It just got even tougher to be gay in Nigeria

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is "The World," a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. It seems shocking that just as more governments around the globe recognize samesex marriage, Nigeria today enacted an anti gay law, a samesex marriage prohibition act. It criminalizes gay marriage and gay organizations and anyone associated with them. Homosexuality was already illegal in Nigeria, but this new law goes further. Violators face jail sentences of up to 14 years and those who advocate for gay rights, or for example, treat diseases like HIV and AIDS are vulnerable to arrest. US Secretary of State John Kerry says the law "Dangerously restricts the freedom of expression and association of all Nigerians." Davis Mac-Iyalla is a Nigerian gay rights activist who lives in London. He had to leave Nigeria several years ago and was granted political asylum in Britain.

Davis Mac-Iyalla: The already existing law was inherited from our colonial masters, Great Britain. It's not easy to prove, but the law that has just been passed now criminalizes everybody and makes everyone illegal because in Nigeria, according to Nigerian constitution, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman, which means that samesex marriage is already illegal in Nigeria. I think what they want is to have a way of further prosecuting and punishing innocent LGBT people by the law. I can tell as we speak that LGBT people in Nigeria are being witch hunted. The police are witch hunting people, some homophobic people are taking the laws into their hands. Before this law, people were using threats carefully when they dealt with LGBT people but now they can violently attack LGBT people -

Werman: Are you hearing these reports from people back in Nigeria?

Mac-Iyalla: Yes.

Werman: What was the impetus for this bill, this samesex marriage prohibition act?

Mac-Iyalla: Basically what they want to achieve is to fulfill the interest of Nigerian religious leaders. I heard the president's comment on this bill, saying he's doing what Nigerians want but I think that's a big mistake, because if you know Nigeria, what Nigeria wants are good roads, electricity, good education - Nigerians are living in poverty. Things are not working well. Everyone ordinary Nigerian wants a good life. I don't think Nigerians, at this point in time, is the kind of gift that they want.

Werman: When you say religious, are you saying this is kind of an appeal to religious leaders; are you thinking evangelical christian leaders, or muslims, or who?

Mac-Iyalla: Well, since 2006 when the idea of a bill was first introduced Nigerian parliament, the religious leaders, the anglican church of Nigeria, also connected to right wing conservative christians and America, have forcefully and strongly supported the bill, as well as Islamic leaders. In the northern Nigerian world there are Sharia laws. You have Muslim scholars and religious leaders strongly supporting this bill.

Werman: It's interesting that this law is similar to a new law in Uganda, which also criminalizes samesex marriage and stymies any activism because it criminalizes anyone working on gay rights, so what do you think the future looks like in Nigeria in your opinion?

Mac-Iyalla: The future is very dark, because those who provide services for LGBT people, especially in the area of HIV/AIDS treatment or counselling, will definitely be put at risk.

Werman: When you were living in Nigeria, you were the principal of a small anglican elementary school. You were fired in 2003. Why was that?

Mac-Iyalla: Once the issue of my sexuality came to the public, the education board didn't want me to stay. They couldn't see all the qualities and skill that I have. This is why this same bill that has been passed into law is worrying people, because LGBT people can be fired from work without having the right to go and challenge such dismissals in court. I didn't have anywhere to take my case to. I was receiving all kinds of threats not only from the church but outside of it as well. That lead to me having a physical attack. Luckily I survived. This lead me to go on exile, and from exile I had to come to the UK to be safe. It's a very hostile situation in Nigeria for LGBT people.

Werman: Davis Mac-Iyalla is a gay rights activist from Nigeria who now lives in London. He's been telling us about Nigeria's new samesex marriage prohibition act. David, thank you very much.

Mac-Iyalla: Thank you.