Post a good note for Nigerians
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Bay Windows
March 8, 2007


Post a good note for Nigerians

There are many hazards in trying to help oppressed LGBT people overseas. Complicating factors include ideological and cultural differences, personal jealousies, Western guilt, distance, and the fact that those in-country will face any backlash as outsiders will not. In the case of Nigeria, whose legislature is moving toward passage of a sweeping anti-gay bill, one prominent international activist was accused of giving impetus to the bill by organizing protests against it, while others suggested that his critics themselves caused unwelcome publicity. Given that the bill is moving forward but has not yet passed, now is a time not for internecine sniping but for thoughtful, coordinated action.

On February 23, four United Nations officials, including the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, criticized the bill. They said it “heightens the potential for stigmatization, discrimination and intolerance against individuals for their actual and imputed sexual orientation or their gender identity, raising serious concerns regarding their protection ... The Bill is likely to undermine HIV/AIDS education and prevention efforts by driving stigmatized communities underground.”

On February 28, in collaboration with Global Rights, Human Rights Watch, and the Nigerian group INCRESE, ARC International urged people to ask supportive governments to express concern to the Nigerian government “about the negative impact that adoption of the Bill would have upon international perceptions of Nigeria’s approach to human rights, the democratic process and basic principles of fairness, the rule of law and non-discrimination. This is especially important at the moment because the Nigerian Senate is more sensitive to these issues and could positively respond to external pressures.”

ARC International Co-Director John Fisher stressed, “Please note that it is support from governments that is requested - letters from individuals living outside the region to Nigerian Senators could be counterproductive and have the opposite effect.”

You may wonder how receptive the U.S. State Department will be to concerns about the welfare of GLBT people overseas, given the Bush administration’s hostility toward gay rights in America. In fact, not only has Secretary of State Rice been welcoming toward openly gay foreign service officers, but State’s annual country human rights reports have continued their inclusion of anti-gay abuses, coverage that began under Bush’s father in 1991. We cannot know what good our letters will do, but our silence will certainly do none.

Life in Nigeria is already tough for gay people, with its anti-sodomy law dating back to British colonial days, and even harsher Islamic Shari’a law governing twelve northern states. People with HIV/AIDS often lose their jobs and their health care. In the guise of prohibiting same-sex marriage and adoption, the new bill would criminalize pro-gay organizing, meeting, advocacy, even someone visiting a gay website or gay people dining together in a restaurant. The bill attacks not just internationally recognized freedoms of conscience, expression, and association, but the right of gay people to exist at all.

A recent publication of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, “Voices from Nigeria,” presents testimonies from eight LGBT Nigerians. One who uses the pseudonym Oludare runs a gay rights organization that does HIV/AIDS prevention work. He writes of the proposed law, “not only does it violate our rights as human beings but is also a violation of Nigeria’s obligations to international instruments. It makes nonsense of Nigeria’s position on human rights. I don’t see how anyone can tell me what not to do in private ... My organization will not stop its HIV/AIDS work. It needs to be done.”

Those of us who are free to live our lives openly owe it to brave people like Oludare to spend some of our freedom on their behalf. Below are mailing addresses and salutations for U.S. State Department officials to whom you can write. Please be polite and remember that the purpose is to help our brothers and sisters in Nigeria, not to unload on the Bush administration. I include the address of the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., who also represents Nigeria to the American people. Courtesy is even more crucial in his case. You never know where you might find a fellow-spirit, so write with that possibility in mind. It will brighten your tone.

The Honorable Barry F. Lowenkron
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL)
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Assistant Secretary Lowenkron:

The Honorable Jendayi Frazer
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (AF)
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Assistant Secretary Frazer:

The Honorable John Campbell
U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria
American Embassy
8320 Abuja PL
Washington, DC 20521-8320
Dear Ambassador Campbell:

His Excellency Professor George Achulike Obiozor
Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
3519 International CT, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear Mr. Ambassador:

Copyright © 2007 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.