Queerphobic lawmakers in Nigeria are unrelenting, now tabling a new outrageous bill to jail people for cross-dressing.
The proposed legislation, introduced by House of Representatives member Umar Muda, had its first reading in parliament earlier this month.
Targeting the LGBTIQ+ community, the bill seeks to amend sections of the oppressive Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act to ban cross-dressing in public, unless it is in “the course of a stage play or any bonafide public entertainment”.
Signed into law in 2014, the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act outlaws same-sex marriages and relationships with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. It further stipulates 10 years in jail for public displays of same-sex affection and for membership or support of LGBTQ groups.
The new proposed amendment states that “a person engaging in cross-dressing is guilty of an offence and liable to imprisonment of 6 months or a fine of five hundred thousand naira (R18,000 / US$1,200).”
The bill defines cross-dressing as “the practice of wearing clothes usually worn by a person of the opposite sex.”
The reactionary legislation will only serve to further criminalise and marginalise people who are transgender or gender non-conforming in Nigeria.
Last year, the Director-General of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Olusegun Runsewe, proclaimed that popular transgender social media celebrity Bobrisky – who was arrested in 2017 for coming out as queer – was a threat to African values and the youth.
Writing in the Premium Times newspaper, human rights lawyer Inibehe Effiong slammed the cross-dressing bill as “another sinister attempt to distract Nigerians from the palpable failures of this regime.”
He argued that “To attempt to determine by legislation what type of cloth a man and a woman should or should not wear is the height of legislative misadventure and redundancy. It is not doable. The ambiguity will be too obvious.”
Effiong added that “A country like Nigeria with cultural, religious and ideological diversity should be more tolerant and accommodating of people who choose to express themselves differently.”
In addition to the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, colonial-era legislation prescribes a jail sentence of up to 14 years for anyone found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts. In some of Nigeria’s northern states, gay Muslims could also be put to death by stoning under Sharia law.