; the dilemma of human sexuality.
As a country we must come to the realization that a particular percentage of our population is sexual minorities and  certainly this is not the time to criminalize people with these orientations, but a time to begin working with these people, understanding their sexuality and why they are who they are. Criminalizing persons with same sex orientation will not curb our society of homosexuals neither will it make Nigeria overtly a heterosexual community. It rather will slow back the development and growth we all yearn for as a nation. As a country that is serious about raising its tainted reputation abroad, this is the time to begin the re-branding; it should start with the respect of human rights, tolerance and acceptance of the diversity found in the human race.
The consequences of criminalizing people with same sex orientation and matters connected with them have serious consequences on the growth and development of the country. It will be felt in all areas of the country’s life, notably in health, judicial matters and tourism. Criminalizing people with a same sex orientation would further contribute to the spread of HIV and make it possible for other forms of violence and vices to be perpetrated against sexual minorities as a result of how they express their sexualities. Bills such as this if passed into law give room for unnecessary violence and evil in the society.
Davis Mac-Iyalla, the former Director of Changing Attitudes Nigeria reiterates and we as homosexuals citizens of Nigeria supports this: the only independence worth celebrating as  country is the Freedom to Love and Equality for all Nigerians Anything short of this is oppression.  The Nigeria government should focus on the more pressing issues affecting the country and stop using homosexuals as their escape goat for their failures. We should not be celebrating independence while trying to adopt a law that was given to us by our colonial master and which they (colonial masters) have long time rejected. As homosexuals’ citizens of Nigeria, we are not asking for a homosexual Nigeria, what we are asking for is a non discriminatory Nigeria society in which everyone can express their sexuality without a fear of societal demand and violence. As we celebrate the 51st anniversary of our existence as a nation, we call on all well meaning Nigerians, home and abroad to reject the bill and help in protecting the lives of the very vulnerable in the society.
Long Live Nigeria

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Scientists find way to "disarm" AIDS virus

By Kate Kelland
LONDON | Mon Sep 19, 2011 5:08pm EDT
(Reuters) - Scientists have found a way to prevent HIV from damaging the immune system and say their discovery may offer a new approach to developing a vaccine against AIDS.
Researchers from the United States and Europe working in laboratories on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) found it is unable to damage the immune system if cholesterol is removed from the virus's membrane.
"It's like an army that has lost its weapons but still has flags, so another army can recognize it and attack it," said Adriano Boasso of Imperial College London, who led the study.
The team now plans to investigate how to use this way of inactivating the virus and possibly develop it into a vaccine.
Usually when a person becomes infected with HIV, the body's innate immune response puts up an immediate defense. But some researchers believe HIV causes the innate immune system to overreact. This weakens the immune system's next line of defense, known as the adaptive immune response.
For this study -- published on Monday in the journal Blood -- Boasso's team removed cholesterol from the membrane around the virus and found that this stopped HIV from triggering the innate immune response. This in turn led to a stronger adaptive response, orchestrated by a type of immune cells called T cells.
AIDS kills around 1.8 million people a year worldwide. An estimated 2.6 million people caught HIV in 2009, and 33.3 million people are living with the virus.
Major producers of current HIV drugs include Gilead Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.
Scientists from companies, non-profits and governments around the world have been trying for many years to make a vaccine against HIV but have so far had only limited success.
A 2009 study in Thailand involving 16,000 volunteers showed for the first time that a vaccine could prevent HIV infection in a small number of people, but since the efficacy was only around 30 percent researchers were forced back to the drawing board.
An American team working on an experimental HIV vaccine said in May that it helped monkeys with a form of the AIDS virus control the infection for more than a year, suggesting it may lead to a vaccine for people.
HIV is spread in many ways -- during sex, on needles shared by drug users, in breast milk and in blood -- so there is no single easy way to prevent infection. The virus also mutates quickly and can hide from the immune system, and attacks the very cells sent to battle it.
"HIV is very sneaky," Boasso said in a statement. "It evades the host's defenses by triggering overblown responses that damage the immune system. It's like revving your car in first gear for too long -- eventually the engine blows out.
He said this may be why developing a vaccine has proven so tricky. "Most vaccines prime the adaptive response to recognize the invader, but it's hard for this to work if the virus triggers other mechanisms that weaken the adaptive response."
HIV takes its membrane from the cell that it infects, the researchers explained in their study. This membrane contains cholesterol, which helps keep it fluid and enables it to interact with particular types of cell.
Normally, a subset of immune cells called plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) recognize HIV quickly and react by producing signaling molecules called interferons. These signals activate various processes which are initially helpful, but which damage the immune system if switched on for too long.
Working with scientists Johns Hopkins University, the University of Milan and Innsbruck University, Boasso's team found that if cholesterol is removed from HIV's envelope, it can no longer activate pDCs. As a result, T cells, which orchestrate the adaptive response, can fight the virus more effectively.

