Chimamanda Adichie lines up the homophobic arguments and knocks them down one by one

We’ve seen a range of responses from African intellectuals to the crisis of homophobia, especially in states that are planning  oppressive anti-gay laws As well as Binyavanga Wainaina, several Nigerian intellectuals have also weighed in. Yesterday was Chimamanda Adichie’s turn, and she made a very important contribution.

The thing I like about the piece is her generosity. She confronts directly the confused and contradictory assortment of ideas which have become so influential in shaping homophobia and the language in which homophobia is now being expressed. She is frank and uncondescending, refusing to gloss over or euphemize the vulgarity of homophobic thinking. The hardest thing for an intellectual when speaking out against such crass, hateful ideology is to take it seriously enough as a way of thinking to which large numbers of people have become deeply attached. That’s what Adichie does here, and that’s one reason why this intervention might challenge people in a deep way.

Here are some key excerpts:

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?

Read the whole post over at The Scoop.

Here’s a clip of Area Scatter, the performer Adichie refers to (h/t @kritzmoritz):

Seun Kuti also weighed in not long ago (don’t be put off by the odd headline).

What these critical interventions by Adichie and Kuti in the wake of Wainaina’s courageous stand suggest is that a certain obduracy is setting in against the nonsensical homophobic demand for the expulsion of LGBT people and those who refuse to persecute them. As Binyavanga Wainaina told the Guardian last week:

It’s like my father said, ‘When trouble comes you don’t put your worldly goods on a bicycle.’ This is my place. I am 43, I have bad knees, you know, diabetes. I could easily take another teaching gig in New York, hang out in Brooklyn, have some nice sex, write a funky book. But you know, that’s gone. I want to put a stake in the ground. My mum and dad are not here. It’s kind of my turn.



Elliot Ross

Elliot Ross is senior editor at Africa is a Country. He tweets at @africasacountry and @futbolsacountry

  1. I’m taken you on this statement “the mark of a true democracy is not in the rule of its majority but in the protection of its minority.” Right, armed robbers, paedophiles, fraudsters are among the minority of every nation and no where, absolutely no where do their democracy projects such people. It In facts protect the majority against such vices. I’m not saying similar for homophobia though because every society has a way of dealing with such.
    On the other hand I agree with you perfectly that under no circumstances should homosexuality be deemed as a crime. However, it has the tendency proclivity to affect society in diverse ways even though it’s a life style. For example, smoking like homosexuality is a lifestyle but it costs the health service huge sums of money in developed nations, not to talk about the carry on effect to young babies in such families where smoking parents smoke in their homes. ..

  2. For one, she clearly does not understand democracy… A system in which one group of people are oppressed is not democracy, it is a twisted kind of dictatorship… The kind that disguises itself and misleads.

    Once again words have to be used very wisely… The issue of statutory rape comes into play. If we, humans are diverse, then it is perfectly fine for one to drug someone and have sex with them, and claim that this is their preference… Of course the other party is not taken into consideration, but remember, we are in a democratic society, and the party that convinces wins, right?

    Whenever someone jumps to studies showing some behaviour in some species, then there’s a question to be posed. Are humans part of different species, or is homo sapiens one specie? Now, to analyze that statement, there have been studies that have shown that there has been homosexual behaviour in some animal species… Is this the norm, or is it an exception, a deviation from the norm? Also, as much as we are not dogs, we are an advanced species, the most actually, and the comparison to dogs is to remove that advancement and take us back to our most basic selves and ask, even the most basic of beings do not partake in it, does it still make the behaviour normal?

    Here’s another question, there are boys who have been abused, kept quiet about it, and later became gay (I have spoken to some), what happens to these poor souls? Some male parents (who are to give consent) have abused their own sons, what of these poor souls? Unless of course this is a movement from the norm?

    I have my own theories on why boys end up behaving like girls and vice versa. I believe parents have a great role to play in this.

    As for the passage of the law, it is another issue altogether, and I feel it is not the way to approach the problem. Homosexual is a disease, not a crime. It should be treated as such… Call me homophobic, but these are my views…

    1. here we go again! It is not a preference, it is not a choice it is not something one decided to be,..
      when would Africans figure this out! When did I decide when I was 5 yrs that I knew something was different from me and the other boys!
      At 40 I still find it hard to discuss this with family, though I am in a stable relationship. I chose to exile my self from Africa, as I really go fed up of being the but of jokes, or the topic of the Friday gossip press. did they not have anything better to do ????
      No one deserves to live like that.
      Gay people in most of Africa, just want to be left alone, a law that criminalises the act has been in the law books since independence and is only used for black male or the occasional case when the alleged perpetrator cant pay off his blackmailers! just the perceived denial, shame and rejection from families make many choose exile over going through ridicule, but they still live their lives! How does this affect you?
      I am tired of hearing the fire and brimstone that would be unleashed on Africa if this is allowed???
      a continent that is still struggling, broken, corrupt with little or no respect for authority and rule of law in some and on the other hand elected officials having little or no respect for those people they took an oath to serve!
      You say you have your own theories on why boys end up behaving like girls and vice versa? pls elaborate!
      Maybe I would understand where at 5 years old I became like that and made a conscious decision later in live to deal with it and be the muscle ripped man I am today. that choice I trained my self in,.being gay now that’s different!

