Saturday, January 18, 2014

Violence at Home: What Torture in Nigeria Has to Do with LGBTQ Americans

Arrests and torture of gays and lesbians in Nigeria have increased this month leading up to and in the wake of the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act" being signed by President Goodluck Jonathan on January 7th. According to this NPR story, the Act is a "political football" to distract citizens from other governmental goings-on and encourage people to scapegoat and abuse LGBTQ people--people who are already under siege given that homosexual sex is illegal in the country. In some parts of the country, it's punishable by death.

It can be a very American impulse to gasp at this terrible news and shake our heads at the 39 African countries with laws against homosexuality and think 'well thank goodness we are nothing like that in America.'

And while we absolutely should condemn all abhorrent violations of human rights like those happening right now in Nigeria, we certainly cannot give our country a pass. Because the fact is, while LGBTQ people have certainly gained many rights in the last few decades, we too are still disproportionately under siege for all kinds of violence, particularly against LGBTQ people of color and transgender women.

Reported Anti-LGBTQ Homicides in 2012 (NCAVP)
Looking at the statistics above gathered by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) on reported anti-LGBTQ homicides is sobering, all the more so because the total number of homicides is very conservative--including only homicides that could be confirmed by police as being hate-motivated.

In 2012, there were also 2,016 reports of anti-LGBTQ violence in the U.S. that did not result in death, according to NCAVP's report. Over two-thousand instances...that works out to over five acts of reported violence against LGBTQ people every single day of the year.

What's difficult to capture numerically is the volume of violence LGBTQ people experience that does not result in a police report. LGBTQ victims may choose not to report violence they've experienced for many valid reasons, often because they fear for their safety from the police and/or retribution from the perpetrator if they report the crime.

I was talking about the spike in anti-LGBTQ violence in Nigeria with a friend of mine who is in his mid-sixties. He agreed that anti-LGBTQ violence in the U.S. often gets dis-remembered or ignored. He said that three times in his life people have tried to kill him because he is gay. Once as a young adolescent, a group of boys tried to drown him in lake. As a young adult, a man invited my friend to his house for lunch and then with an accomplice, tied him up and put a knife to his throat, only not stabbing him because his accomplice urged him not to. As a parent, he was in his home with his child when a cluster of bullets came whizzing through the wall of the house. He strongly suspected it was a homophobic neighbor of his.

Throughout his life, he has been a target. But he is American. And white. And cisgender. He is a relatively privileged member of the LGBTQ community yet he has had to endure extremely traumatizing events as punishment for his gay identity. Can you just imagine what it must be like for even more marginalized members of the LGBTQ community? The stories they would tell about what they've survived?

We are not so different from other countries. We are not off the hook. And we should not be satisfied with changes just made in law books. LGBTQ people around the world deserve better than this.

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