Battling Homophobia, Nigeria’s LGBTIQ+ Community Finds Safety In App
In 2018, four men ambushed Richard Akuson in his hometown, Akwanga in Nasarawa State. They began to beat him as they accused him of being gay as well as spreading a gay agenda. His phone was seized and forcefully unlocked – they found more proof of his sexuality. To drive home their message, they poked his anus with sticks in mock but painful penetration.
Akuson would later write in a CNN Op-ed that, “the crippling, gut-wrenching pain that followed every punch and every poke felt like my skin was being nailed to a wall.”
Akuson’s brutal attack is just one out of many unreported incidents of persecution of gay men in Nigeria, where being gay is a crime.
Homosexuality is expressly prohibited in Nigeria. A 2014 law banned sexual relationships between persons of the same sex. Offenders risk being jailed for 14 years.
A poll conducted by The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERs) via NOI Polls showed that 90% of Nigerians survey supported the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA).
Pains and bruises often heal after a while, but what about the wounds that no one sees? Living in fear of exposure to attacks? Rejection by some families? Death threats? Nigeria is a hotbed of homophobia where many queer people live in anonymity.
In late January 2020, NoStrings Development Initiatives; a Nigeria-based LGBTIQ+ led human rights organisation launched Qtalk [Queer talk], a social and counselling mobile app for the LGBTIQ+ community.
Qtalk provides queer Nigerians with unlimited and free access to psychosocial and legal support provided by friendly LGBTIQ+ counsellors. In addition, the platform provides LGBTIQ+ news contents via RightsAfrica.com, a news platform that reports on the struggle of minorities and their struggle in Africa.
Speaking to The Guardian Nigeria on the idea behind the app, the founder, Mike Daemon, who is a Nigerian journalist focused on promoting the human rights of LGBTIQ+ people, said:
“The overall idea basically was to provide LGBTIQ+ Nigerians access to quality therapy and legal support to help them cope with their everyday struggles.”
Qtalk provides a safe space for LGBTIQ+ persons to interact and share their opinions on diverse issues as well as make meaningful friendships, albeit, the app is not a dating platform.
The app provides support for community members who might have questions or concerns about their sexuality or safety. Members can chat with a volunteer counsellor, via voice or text message and receive a response or a referral to an outside service.
For the safety of community members, conversations on the app are encrypted and automatically deleted after 30 days.
In 2014, barely a month after former president Goodluck Ebele Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, an Islamic court in Bauchi convicted a 20-year-old man for homosexual offences.
For his crime, the man was given 20 lashes with a whip, made from animal, with his skin smeared with oil. That was the judge being merciful as he took into account that the man committed the offence seven years before and had stopped the practice. Under Islamic law, courts can punish homosexual acts by stoning to death.
Cases such as this and other forms of discrimination can take a toll on one’s mental health, Daemon says.
“As a gay Nigerian, I understand what it actually means for one to experience discrimination in all spheres of life just for loving and being perceived as different and with no one to turn to without fear of being exposed to further discrimination.”
In 2015, Daemon started NoStringsNG, a podcast meant to “dismantle the myths around homosexuality.”
The podcast grew into a website and he noticed that many readers were sending in questions related to sexuality and health. In response, Daemon dreamed up Qtalk as a platform to “allow members of the community to connect, get their questions answered, and also have the opportunity to socialize with each other,” he told Rest of World, an international nonprofit journalism organization.
As of July 2, 2020, Qtalk had over 1,800 users and 10 counsellors. The app is only available for Android devices as at the time of this writing. The app also assures it’s users of confidentiality as whatever you share with a counsellor on the platform will not be shared with any third-party.
According to a post on the website, David, a 26-year-old gay man based in Owerri, said he was attacked by boys in the area who suspected he was gay. They took his wallet, phone, and then injured him. He managed to find his way to the hospital but was arrested by the police shortly after he was discharged.
“It was all a shock to me that fateful day. I was arrested by the police who took 30,000 Naira from me for bail. I have not done anything wrong to deserve the wicked treatment. I want justice,” David wrote.
After learning of David’s experience via Qtalk, the counsellor, who is a legal practitioner, told of options for getting justice for what happened to him. David was also linked to a human rights organization in Imo State where the case has been documented.
Daemon also spoke on the state of the LGBTIQ+ in Nigeria, he advocates that the discriminatory laws against LGBTIQ+ people need to be repealed:
“People are dying every day because of these draconian laws. LGBTIQ+ people in Nigeria are human beings like everyone else and so their human right which isn’t different any different from that of anyone else, needs to be respected.”