Friday, September 2, 2011


Friday August 26, 2011 saw the Coalition of African Lesbians, CAL, launch its LGBT Human Rights Defenders, HRD project in Lagos, Nigeria.
Participants in the HRD workshop, which was held in collaboration with The Initiative for Equal Rights, TIER, a Nigerian-based LGBT human rights organization, attended the launch alongside some members of the Lagos LGBT community.

“The human rights defenders project was inspired by the violence faced by LGBT HRDs especially in countries where there are laws prohibiting same-sex relationship and the advocacy of their rights” said Victor Mukasa, the CAL HRD Project coordinator.

“Instances of this violence include the murder of David Kato of Uganda and FannyAnn Viola Eddy of Sierra Leone to mention a few,” Mukasa said.

With funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, SIDA, CAL has already sets up a safe house for LGBT human rights defenders in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“The safe home is not only open to activists in times of crises but also open when they are crashing mentally. We encourage the mental stability of activists and promote their psycho-social welfare by also admitting them into the safe home at CAL’s expense,” said Mukasa.

The human rights defenders project has now been launched in West Africa and activity will spread soon to the Eastern and Southern Africa regions.


LGBTI activists from English-speaking West Africa attending a Human Rights Defenders workshop in Lagos organized by the Coalition of African Lesbians

Rashidi Williams: Queer Alliance Nigeria
We have trained media personnel in reporting issues of sexual diversity and human rights and involved more LGBTI persons in the movement for the rights of LGBTI in Nigeria. Recently, 40 media professionals were trained by INCRESE (the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights) on reporting issues of sexual diversity and human rights.
This activity will build and sustain alliances to have more positive reports on sexual diversity. Now, we have more LGBTI individuals involved in the movement for the rights of LGBTI in Nigeria.
We have implemented sexual health, sexual diversity, human rights and HIV projects across the country. Consequently, we have improved access to information and HIV service provision to reach more LGBTI individuals. The LGBTI community displayed a courageous attitude at the National Assembly.
Courtesy of TIER, Queer Alliance Nigeria as a young movement has advocated for the rights of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). Also, in 2010 TIER published a book ‘Unspoken Rights’ which is applicable to the Nigerian context.
In addition, MSM have been identified as a high-risk group and included in the national strategic plan of the National Agency for the Control of Aids.
Opportunities abound for the continued human rights advocacy for LGBT people in Nigeria. The current sexual diversity and human rights project of INCRESE remains a focal point of entry to begin dialogue with both the state and non-state actor in the field of human rights. Other opportunities include research development to identify areas for scaling up services for the LGBT community. Advocacy efforts will lead to expansion of programming targeting LGBT community.
Human rights defence in Nigeria is challenging and discouraging. Irrespective of the country’s being a signatory to regional and international human rights instruments, Nigeria separates human rights into justiciable and non-justiciable (whether or not an issue is liable to be brought before a court for trial). In particular, subsidiary legislation like the penal and criminal codes hinder human rights.
For instance, Section 214 of the Criminal Code Act provides offences against morality as unnatural offences. The application of the penal code has affected program implementation in the Northern part of the country, thus, limiting the LGBT community with limited access to services.
According to a survey carried out by INCRESE between 2007 and 2008, the study found Northern Nigeria has more homosexuals and is most hostile to them. The situation has made it difficult for organization working on issues of sexual minorities to work in the North.
Other challenges such as assault, threats, homophobic attacks, and blackmail are also issues HRDs face in Nigeria. Discourse about gender expressions, identities and sexual orientation are still built on myths and assumptions. Death threats, verbal and physical assaults, misquote and misinterpretation from the media and arrest are some of the issues the LGBT communities face. The work of human rights defenders in Nigeria is threatened as a result of the work they do.

The Gambia
Akeem Yayah, LGBT group
With the coordination from the National Aids Secretariat, the group conducted a Behavioural Sentinel Survey, in which 65 MSM around the country were identified. Support from the Global Fund and the President of the National Aids Supporting Organization strengthened us to form an organization.
In addition to an earlier survey implemented, we carried out a Bio-Behavioural study and have captured 150 MSM.
Despite our achievements, we have faced numerous challenges which include: the Criminalization Act, political statements made by the president and the unwillingness of other stakeholders to accept the LGBT community.
Also, there exists a low knowledge and understanding of LGBT amongst the community, inclusion of lesbians in the group has been difficult, there has been unfriendly behaviour displayed by group members, and a nationalistic concept of the group with regards to leadership. This has resulted in difficulty in getting participants to take part in the survey. Also, unethical principles have evolved for example, a colleague’s personal email was read and the person was fired.
The survey with the National Aids Secretariat will help to identify areas for future programming for MSM in the Gambia thereby creating opportunities for future activities and programs. In moving forward, possible strategies include establishing a formal MSM organization, integrated MSM/HIV and sexual health program targeting MSM, and organizing workshop and seminars on HIV/Aids, STIs and other capacity building programs for the group. In addition, conducting on-going sensitization for LGBT, organizing a study tour in Senegal to learn about best practices and establishing care and support for HIV positive members. 

