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Must Read. Chimamanda Adichie On The Anti-Gay Law

Article written by award winning writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled 'Why can’t he just be like everyone else?' 

I will call him Sochukwuma. A thin, smiling boy who liked to play with us girls at the university primary school in Nsukka. We were young. We knew he was different, we said, ‘he’s not like the other boys.’ But his was a benign and unquestioned difference; it was simply what it was. We did not have a name for him. We did not know the word ‘gay.’ He was Sochukwuma and he was friendly and he played oga so well that his side always won.
In secondary school, some boys in his class tried to throw Sochukwuma off a second floor balcony. They were strapping teenagers who had learned to notice, and fear, difference. They had a name for him. Homo. They mocked him because his hips swayed when he walked and his hands fluttered when he spoke. He brushed away their taunts, silently, sometimes grinning an uncomfortable grin. He must have wished that he could be what
they wanted him to be. I imagine now how helplessly lonely he must have felt. The boys often asked, “Why can’t he just be like everyone else?”

Possible answers to that question include ‘because he is abnormal,’ ‘because he is a sinner, ‘because he chose the lifestyle.’ But the truest answer is ‘We don’t know.’ There is humility and humanity in accepting that there are things we simply don’t know. At the age of 8, Sochukwuma was obviously different.  It was not about sex, because it could not possibly have been – his hormones were of course not yet fully formed – but it was an awareness of himself, and other children’s awareness of him, as different. He could not have ‘chosen the lifestyle’ because he was too young to do so. And why would he – or anybody – choose to be homosexual in a world that makes life so difficult for homosexuals?

The new law that criminalizes homosexuality is popular among Nigerians. But it shows a failure of our democracy, because the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority – otherwise mob justice would be considered democratic. The law is also unconstitutional, ambiguous, and a strange priority in a country with so many real problems. Above all else, however, it is unjust. Even if this was not a country of abysmal electricity supply where university graduates are barely literate and people die of easily-treatable causes and Boko Haram commits casual mass murders, this law would still be unjust.  We cannot be a just society unless we are able to accommodate benign difference, accept benign difference, live and let live. We may not understand homosexuality, we may find it personally abhorrent but our response cannot be to criminalize it.

A crime is a crime for a reason. A crime has victims. A crime harms society. On what basis is homosexuality a crime? Adults do no harm to society in how they love and whom they love. This is a law that will not prevent crime, but will, instead, lead to crimes of violence: there are already, in different parts of Nigeria, attacks on people ‘suspected’ of being gay. Ours is a society where men are openly affectionate with one another. Men hold hands. Men hug each other. Shall we now arrest friends who share a hotel room, or who walk side by side? How do we determine the clunky expressions in the law – ‘mutually beneficial,’ ‘directly or indirectly?’

Many Nigerians support the law because they believe the Bible condemns homosexuality. The Bible can be a basis for how we choose to live our personal lives, but it cannot be a basis for the laws we pass, not only because the holy books of different religions do not have equal significance for all Nigerians but also because the holy books are read differently by different people. The Bible, for example, also condemns fornication and adultery and divorce, but they are not crimes.
For supporters of the law, there seems to be something about homosexuality that sets it apart. A sense that it is not ‘normal.’ If we are part of a majority group, we tend to think others in minority groups are abnormal, not because they have done anything wrong, but because we have defined normal to be what we are and since they are not like us, then they are abnormal. Supporters of the law want a certain semblance of human homogeneity. But we cannot legislate into existence a world that does not exist: the truth of our human condition is that we are a diverse, multi-faceted species. The measure of our humanity lies, in part, in how we think of those different from us. We cannot – should not – have empathy only for people who are like us.

Some supporters of the law have asked – what is next, a marriage between a man and a dog?’ Or ‘have you seen animals being gay?’ (Actually, studies show that there is homosexual behavior in many species of animals.) But, quite simply, people are not dogs, and to accept the premise – that a homosexual is comparable to an animal – is inhumane. We cannot reduce the humanity of our fellow men and women because of how and who they love. Some animals eat their own kind, others desert their young. Shall we follow those examples, too?

Other supporters suggest that gay men sexually abuse little boys. But pedophilia and homosexuality are two very different things. There are men who abuse little girls, and women who abuse little boys, and we do not presume that they do it because they are heterosexuals. Child molestation is an ugly crime that is committed by both straight and gay adults (this is why it is a crime: children, by virtue of being non-adults, require protection and are unable to give sexual consent).

