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New research shows rising support for gay marriage ban

A new report finds that 90% of Nigerians surveyed support a controversial Act that now also stands between LGBTI communities and healthcare.

More than half of Nigerians surveyed do not think that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people should have access to basic health services, according new research released on Wednesday by Nigerian human rights organisation, the Initiative for Equal Rights. As part of an biennial report on perceptions of LGBTI communities in the country, the initiative contracted the polling company NOI Polls to interview 2 000 people about their attitudes to LGBTI people. Of those surveyed, 90% also said they supported the introduction of a 2014 Act prohibiting gay marriage – a slight increase over the previous year’s survey.

Violating the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act can carry a 14-year jail sentence. The Act also bans LGBTI people from organising meetings or forming associations. Those who do face 10 years behind bars.

The initiative also found that, although younger Nigerians are more likely than older adults to be accepting of friends or family who are LGBTI, they are more likely than older Nigerians to support the Act.

The director of research and knowledge management of the initiative, Dele Meiji Fatunla, attributes this to a wide range of factors, including the influence of evangelical religious beliefs and peer pressure.

He says the organisation has documented an increasing number of cases in which men who have sex with men have struggled to get healthcare, including HIV prevention services, since the Act was passed.

“The fear of stigmatisation and prejudice means many LGBTI people who need access to healthcare, particularly sexual health services, do not access them for fear of having to disclose their sexuality,” he says.

About 3.5-million Nigerians are living with HIV, making the country home to the world’s second-largest HIV epidemic after South Africa, according to UNAids’s 2015 report.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes found that HIV prevalence in men who have sex with men in the country was up to 10 times higher than that in the general population.

Dele says the 2014 marriage ban has also made it hard for health providers to reach LGBTI populations at risk of contracting HIV.

“We know some providers reported stopping their services for fear of falling foul of the law,” he says.

The international organisation Human Rights Watch has recommended that Nigeria overturn the ban to ensure that LGBTI communities have access to HIV services, care and treatment.

Nelisiwe Msomi was a health reporter at Bhekisisa.