Sierra Leone
Hudson Tucker, Dignity Association
LGBTI issues exist in the country because of the secrecy surrounding homosexual conduct, the unwillingness of victims to report abuse and the tendency for communities to discriminate against LGBTI individuals, rather than to enforce legal codes.
There is very little written evidence to support the claims of abuse in Sierra Leone. Being visible and keeping the office open has been a key achievement. Recognition of the issues of homosexuality from reports has led to sensitization of individuals.
LGBTI issues have been brought up at different meetings. Dialogues have been held with the police and other stakeholders on the need for high-risk populations to identify strategies to address these anti-gay laws. A positive relationship with the police has been initiated and as a result, even though the anti-gay laws still exist, they have not being used for quite some time now.
However, these laws can be used at any time thereby threatening the existence and functionality of the LGBTI movement in Sierra Leone. This is a barrier in the progress of LGBTI activism in Sierra Leone.
There have been multiple threats against activists and HRDs. LGBTI groups have been refused registration with the Corporate Affairs Commission. The government of Sierra Leone has no acts of parliament protecting the rights of LGBT persons in the country. Religion, culture and tradition are very intolerant to any form of sexual behaviour outside the “norm.” 

Nahnkamy N. Reeves, Action Aid Liberia (AAL)
For the past five years, the general human rights situation has been a consolidation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights activists. Focus has been on sexual violence, the rights of women, HIV/Aids, the rule of law and women rights. The country does not have a law that criminalizes LGBT.
However, the social mainstream is charged with religious intensity, which in a way stigmatizes or raises moral questions around the rights of people to exercise their right to freedom of choice. As a result, LGBTI issues are on the back burner of human rights activism.
Sexual minorities have not asserted their rights in a manner that the informal society is aware of their presence and needs. The perceptions of LGBT have not provided key actors with the knowledge they need to regard LGBT as a human rights issue.
Also, most Liberians regard being gay or lesbian not as a sexual orientation, but as a means of sexual exploitation. Research has shown that gays and lesbians are reluctant to come to the forefront of the rights movement and are either closeted or underground. There is also fear of stigma and discrimination and a lack of solidarity by human rights activists, CSOs to advocate for the rights of LGBT. People are not aware that homosexuals exist and some people perceive the issue from a religious standpoint.
We lack an official voice for the LGBT community by the LGBT people. Intolerant and resistant social mainstream is exacerbated by a high subscription to religious orientation. Our opportunities include the fact that the Liberian constitution does not have negative and punitive laws to criminalize LGBT. The UNDP has asked AAL to come up with a country context document around LGBT. The situation in Liberia can be described as being difficult.

Anita Confidence Cobbinah, CEPEHRG
We have created a Coalition Against Homophobia in Ghana (CAHG). Like many of the British ex-colonies under the criminal code “unnatural carnal knowledge” is illegal in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is not clearly defined, however, it is understood that this includes male-male sex acts especially sodomy or buggery.
Furthermore, under the constitution, sexual rights are not specifically protected. In this context, attacks and death threats are typical, especially against homosexual males. The media has written sensational articles that are flawed with inaccuracies on the influence, size, nature and desires of homosexual individuals. Black mail, violence, hate crimes, sensationalist and homophobic articles on homosexuality occur virtually every day. People have refused to attend outreach programs for fear of being tagged a homosexual.
In the past, staff have been subjected to assaults on their way to the office or while doing fieldwork and outreach programs. On one occasion, a car intentionally hit a member of staff and another was harassed by a group of men while walking on the road. These incidents happened because of their sexual orientation.
There have been several articles by politicians and government labelling homosexuals as irreligious and immoral. Also, there has been several state sponsored anti gay campaign. The media has said that homosexuals are recruiting young boys so people need to protect their young ones.
A woman was disqualified from being on the board of the West African Lawyers Association because she said the rights of homosexuals should be respected. In order to update our security measures to meet the existing threats, we have compiled a list of measures and materials we currently use to protect ourselves. We have also made a list of items and measures needed to protect ourselves.