The Politics of Nigerian ‘Pride’



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The Politics of Nigerian ‘Pride’

For a long time, queer Nigerians have created spaces that affirm and celebrate queer identities. That these efforts aren’t public marches with international media coverage or corporate sponsorship does not make them any less valid.


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The Politics of Nigerian ‘Pride’

For a long time, queer Nigerians have created spaces that affirm and celebrate queer identities. That these efforts aren’t public marches with international media coverage or corporate sponsorship does not make them any less valid.

Did you know Pride celebrations began as a riot, a revolution, and a call for liberation? In the early hours of 28 June 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City in the US, arresting patrons and forcing them into police vehicles. However, instead of succumbing to this act of state-sponsored homophobia, patrons from other lesbian and gay bars in the area, trans activists, and unhoused LGBTQIA+ folks fought back, forcing the homophobic police force to retreat. The riots continued over the next few nights, culminating in a march to Central Park the following year. This march adopted the theme of ‘Gay Pride’ to counter the shame society had taught LGBTQ+ individuals to feel. 

Pride has become a powerful emblem of identity and resistance worldwide. Due to the courage of the Stonewall patrons and generations of LGBTQIA+ activists, parts of the world are now safer and more accepting of queer people than they were just a few years ago. In countries with progressive stances on LGBTQIA+ rights, Pride celebrations are grand, public, and commercially sponsored events. 

As the supposed global acceptance of LGBTQIA+ rights continues to grow, the corporate incentive for brands and companies to participate in Pride has also increased. Brands position themselves as allies while finding ways to profit from the commercialization of Pride Month. Marketing during Pride not only attracts new business but also cultivates repeat customers, as LGBTQIA+ individuals tend to support brands that align with their values—even if these brands do little more than add rainbow stripes to their products. 

Pride celebrations originated as profoundly political acts, during an era devoid of tolerance or rights for LGBTQIA+ individuals. The primary objective of these early Pride events was to create a reality where LGBTQIA+ people would no longer have to struggle for basic rights and acceptance. However, in many Western countries today, Pride has transformed into a festive celebration rather than a political statement, likely due to the seeming significant strides made toward acceptance and tolerance. While various groups recognize the political history of Pride and still approach the celebrations with this mindset, the perceived progress made by LGBTQIA+ people in Western spaces, combined with the West’s desire to be seen as a haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals (whether true or not), has led to a degree of leniency that dilutes the political potential of Pride. This leniency has also opened the door to capitalist interests, resulting in the commercialization and commodification of Pride. 


As the global movement for LGBTQIA+ rights gains momentum, the challenges facing queer individuals in various regions of the world come into sharper focus. In Nigeria, the journey towards acceptance and visibility for LGBTQIA+ individuals is fraught with significant legal and social barriers. This legal backdrop creates a hostile environment for any public display of queer identity, making traditional Western-style Pride parades and events a complex, impractical and often dangerous endeavour. 

In Nigeria, the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, passed in 2014, criminalizes both direct and indirect public displays of homosexual relationships. Additionally, the Penal Code criminalizes various forms of gender nonconformity by prohibiting individuals from wearing clothing traditionally associated with the opposite gender. These laws effectively make it impossible for queer individuals to express themselves freely at any public Pride event, as these activities would be perceived as promoting or celebrating same-sex relationships. This draconian legal framework is compounded by a social climate that is overwhelmingly hostile to LGBTQIA+ individuals. Homophobia is deeply entrenched in many parts of Nigerian society, influenced by conservative religious beliefs. Both Christianity and Islam, the two dominant religions in Nigeria, generally hold conservative views on sexuality and gender, often condemning homosexuality as immoral or sinful. These religious and societal attitudes are reinforced by political leaders who use anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric to garner support and deflect attention from other pressing issues. 

As a result, many Nigerians view LGBTQIA+ identities and relationships as aberrant and unacceptable. This societal hostility manifests in various forms, including discrimination, harassment, and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals. In this environment, organizing or attending a Pride event would be deemed illegal and given that homophobic Nigerians often take it upon themselves to enforce these laws, participants face numerous risks. These include the threat of arrest, physical assault, public shaming, being outed, and the subsequent repercussions—ranging from losing one’s job to being ostracized by family and community. 

