On the August 8, 2018 issue of Guardian Life, the publication wrote about the plight of people — like Shalom Shoremi, a lesbian woman publicly rejected by her family — covered under the LGBTQ+ and placed emphasis on the concept of love, over any other thing.
The cover of that issue, a multicolored post-impressionism, rainbow impression that strongly depicts the need for inclusion and the many ideals that influence our world was a major statement in itself — it was brave for a highly religious and cultural society where those values influence everything, at least publicly.
On July 5, 2018, Pulse profiled a Nigerian who was disgracefully persecuted by his own country for his sexuality — he was mobbed and almost killed. He had to escape to the United States of America to seek sanctuary of asylum, and he is now a Director of the RJD Refugee Shelter in New York and is helping raise awareness detained immigrants and the LGBTQ+ community in Africa.
Our country, Nigeria is averse to LGBTQ+ — at least, on the face of it. It is a discussion that the average Nigerian avoids like the plague, for fear of being stigmatized as he thinks it abominable and pursued by disturbed human beings.
Even worse, Nigerians feel being a homosexual human equates bad influence from boarding school and peer pressure, subjects like hormonal imbalance and natural disposition seem impossible to fathom. Questions like ‘how do you explain a 5-year old boy’s attraction to other men’ hits a brick wall of pointless defiance.
While the concept of LGBTQ+ might seem unique to what human beings are accustomed to as ‘normalcy’, it is only abnormal because we have refused to employ the beauty of persuasive perspectives of this movement.
You cannot choose who to love
LGBTQ activists like Bisi Alimi, Shalom Shoremi and Edafe Okporo have been persecuted for loving who they love — even by their own families to the point of seeking sanctuary in western colonies. Society wants them to choose what is ‘normal’, someone of the opposite sex — It is a worrying turn of event.
Nigerians do not care to understand that you cannot force anybody to be in love with anybody. It’s a natural disposition that comes with natural peculiarities. It doesn’t matter the gender of whom a person chooses to love. The cardinal question of ‘Can you choose who to love?’ even abides to heterosexual relationships where people seldom marry their ‘type’.
The New Media
Nonetheless, while the concept of LGBTQ+ and its legalization is an ongoing conversation that seems inevitable across the mainstream, it is still gloriously brave of Guardian Life to show such creativity in these times.
There are not only legal constraints of the Same Sex Prohibition Act of 2014 that outlaw LGBTQ+ acts, there are religiously and culturally inclined people who want to persecute you at every turn.
Yet, the role of the media in this ongoing quest for liberation cannot be overemphasized as a voice for the oppressed alongside organizations like The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER). Nonetheless, with the ever-present possibility to judgement, persecution and loss of readership, even the media has to thread carefully.
It is why the bold statement by The Guardian Life, subscript of the household newspaper The Guardian deserves commendation. It required bravery and underlined the importance of having this conversation, so we do not rob people of their happiness and warmth of human existence.
Highlighting the bravery it required, Guardian Life Editor, Chidera Muoka tells Pulse that, “Honestly, we were sceptical about the backlash, not only because of the household name and the tendency of most people to be ignorant and just read the cover just from the image. However, in taking up such a bold topic, we knew we had to objective, operate within the ethics of the profession and tell the story in such a way that we do not misrepresent all parties involved.”
The piece was birthed off diverse in-house ideals
As Pulse discovers, the article was written off 3 diverse ideals from the team that births the article. Interestingly, the writers, Chidirim Ndeche and Urenna Ukiwe have different opinions on the LGBTQ+ subject. That in itself, underlines the balanced, yet forward thinking tone of the article. To complete the process, Guardian Online Editor, Tonye Bakare, inadvertently left off the article was the shade of grey that blurs the line and provides needed balance, to prevent bias and sentiment.
Just after admitting the necessity of such diversity, while crafting thought on a polarizing topic, Muoka says, “A lot of people read the article and commended us on how balanced it was. In-house objections were from my team. The thought was that there was going to be a backlash. While there were sprinkles of negative comments, the bulk of the feedback we’ve got was positive.”
The direction is topic-based
Pulse discovered that for Guardian, the direction has been topic-based for a while, contributing incredibly to the necessity of vocal contribution on subjects like rape, depression #EndSARS and other issues, in an otherwise disjointed society.
Muoka underlines the attitude to those stories as, “Each of those topics was treated with a high level of diligence. We paid attention to details and those covers were all well received. This means we’ve done a good job on all those topics.”
Despite the brave execution, Muoka was humble. She credits the readers and acknowledges the beauty of diverse opinions — negative comments on the sensitivity of LGBTQ+ as necessary for the growth while admitting that the general feedback was positive. This highlights the continued evolution of Nigerian mentality.
The team at Guardian feel it is time for media to play its role at the forefront of activism, providing the voice and the platform for the unheard. Muoka gave the reason for this as, “Right now, a lot of Nigerians simply are incapable of empathising with these individuals who constantly struggle with expressing themselves and living their lives in a society that condemns them legally, socially, and religiously.”
She continues, “I do not categorise my decision for this topic as brave and I am grateful to have a team that embraced the challenge of writing an article they would otherwise not want to be involved with. We did not have one subject in mind, and we used Shalom Shoremi as a case study of what members of the LGBTQ community face in Nigeria and why the government have stood their ground on the law.”
At Pulse, we call that smart.