      From religion, to the psychologists and every trick in the book I tried to understand, brain and heart yearned for love from another man!
      sorry you are not homophobic,. Just ignorant, until you have walked in my shoes, and lived in fear of being outed’, being blackmailed for being you, spat at, you would not know the choices many gay people have had to make.
      Unfortunately,. What might happen with all this silliness in Africa, would be more brave people standing up and coming out and sooner or later it would hit too close to home to some leaders(especially those married in public office of which I have had the pleasure of meeting) and all hell breaks lose,……
      then the real debate would start!
      Never assume the gay person is always butch or effeminate,..that’s what is portrayed and sold all over the world,. Yes there are some, but in real life, I would show you many a man that you would swear would or could never be gay and just is!!!!!
      it could just be your brother, best friend or colleague ….and then what?

      1. First and foremost, Africa is a continent and stop using as if it is a village. This only goes to show that you are not from the African continent. So, stop impersonating!

        No one cared about you faggots till you made it an issue. Saying you were not aware of your gender at the age of 5 implies that you are either a retard or you are abnormal. And being abnormal is not a sin but trying to normalize abnormality is the problem.

        As much as it has been documented in rare cases that animals show this abnormality, it has not been documented that animals of the same sex raise families! Which is part of what you faggots are pushing for. However, it has been documented that animals play surrogates but still within the confines of opposite genders.

        There are bigger ramifications should this wave of madness of accepting homosexuality as way of life be allowed to thrive and they are beyond our imagination. Homosexuals have been among us for millenniums and they will be there till the end of time; they will always be stigmatized as it is an abnormality, just as drunkards, drug addicts etc.

        The broader concept is about procreation and it would bring about bigger issues like cloning of human beings (looking at it, why has it not been allowed? After all, it does not affect or hurt any one) , as would come a time that this issue could lead to demographic many attendant issues that are unforeseen. Children raised in a “family” of parents of the same sex. This alters the definition of a family…The notion of a family was universal until this issue came up, and interesting some societies are trying, albeit stupidly to redefine a family. I could go on and on…we will not because of the interest of few destroy the balance of the majority and that my ignorant Ngozi is the meaning of don’t try to redefine that too. Nonsense!

    1. Do you actually know what a ‘disease’ is? What medication would you give to homosexuals to make them heterosexuals? You have read studies of homosexuality in other species. Good. Now its time for you to read studies on the genes and sexual behavior. View those who do not have the same sexual orientation as yours as ‘different’ not ‘abnormal’. Language plays a great role in profiling people in the society, in marking the ‘other’ – in most cases for not very good intentions.

      1. There’s no doubt that homosexuality was once deemed as a psychological disorder ( but guess what as it started to affect the wealthiest in society then the downgrade began.
        For me, if my sibling or friend after growing up together decides to be sexually oriented as a gay I will still treat it as a disorder and would offer the needed support they require. My problem is the legislation to criminalise it as a society. I see it like other diseases or disorders like autism, etc which are not criminalised so why should homosexuality! Well up until now in our advancement in medicine not all disorders have cure. As a health professional I have seen lots of them. There are people who cut themselves with sharps. And as a Christian I know they are spiritual. Jesus delivered someone of that disorder in the Gospel. But here in UK and the developed world they see it as hormone imbalance yet they are unable to balance the hormones, so there you go. I can go on and on. But it’s enough.
        That said it will be disingenuous on the part of anyone who still believes that homosexuality is acquired in vitro. It is societal disorder- the knowledge of knowing wrongly.

  3. all of the comparisons to homosexuality in these replies are things that hurt other people. homosexuality, sexual and lifestyle preference between consenting adults hurts nobody. as a straight afrikan i am disgusted by the hate spewed at fellow afrikans. as people who know exactly what its like to be oppressed, for people who claim to be loving people, what are we doing? we claim it is a western disease, what is western is this homophobia. most people go to their holy books when defending their homophobia, all that religion was brought to you by the west! and you devour it and call it afrikan, decolonize your minds!!!!

    1. Who says they don’t hurt anybody? Have you seen men in diapers before? At least as a health professional I know it hurts the rectum because there’s increasing rectal cancer resulting from homosexual ‘romantic’ acts. Of course it does not hurt me because it is not me-if that is what you meant. If people decides to go round and kill at random and I don’t get killed too, definitely it did not hurt me but the resultant effect will be the stench from their decaying bodies which will affect me until it’s mopped up by appropriate agencies.

