Nigerian gay activist Michael Ighodaro confronted the nation’s president at a formal dinner in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, challenging him regarding Nigeria’s antigay laws and climate.
President Goodluck Jonathan was guest of honor at a $200-a-plate dinner hosted by the Corporate Council on Africa and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, timed to coincide with this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Ighodaro exchanged words with the president about Nigeria’s Anti-Same-Sex Marriage Act, which Jonathan signed into law in January.
The act provides for up to 14 years in prison for people who enter into a same-sex marriage and also criminalizes other declarations of gay relationships, advocacy for LGBT rights, and gatherings in LGBT clubs. Ighodaro, who has lived in the U.S. since 2012, expressed concern to Jonathan about reports of increasing violence against LGBT Nigerians since the law’s enactment.
Ighodaro said that Jonathan replied, “The situation of homosexuals in Nigeria is delicate, but during this week the topic has come up a lot, and it is something we will continue to look into, especially the attacks. If you think the law is unconstitutional, you have the right to go to court and fight [to strike] it down.”
That was most likely a reference to the recent Uganda Constitutional Court ruling invalidating that nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. The court’s objection to the law was based on the manner in which it was adopted, not its content.
Ighodaro has firsthand experience with antigay violence. He fled Nigeria in 2012 after an attack that he believes was motivated by homophobia. The beating left him with several broken bones, and the day after it occurred, he received numerous death threats by phone and email. He is now a fellow at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in New York.
Jonathan made a vague reference to the situation of LGBT people in Nigeria toward the end of his speech at the dinner, saying many discussions during the summit have focused on “the issue of sexuality” in his nation. He also mentioned the activities of Boko Haram, the radical Islamic group that abducted hundreds of female students from a boarding school in April and has carried out attacks in northeastern Nigeria for several years. Dozens were killed in its raid on the town of Gwoza Wednesday.
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