There has also been some nationalist posturing among supporters of the law. Homosexuality is ‘unafrican,’ they say, and we will not become like the west. The west is not exactly a homosexual haven; acts of discrimination against homosexuals are not uncommon in the US and Europe. But it is the idea of ‘unafricanness’ that is truly insidious. Sochukwuma was born of Igbo parents and had Igbo grandparents and Igbo great-grandparents. He was born a person who would romantically love other men. Many Nigerians know somebody like him. The boy who behaved like a girl. The girl who behaved like a boy. The effeminate man. The unusual woman. These were people we knew, people like us, born and raised on African soil. How then are they ‘unafrican?’

If anything, it is the passage of the law itself that is ‘unafrican.’ It goes against the values of tolerance and ‘live and let live’ that are part of many African cultures. (In 1970s Igboland, Area Scatter was a popular musician, a man who dressed like a woman, wore makeup, plaited his hair. We don’t know if he was gay – I think he was – but if he performed today, he could conceivably be sentenced to fourteen years in prison. For being who he is.) And it is informed not by a home-grown debate but by a cynically borrowed one: we turned on CNN and heard western countries debating ‘same sex marriage’ and we decided that we, too, would pass a law banning same sex marriage. Where, in Nigeria, whose constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, has any homosexual asked for same-sex marriage?

This is an unjust law. It should be repealed. Throughout history, many inhumane laws have been passed, and have subsequently been repealed. Barack Obama, for example, would not be here today had his parents obeyed American laws that criminalized marriage between blacks and whites.
An acquaintance recently asked me, ‘if you support gays, how would you have been born?’ Of course, there were gay Nigerians when I was conceived. Gay people have existed as long as humans have existed. They have always been a small percentage of the human population. We don’t know why. What matters is this: Sochukwuma is a Nigerian and his existence is not a crime.


  1. My thoughts exactly. I would not support legalizing same sex marriage because of my faith.To criminalize being gay based on religious belief is hypocrisy of the highest order.There is a thin line between Morality/Religion and the Law, no matter how thin the line is, a line is still a line.

    For an act to become a crime,there must be a negative impact of such act to the society. If we want to go down the religious path then all of us (exempt yourself if you have never sinned)should be in jail for commiting one sin or the other.In secondary school we use to wear the WWJD (What Will Jesus Do)band on our wrists and the true test of christianity is to act "Christ Like".

    There is no difference between the people shouting "kill the gays" from those people that wanted to stone the woman caught commiting adultery in the bible.

    And this quote sums it up for me "There is humility and humanity in accepting that there are things we simply don’t know".

    The level of iiliteracy and ignorance is not helping matters these days, people jump and comment without understanding.You speak against the law and they jump on you that you support homosexuality,it is so appalling.

  2. She made concrete sense, especially talking about why it shouldn't be criminalized. I agree it shouldn't, but rather help should be offered to gays. But I have to disagree with her on the aspect of "not affecting society".

    Sinful ways in general affects the society and it's our duty as humans to fight temptation by all means. If you think otherwise then you've got it misplaced. Why do parents who scream "F**k you...A**hole...Bull***t.." everyday of their lives take extra pains in teaching their wards against swearing in public? Why does a prostitute hate being called one and directs her wards not to go down that road? Why do people who indulge in obscene vices in the society not want their kids doing the same thing? The reason is simple, right? FOR A BETTER SOCIETY. It's the normal human desire in us. Let me paint a peculiar example that has affected the society.

    These days when people tell you that they are "in a relationship", the core factor in cementing that relationship is SEX. That is now a normal thing in our society. Sex before marriage is no longer a big deal, even when it's explicitly condemned in the bible and quran. Nearly everyone will raise eyebrows at a relationship devoid of sex. It is now a NORM; we have grown to accept such a factor in the society...a factor GOD frowns at every moment and only HIS Grace keeps HIS Anger at bay, while we smile, make merry and congratulate baby-mamas and papas. It never used to be like this before, at least some decades ago. People frowned seriously at that, but because they were "too christian" or "holier than thou", they were pushed aside, and the world has exploded into accepting a normal relationship with the core action being SEX. Society has being affected, so affected we neglect the seriousness of GOD'S Anger. It comes slowly, but it would surely come.

    Fernando Sebastian, the new Spanish cardinal appointed by Pope Francis, said that gays need help because homosexuality is a defect. Pro-gay activists went straight for his jugular for that statement. They said gays are normal people. Here's someone who offers help, and you call him anti-gay??

    Finally I think those who think gay practice is normal and it means intimacy between two consenting adults should also not frown or prosecute incestuous acts. Two days ago we saw terrible pictures of a woman and her sons in steamy positions and all who commented frowned. Why then is it difficult to frown at two women or two men getting down at each other intimately?

    So, I'll add that while I don't support prosecuting these people, I feel that they should be given help for their status. It's abnormal, and they should accept that fact and embrace as much help as is being offered to them. Their practice affects society. Be Blessed.

