I grew up in Nigeriain Lagos, to be exact. And I have known since I was 8 years old that I am transgender. I was born as a girl but knew in my heart that I was meant to be a boy, and it is only now, 28 years later, that I am truly coming to live as my authentic self.
Part of the reason for this? I hate to say it, but my homeland is not a safe place for any member of the LGBT community. It has not been for a long time; there has always been discrimination, bigotry, and even violence committed against gay and transgender Nigerians. The issue now, however, is that this inhuman treatment has been written into law.
On Jan. 7, 2014, Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathon signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, under which any gay couple who seeks to be married or engages in a relationship can be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison. Anyone who belongs to or even encourages a gay club, society, or organization may be imprisoned for up to 10 years. Sodomy is already illegal under Nigerian federal law, but this new act will give the authorities a much broader hammer with which to strike down the LGBT community, which already lives largely in silence. To speak about their lives could incur serious ( though of course unwarranted ) punishments.
On the surface, of course, it's easy to see just how wrong this all is. In fact, it goes against Section 40 of the Nigerian Constitution of 1999, which ensures the right to peaceful assembly and association. However, when we dig deeper, we find how truly sinister this act and the people who support it are.Nigeria, on the whole, sees itself as a religious nation, and that is what, in part, has fueled this anti-LGBT sentiment. Homosexuality is a sin, they say. However, they seem to have no problem with adultery, which is rampant all across the country despite its being expressly forbidden by God in the Ten Commandments. What's more, another bill recently passed in Nigeria allows men to marry underage girls. No moral problem there, right? But if two men or two women want to live in a peaceful, loving relationship, that is now against the law.
So why is there all this anti-homosexuality hate in Nigeria? Part of the reason is Nigerians think the concept itself is a Western phenomenonin other words, something that does not happen in their society, only in other heathen lands. This, of course, is far from true. Same-sex relationships and even marriages have existed back to prehistoric times, particularly in African history. We did not know real homophobia until the colonials brought it to usa practice that is continued today byso-called Christian missionaries who come to "save" but only end up spreading hate.
We could forever examine how this state of affairs has come to pass, but the reasons are myriad, and the path Nigeria has followed to this point has been rough. Its people continue to suffer from poverty, hunger, and illiteracy as well as malaria, cholera, and typhoid epidemics; crime is rampant, as is governmental corruption; there is tribalism, religious bigotry, sectionalism, and internal terrorism; clean water is hard to come by; and there is no secure electricity or road infrastructure. Yet we're talking about a nation that boasts the continent's highest GDP due to its oil production. And this is what it focuses on? Who people love or who they're in bed with?
I am disappointed in my country. This law is backward, and the harm it will do to so many people could be irreparable. Mass arrests have already been reported; right now there are people in jail simply for being themselves. Some Western nations have threatened to cut aid to Nigeria if the law is not repealed, but I'm not sure what good that will do to a nation that puts out two million barrels of oil a day. Perhaps a stronger show of force would work; I'll call on President Obama to intervene in this breach of human and civil rights.
But mostly I will pray for my brothers and sisters in the LGBT community back home and remind them it is always darkest before the dawn. Change will come. Just please hold on.
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Rizi Xavier Timane was born in northern Nigeria, in West Africa. He grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home and was taught from an early age that being part of the LGBT community would lead him straight to hell. Like most transgender persons, Rizi struggled with gender dysphoria in early childhood and initially identified as a lesbian. The rejection and persecution that Rizi was subjected to led him to abuse drugs and alcohol, and coupled with his growing gender dysphoria, culminated in a suicide attempt. After much soul-searching and research, Rizi, like many LGBT people today, discovered that nothing is wrong with him being transgendered nor is anything wrong with LGBT sexuality, which are both in fact, natural God-given traits.
His struggles and persecution identifying first as an openly out lesbian in Africa, and then subsequently as a trans-man, are the inspiration behind his ministry today. Rizi is a commissioned minister and spiritual counselor within Rizi Timane Ministriesa Jesus-based ministry that values people of all faiths and religious backgrounds. He routinely provides affirming spiritual support to the LGBT community and is much sought after as a public speaker on the subject of the intersection of Religion/Spirituality and LGBT Civil Rights. Rizi's speaking engagements have included universities, colleges, churches and other non-profit organizations.
Rizi is also an inspirational/gospel singer whose album, Come Out, has been well received within the community and had him booked in numerous affirming churches/venues all over the USA and Internationally. Rizi also loves writing and is an active blogger for the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Teaching Tolerance Magazine." His articles have been published in numerous magazines nationally and internationally.
Rizi is a registered associate clinical social worker ( ASW ) with the state of California. He attended the Claremont School of Theology in California, earning a graduate certificate in Religion, Activism and Social Justice. He holds a masters degree in Management from Webster University, a Masters in Social Work from the University of Southern California ( USC ), and a PhD in Christian Counseling from Newburgh Seminary.