Nigerians out on bail for "indecent dressing"

September 18, 2007

CAPE TOWN — On 13 September it was announced that 18 cross dressers in the Bauchi state in Nigeria were granted bail, after been charged with indecent dressing and vagrancy. The news spread internationally after their arrest more than two weeks ago and renewed concerns of prejudice, trans- and homophobia.

Aged between the ages of 18 and 21, the men were initially accused of sodomy but were later changed to "indecent dressing" or cross-dressing and "vagrancy". According to the Islamic Sharia legal system they were contravening Article 372 section 2(E) of the Bauchi State Islamic code which prohibits cross-dressing and the practice of sodomy.

"Any (male) person who dresses in the fashion of a woman in a public place will be liable to a term of one year or 30 lashes" a spokesman for the local Sharia police, Muhamad Bununu, told AFP news agency.

In the proposed bill everyone who undergoes, performs or witness same-sex unions will be sentenced to five years imprisonment. Although the bill is yet to be approved, police and people in Nigeria act in ways as if it is already in place. The arrest of these 18 people was made in support of the pending same-sex marriage bill.

According to Reverend Rowland Jide Macaulay from the House of Rainbow in Lagos a fellowship of LGBTI communities in Nigeria, this sort of arrest culminated from alleged sodomy and attendance of same-sex marriage is typical of violation of human rights.

The original arrest was made upon an anonymous tip-off about a same sex marriage that was going to take place. Eventually the charge changed as this seemed not to be the case. The final charge was then this of indecent dressing and vagrancy. After the court case Thursday the 13th they were re-arrested on charges of conspiracy.

Gender DynamiX, the only organization in Africa focusing solely on transgender people, strongly objects to the arrests. "Although Gender DynamiX is situated in South Africa, we as organization feel compelled to express our dismay and raise awareness about the conditions our brothers and sisters across Africa have to live under." says Gender DynamiX's Director, Liesl Theron. Kayla, a member of Gender DynamiX adds "human rights in Africa seem to be going backwards, not forwards".

Transgenderism includes many terms such as cross dressing, transsexuals and transvestites – dandaudu (as it is known in the northern parts of Nigeria). In the broadest sense of understanding a transgender person is a person who does not feel comfortable with their sex at birth, and therefore takes steps from dressing as the sex they choose, to hormone treatment and surgery

These arrests should not have happened. The repercussions and consequences of this arrest and court case are more serious than just the impact it made on the 18 individuals arrested. The reaction of crowds outside the court – throwing stones and threats to take law in their own hands, spells problems for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Nigeria.

LGBT, especially masculine looking women, effeminate men and transgender people in Africa are already silenced and extremely marginalised. This will just worsen their lives as they will remain open targets of violence and rape.

During the same time of the original arrest in Nigeria, a woman in Umlazi Township near Durban, South Africa was stripped naked and her shack burnt down, because she wore trousers. Men in the township are demanding that all women wear skirts or dresses. Insisting that women are not allowed to wear pants obviously has greater consequences, not only to lesbian, bisexual and transgender women – but to the all women. This is a direct violation of women's rights to dignity and self expression. If we tolerate such incidents we are indirectly supporting it. This will bring us right back into patriarchal systems, where women have lesser rights and freedom than men.

Homosexuality and transgenderism are often "declared" un-African by our African leaders. Politicians and religious leaders follow suit and communities eventually join in too. However, homophobia is the western import, not homosexuality or transgenderism itself. Research shows that African languages and cultures have, for centuries, included same sex and transgender practices in language and ritual. Here in Africa we might not know homosexuality or transgender by this terminology – but the existence of it is as old as the African landscape itself.

Gender DynamiX is appalled by the abuse of human rights that these recent incidences highlight. This issue should not be different from the struggle for homosexual rights in Africa – which in return should not be separated from Human Rights issues in Africa.

According to the Yogyakarta Principles, adopted in November 2006 by legal experts of 25 countries all people, including LGBTI persons should experience the same Human Rights.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights.

Gender DynamiX demands that the Nigerian Bill criminalizing same sex unions be scrapped and that the arrests and harassment of trans people be halted. We call for the implementation of the Yogyakarta Principles, adopted in November 2006 by legal experts of 25 countries, and which affirms the rights of all people to dignity and freedom.

In solidarity of the 18 people arrested and of all African transgender people, Gender DynamiX requests individuals and organizations to join our petition.

Gender DynamiX also launch a campaign, requesting donations to enable their release from jail on bail.

To donate to this leaving a comment, please visit www.genderdynamix.org – crossdressers

The new hearing date is set for 8 October 2007. We would like to have the funds available as soon as possible, to assist with any legal matters.

Gender DynamiX
Robert Hamblin (Media liaison)
Director: Liesl TheronIssued by Gender DynamiX

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