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In Nigeria, the Queer Community Is Fighting Exorcism and Conversion Therapy

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This week, British media outlet The Guardian is highlighting the work of LGBT rights activists throughout the world with their “LGBT change series” through the Guardian Global Development Professionals Network.

Today, an article written by Nigerian journalist Wana Udobang tells the story of Bree, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, who identifies as lesbian and Christian, and “has been grappling with reconciling her faith and sexuality for most of her life.”

With her girlfriend in 2009, she tried going to church, but it didn’t work. “I finally had a conversation with God saying that if this is who I am, ‘you made me, then you fix me,'” Bree says. She also says that one of the burdens religious exorcism places on sexual minorities is the need to “perform”—pretend to be straight.

Udobang writes:

She reminds herself to switch feminine pronouns to masculine ones when discussing past relationships with work colleagues and when writing on her blog. Once, when a colleague gave her a suspicious look for staring admiringly at a woman, Bree invented a quick fib about having previously met the person.

In Nigeria, both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal. In 2015, a survey by an organization founded by a Nigerian homosexual activist based in London found 87% of Nigerian residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept.

In the Guardian’s story, Olumide Makanjuola, executive director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), an organization based in Lagos that works on LGBTQI rights and sexual health, says that “performing” is mentally straining.

Makanjuola explains, “In a space like Nigeria, people perform sexuality quite well. We don’t care what performance does to people mentally, as we are focused on how people see us and how they imagine us.”

The journalist explains that through his work, Makanjuola has encountered many people in the local LGBTQI community “dealing with acute anxiety and depression as a result of performing straightness brought on by deliverance attempts and conversion therapy.”

According to the story, Bree is now accepting her faith and her sexuality and is working towards earning a professional counseling qualification to help others facing the same issues.