  3. @Memphis, there is an angle you are not looking at.Religion and the Law are two different things.Religious beliefs differ.Our Constitution which is "the Law" upholds freedom of religion. Do you know that some "Religion" practise things we christains consider to be sin (You don't need to look far,turn north)Soooooo from your christain point of view, you think homosexuality is a greater sin which calls for more attention?you think God will destroy the world faster cos of "Gay people than Adulterers"? so when you say "Sinful ways in general affects the society" don't feel bad when a muslim wants to turn the nation to a Sharia state because he believes that your chistian ways(Sinful ways in his eyes) affect the society"

    I stand with the bible that being gay is a sin, then comes my biggest question how did Christ react to sinners.I agree with you that it is not normal (from Christian point of view) and they need help but lots of people are born with abnormailites why are we treating gay people different?

    Imagine if a muslim becomes the president and decides to make some laws in line with his beliefs? RELIGION AND LAW MUST BE SEPARATED.

    As Christains we have a duty to show these people love without condoning their act.We should strive to love the sinner and hate the sin.How can I convince a gay person that this way of life is not in line with God without first creating an atmosphere to make him listen to me.

    1. @Nwamaka, I wasn't talking about the Law, I was talking about their actions affecting society. I agreed with Adichie on all aspects except allowing the actions of gays in our society. We need to help them instead of prosecuting them.

      You're wrong when you say Law and Religion are separate. Religion is an organized collection of beliefs and cultural practices that define the lives of humans in relation to their respective deities. Laws are born out of Religion in order to maintain organization in human lives (You take an Oath with a bible or quran while being sworn into office in government, right?). St. Paul says that Laws were created because sin ravaged the earth, but that when we have the Love of GOD within us, Laws are unnecessary (do we still have the Love of GOD within us?). Even when Jesus forgave sinners HE also condemned most pharisees. He did that because these people, instead of repenting or showing remorse for the actions that affect the religion of the Jews, continued in their nefarious ways. He chased out money changers from the Temple and Judas Iscariot was condemned. Laws applied here when the perpetrators didn't consider what they did as evil.

      This Law, though made out of sentiments, is necessary in checking notoriety in gay relationship. What the government didn't do...the main thing that was left out was not creating an avenue to offering adequate medical help for them. That's bad.

      And don't be afraid of a muslim leader, if we'll have one soon, proclaiming Nigeria as a Sharia state. That won't happen. It's the kind of sentiments brewed by people who hate muslims and northerners to a fault and never make efforts in understanding them or their way of life. Do you know that there are hadiths(psalms) in the quran dedicated to women? Do you know that the quran portrays a woman as being 3 times more important to her children than her husband is? Do you know that the there's no designated role for a woman in the quran? Women are as respected in Islam as they are in Christianity. These are some of the few things in Islam some of us Christians don't know, but fail to find out and judge muslims wrongly. Be Blessed.

  4. Please don't misquote me,your last paragraph is unfounded. Can you highlight anything i said to warrant that? Please be careful with sensitive issues. I was trying to make a point that people's religious belief differ and that is why we must seperate religion from the law.

    I'm done here.

  5. I have said it once,i have said it a thousand times: there isnt any reason, in my book that would justify criminalising what is essencially an issue of morality. Miz Adiche was right in her write up. All this law creates through its highly ambigious nature is grounds for people to persecute others based on their perception of what is normal, and we forget that what societies percieve as normal evolve as the people of that period do ;hence killing twins is evil now and rewind to times past,they were considered a curse and being a homosexual would b a blessing from the gods in roman times while today we r all baying for blood and their cruxifixion. As for those who argue that homosexuality is 'unafrican', i ask what about the Congolese Zande warriors who not just had relationships bt actual same sex marriages. In our own Nigeria, there was the the "yan dauda" which tranlates into homosexual or transvestite and the "dan dauda" which was a homosexual "wife". We have always had homosexuality as Africans and lived well with it untill the onset of colonialism! One could say we did not "learn" homosexuality but rather homophobia clothed in religious doctrines that we did not have before! And i am most certainly not in support of criminalising people for feelings over which they have no control. I know at least 2 people growing up that even as way back as primary school we knew they were different. 2day i have Nigerian friends who have amazing jobs, are great intellectual contributors, have been instrumental towards the growth n progress of others and who have a lot to offer to the nation and are unable to ever return home because in one stroke, they have been turned into criminals for the single fact that they are gay, and i ask where's the sense in that?! Ziggy.

  6. In summary,live and let live! My point of view exactly...


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swag, but he didn't seem to notice me. (I'm a nerd but a sassy one
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