Happy new year to all! Last year we talked with badass lesbians* from various parts of Europe and America, so it’s time to move away from the “clichés”.
Let’s start 2018 with a real inspirational person we were introduced to at the European Lesbian* Conference last October. Meet Henrie from Nigeria.
Thanks, Henrie, for accepting the invitation. Can you introduce yourself please?
I am Henrie Dennis. I am a black Nigerian lesbian, living in Vienna and mother of two beautiful kids.
In order to create a platform for communication and visibility of Lesbian*GBTQI+ migrants from Africa, I founded Afro Rainbow Austria. The organisation, amongst others, is also aimed at fighting homophobia and racism in Austria and to promote understanding and tolerance for same-sex relationships within the African communities in Austria.
In my leisure time, I like to listen to music and dance.
How would you summarize the general situation of the LGBTQ+ community in Nigeria?
Nigeria, like the majority of the countries in the African continent, is very homophobic. This hostility has been fuelled by numerous factors including the signing into law of the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act in January 2014. This law goes beyond criminalising same-sex marriages, it even forbids any cohabitation between same-sex sexual partners and bans any “public display" of same-sex affection. The SSMPA imposes a 10-year prison sentence on anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisation or supports the activities of such organizations. Punishments are severe, ranging from 10 to 14 years in prison and death by stoning in states under the Islamic Sharia law.
Nigeria is a very religious country and thereby preaches against same-sex relations. LGBTI+ people are taught to suppress their "unnatural" feelings, deny their true identity and to “pray the gay away”. In cases where there are clues that one is queer, one is forced to undergo various forms of torture and exorcism in numerous prayer houses, all in the name of trying to cleanse one of the "gay spirit".
There is little or no support from family members the second one is perceived to be queer. Some LGBTQI+ Nigerians are rendered homeless by their immediate nuclear family, others are thrown out by the landlords and house owners. Some lose their jobs, others lose their lives. Some are forced into heterosexual marriages in order to save their families the "shame" of being in a same-sex relationship, others are raped, to name but a few atrocities that are most likely to be the fate of LGBTQI+ Nigerians.
Wow, that is tough. But now you are in Vienna, Austria. How is it there to be a lesbian*? Can you say a couple of words about social life in your new home?
Considering the fact that I met my partner in one of the lesbian* clubbings in Vienna, I would say that Vienna has a fair number of lesbian* parties and clubbings which happen at least once a month.
However lively, the lesbian* scenes are also small and people tend to know each other. There is a real shortage of lesbian* bars in Vienna. Really cool places, initiatives and organisations, like the women's* and lesbian's* book store or the rainbow Christmas market, do pop up from time to time but are forced to shut down often, due to insufficient funding.
The European Lesbian* Conference that took place in October 2017 was a successful event that brought together hundreds of lesbians in a space and hopefully it would gradually turn into a regular event/tool that would promote lesbian* visibility.
Yes, that’s where we met too. The truth is the lesbian* community is pretty closed in Budapest (or Hungary too), so one major way we are trying to mend it is to encourage coming out. Can you share a funny, memorable, or inspirational coming out stories of yours?
I was 13, living in Ikoyi, Nigeria. My family just moved to a new neighbourhood and I remember coming home for a visit from boarding school and meeting this girl who soon became my best friend. We spent a lot of time together and hung out a lot together. One day I said to her "I have something to tell you” but first I had to go and drop off something at a friend's place. She said "Then I'm coming with you".
When we got to the friend's place, he left us in his flat and stepped out to buy us some drinks. As soon as he left the room, everything happened in a split second: me sitting on the sofa, my best friend's lips all over mine, her grabbing my hands and using them to squeeze every part of her body … and when we heard the keys trying to unlock the door, she jumping off me. I just was sitting there speechless with my mouth still open.
To cut the long story short, my confession that I liked girls turned out to be pretty unconventional this time. It was a coming out but not through words.
Awesome story! I guess we’re all wondering what happened to her and you later. But good stories leave space for imagination. Thanks a lot, Henrie.
Next month we will talk with two girls for whom 2017 was a big year because they got married and who hope 2018 will be even bigger because they want to have a baby together. All this set in the land of red phone booths, dense fog, and mysterious Virginia Woolf.