Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Homophobia and Perceptions about Homosexuality among Students of a Tertiary Institution in Nigeria

Academic journal article Gender & Behaviour

Homophobia and Perceptions about Homosexuality among Students of a Tertiary Institution in Nigeria

Article excerpt

Background

Homophobia was first used to refer to the heterosexual's dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals (Weinberg, 1973). It is broadly used to refer to a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards non-heterosexual individuals. It may manifest in hostile behaviour ranging from discrimination to outright violence (Herek, 2004). Gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) individuals face challenges growing up physically and mentally healthy in a culture that is often unaccepting (Remafedi, Resnick, Blum, & Harris, 1992; Rotheram-Borus, Hunter, & Rosario, 1994). Homophobia is experienced in many ways, disparaging jokes, physical, verbal and psychological attacks, discrimination and negative media representation.

Both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Nigeria. The maximum punishment in the twelve northern Nigerian states that have adopted Sharia law is death by stoning (Siraj, 2009; United States Department of State, 2008). This law applies to all Muslims and to states which have voluntarily consented to application of the Shari'a courts. In southern Nigeria and under the secular criminal laws of the other northern Nigerian states, the maximum punishment for same-sex sexual activity is 14 years' imprisonment (Federal Government Nigeria, 1990). Same-sex marriage has been further criminalized in the country (Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2014) further reinforcing negative attitudes towards homosexuality. The Pew Global Attitudes Project showed that 97% of Nigerian residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that should not be accepted by the society, which was the highest rate of non-acceptance in the 39 countries surveyed (Kohut, 2013).

There are many factors that can cause a person to be homophobic. Research has shown that prejudice against gay people and homosexuality can be influenced by the person having strong religious beliefs that disapprove of sex and/or homosexuality, having little/no social contact with lesbian and gay people and reporting no homosexual experiences or feelings (Valentine & McDonald, 2004).

Homophobia destroys not just the people living openly as GLB but the whole fabric of the society. Living in a homophobic environment may force many GLB people to conceal their sexuality (Meyer, 2003; Sylva, Rieger, Linsenmeier, & Bailey, 2010) and those who have been socialized into negative beliefs about homosexuality may develop feelings of self-loathing, shame and low self-esteem if they realize sexual attraction for same-sex individuals (Shidlo, 1994; Williamson, 2000). This has been shown to have harmful mental health effects including depression and suicidal behavior (Igartua, Gill, & Montoro, 2009; Newcomb & Mustanski, 2010). Also, the decision about whether to inform others about their sexual orientation or not can cause significant personal distress (Bohan, 1996).

While heterosexuality is expected and encouraged, other forms of sexuality, such as men having sex with men and women having sex with women are generally perceived as deviant and alien to the social and cultural fabric of Africa. Perhaps as a reflection of this, there is paucity of published health literature on homosexuality in Africa (Dougan, Gilbart, Sinka, & Evans, 2005; Wade et al., 2005).

The current lack of information on the practice of same sex relationships in Nigeria is an important research gap that needs to be filled. Research is needed to document the prevalence and epidemiology of same-sex relationships in various regions of Nigeria. Research should also delineate the perception of the society and how this influences the quality of life of the homosexual individual. This becomes imperative if we are to appropriately tackle the mental health needs of this vulnerable group in our society with respect to adequate and specially tailored interventions to reduce the burden of disease among them and improve health-seeking behaviour. This study intends to fill the gap by providing relevant and essential information on the perception of students of a tertiary institution to homosexuality, the prevalence of homophobia and factors associated with this concept. …

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