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Nigeria's Cross Dressers Demand Redress From Bill


FILE: While Nigeria's lawmakers now consider a bill making cross-dressing a crime, Mahad, who identifies as a transgender woman, smiles after winning the Miss Pride beauty contest in Kampala, Uganda, Aug. 7, 2015.

Nigeria's gay community is fighting a measure under consideration in parliament that would punish cross-dressers with up to six months in jail and a fine of about $1,200.

Dressed in rainbow-colored vests, members of the LGBTQ community marched in a risky demonstration in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, to protest the proposed bill.

The measure expands the reach of Nigeria's "Same Sex Prohibition Act" made law in 2013 that punishes same-sex intimacy with up to 14 years in prison.

The measure makes one interesting exception: comedians can skirt the law for entertainment purposes.

Activists say the proposal will embolden people to deride and even assault non-binary people. A transgender woman was beaten and stripped in Lagos shortly after the bill was introduced.

Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation head Kayode Ani amplifies that concern..

"What laws like this do," he says, "is basically encourage people to take violence into their own hands, just as we had after the Same Sex Prohibition Act was passed — individuals forming vigilantes and going into people's homes because they suspect that they're queer, beat them, murder them."

Nigerian transgender woman Empress Cookie says she's been the victim of many horrible incidents. She recalls one experience with a mob in Abuja two years ago.

"They started stripping me naked, and they were, like, ‘See you're even wearing a female’s pants.’ I was emotionally traumatized. I was drained. At a point, I was like, lifeless.”

Nigerian religious groups that support the same-sex marriage ban also now support the bill restricting cross-dressing.

"We don't know man and man. God didn't create Adam and Adam or Adam and Steve, God created Adam and Eve," said Archbishop John Praise, deputy president of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria.

The cross-dressing bill will undergo several readings in parliament and be debated before it is passed and forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari for approval.

And many LGBTQ advocates hope he doesn't sign it.

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