|The Rev. Winnie Varghese|
with Davis Mac-Iyalla
of Changing Attitudes:
Nigeria, when he spoke
at St. Mark's-in-the
Bowery in New York.
Photo Credit: Paul Lane
The LGBT community in Uganda was given a reprieve last week when President Yoweri Museveni returned the bill, now infamously known as the "kill the gays" bill, although "softened" to life in prison, to the Ugandan Parliament for review and further discussion. Make no mistake, this bill will rear its ugly head again, supported by American religious organizations as well as many in the Anglican Church of Uganda. Sodomy is already illegal in Uganda.
In Nigeria, a bill titled the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, supported by the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, was passed by the Nigerian Parliament and signed into law by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. This bill not only outlaws "gay marriage" (which was never legal in Nigeria in the first place), it provides for a prison term of fourteen years for anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil partnership abroad. It also criminalizes anyone who registers or participates in gay organizations or clubs or who makes a public show of a same-sex relationship, the punishment being ten years in prison. The arrests have started. While fourteen years in prison may sound draconian, in Northern Nigeria, where Sharia law operates side by side with federal law, those arrested have been handed over to Sharia courts where the maximum punishment is death by stoning!
What can we do? Educate ourselves. Get the word out: these developments, especially those in Nigeria, have largely gone under the radar of the U.S. media. A good source of information is on the Nigerian LGBTIs in Diaspora web-site: http://nigerianlgbtindiaspora.wordpress.com/
As an Episcopalians / Anglicans we can urge our bishops to speak out. Find out who the Indaba partners of your diocese are and ask your bishop to speak with them about this; ask him or her to contact the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Sign Nigerian LGBT rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla’s petition to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York which can be found here. At press time the petition was approaching 1,000 signatures.
As a U.S. citizen, you can contact your Senators and Representatives in Congress and ask them to contact the State Department, which -- although it has publicly condemned these laws -- could do more. It has been reported that the Canadian government has already cancelled a state visit by Nigerian President Jonathan which was scheduled to take place in February. Keep the pressure on.
Keep our brothers and sisters in your prayers and those of your local parish.
"No one is free until we all are." We still have a long road to travel.
Paul Lane is the Diocesan Organizer for New York and Acting Chair of the LGBT Concerns Committee of the Diocese of New York