      Like paedophiles, homosexuality is a lifestyle and if there is no medication for paedophiles I don’t expect any for homosexuals. But they can be wean off it.

  4. The imported Bible of the right-wing, western evangelicals has taken on a specific hell-fire and brimstone quality in Africa…this is the latest ‘gift’ it is delivering. That and the missionary influence lobbying corrupt governments of ‘princes’ such as Gyimah.

  5. I am born and bred in the UK, I have serious issues with the Homosexual propaganda!
    1) Homosexual lifestyle is not a crime
    2) If your Gay that’s you prerogative
    3) There is no Proof that Homosexuality is not a choice (Just like you choose to have sex with a white person or a fat person etc)
    4) I call it propaganda, because it IS A LIFESTYLE and it is being forced into our society!
    5) I call it propaganda, because if someone does not like the ACT you are called homophobic!
    6) The ACT is a choice because you can choose who to have sex with just like heterosexuals, SO;

    I say live and let live, but I find the ACT disgusting not the person and do not be fooled by the Homosexual Propaganda

  6. What medication will you give to paedophiles to stop them from engaging in the act they so enjoy?
    Soon guys like you will blindly wage a strong defence for paedophiles that those living like this were born with it. But you’ll get it wrong again because like homosexuality, it is also a useless and meaningless lifestyle. The moral decay has encroached our doorsteps. And I care who embraces it because you live right next to my house and I have kids too so what is there not to be afraid of. A little dye can change the colour of thousands of litres of water. That is what has helped the movement in the developed countries of the Cameron and Obama.

  7. Undoubtedly, something has gone wrong somewhere with the ‘so-called interlects’ of our time. And quite strangely the author thinks she’s win the debate by knocking the arguments down one by one.
    Yes it is true that Nigeria’s constitution defines marriage as a union between man and woman. But what she failed to reconcile is that so was the constitution in UK and USA etc where homosexual unions were classified as civil partnership but now it’s marriage and they want to even seek that this type be conducted in church. That is not my problem if that church will organise it. My problem with the author and the ‘interlect’ is that it can have the same rippling Effect In Nigeria too -marriage Will Be redefined. But thankfully I am holding on to my current edition of all the various dictionaries I possess which have absolute definition to marriage. In the course of time newer editions may change.
    So she should follow the development of this new worldview debate keenly so she does not miss the right components.

    1. For your information, there is no such word as ‘interlect’… I think the word you’re looking for is ‘intellect’.

      No doubt you will be totally oblivious to the irony of your spelling mistake.

      If you’re going to argue on issues like these, you had better try a little harder to present yourself at the very least as literate. Not to talk of well-informed.

  8. I find it astonishing that there are people commenting on here purporting to be educated, and yet are clearly backward thinking puritanical hypocrites. First and foremost, those of you referencing the Bible need to know that you cannot have an ‘a la carte’ approach to this dubious holy book. What I mean by that is that if you are going to take the Bible literally, then you have to take it ALL literally. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality, but what about divorce, or gossip, or slavery, or head coverings, or Jesus’ teachings on non-violence, or the “abomination” of eating shellfish and the hell-worthy sin of calling other people idiots? What about gluttony?

    Proverbs 23:2 (“put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”)

    Proverbs 23:20 (“be not among drunkards or among gluttonous eaters of meat”)

    How many times have you had that extra bottle of Star, Smirnoff Ice, Gordons Spark or Big Stout or glass of Don Simon which has gotten you ‘high’? How many times have you had a full belly but still taken that last piece of suya or handful of ground nuts or extra chicken from Mr. Biggs?

    Ezekiel 16:49 (“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”)

    And we haven’t even broached materialism, which Nigerians are renowned for! The latest Blackberry! A 4×4! All things which make it clear to people you are a ‘big’ man or woman.

    I do not know a Nigerian man who is faithful to his girlfriend, not to mention his WIFE!!! Yet according to the Bible, men who leer at women should ‘gouge out their eyes’ and adultery is punishable by death.

    Don’t any of you question as to why so many of your ‘pastors’ are exposed as thieves, philanderers, rapists and adulterers?

    Put your Bibles away and stop throwing stones unless you are ‘without sin’.

    Those of you who are calling homosexuality a ‘lifestyle choice’ and comparing it to paedophilia are even more contemptible.

    If you say that people ‘choose’ to be gay, then you are even more unlettered than those trying to use religion to justify their hateful beliefs.

    When did you decide to become straight? (I am assuming you are straight…)

    Saying that it is a choice implies that YOU also have the potential to be sexually attracted to members of the same sex and children if you choose to be. The only thing stopping you is a decision. Are you even aware of what that implies for you? I’d choose my words a little more carefully if I were you…

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