Furthermore, the lack of legal protections exacerbates the vulnerability of LGBTQIA+ individuals. Unlike in some countries where anti-discrimination laws offer a degree of protection against bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Nigeria provides no such safeguards. This absence of legal recourse leaves LGBTQIA+ individuals without protection in the workplace, in housing, and in accessing public services, further marginalizing an already vulnerable community. 


Despite the legal and social challenges, some queer organizations endeavour to participate in Pride celebrations in a manner akin to those in countries without such restrictions. However, the transplantation of Western models to Nigerian contexts presents unique challenges and raises critical questions about authenticity, safety, and community engagement. 

Western notions of Pride have heavily influenced Nigerian perceptions of what Pride should look like. In Western spaces, Pride parades are typically grand, colourful events with corporate sponsorships and extensive media coverage. Every year, most LGBTQIA+ Nigerians join in Pride-related conversations wondering when they too might get to experience similar celebrations. Unfortunately, the focus on public celebration in the West may not be feasible or safe in a country where LGBTQIA+ individuals face legal and social repercussions. Furthermore, with the Western gaze and its emphasis on commercialized and highly visible Pride events, Western organizers can inadvertently pressure local activists and communities to adopt similar approaches, often to their detriment. 

As capitalism persists, various LGBTQ+ people and groups within the West have critiqued the evolution of Pride. They argue that Pride has become a highly commercial and corporate-sponsored event, sometimes criticized for losing its radical roots in favour of corporate endorsements. Many companies take advantage of this month to further their businesses and increase sales. Many businesses come out with new highly priced merchandise and branding just for Pride month to show their support and then justify this commodification by donating a small percentage of their profits to LGBTQIA+ charities. However, rarely does this make any tangible change for LGBTQIA+ individuals, especially for Black and other minoritized LGBTQIA+ identities who bear the brunt of queerphobic violence.  

In 2021, McDonald’s and Amazon released promotional materials in support of Pride, but an Insider investigation uncovered that these companies donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to congresspeople who voted against the Equality Act in the United States. This Act aimed to increase protections for LGBTQIA+ individuals and ban discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. 

The commercialization of Pride by Western brands allows them to engage in virtue-signalling—appearing progressive without making substantial efforts to combat queerphobia. This performative support often masks their complicity in backing policies and politicians that harm the very communities they claim to support.

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While this commercialization has its drawbacks, it is considered empowering by some as it reflects a level of societal acceptance and legal protection that is supposedly absent in Nigeria. The flashy, corporate-sponsored parades seen in cities like New York and London do not necessarily translate to the Nigerian context. They are impractical and potentially dangerous in a Nigerian setting, where safety and visibility are major concerns as even gathering publicly as LGBTQIA+ individuals can lead to arrest or violence. Still, the Western gaze heavily influences how organizers in Nigeria celebrate Pride, often leading to a disconnect between the original intent of Pride and its local manifestations. 

In 2019, Bisi Alimi, the founder of the Bisi Alimi Foundation, organized a private event, which he promoted as Nigeria’s first Pride celebration. The event’s secrecy was so stringent that no information about its date, venue, or details was shared with the broader LGBTQ+ community. Instead, people awoke to tweets and Instagram posts from celebrities and socialites, boasting about their attendance at Nigeria’s inaugural Pride event. Alimi took to his Instagram story to celebrate the turnout of stars and celebrities, highlighting his remarkable achievement of pulling off a Pride celebration in Nigeria. 

The portrayal of Alimi’s event as the first Pride celebration in Nigeria overlooks the ongoing efforts of local activists and organizations like The Initiative for Equal Rights, Women’s Health and Equal Rights initiatives, Equality Hub and other queer focused organisations who have been tirelessly working under far more challenging conditions. These grassroots efforts have been the backbone of the LGBTQIA+ movement in Nigeria, and the blatant erasure of these efforts has raised concerns about the potential attention seeking among self-acclaimed activists, who arguably appear more focused on gaining international recognition than creating genuine community engagement. 

Alimi’s event also faced significant criticism for its secrecy and perceived elitism. For one, it was hosted at a diplomatic residence thus appearing to cater exclusively to celebrities and upper-class Nigerians while deliberately excluding the larger queer community. There were also reports of queer individuals, who having heard about the event through the grapevine, attempted to attend but were denied entry. This led to debates about whether an exclusive event so shrouded in secrecy could genuinely qualify as a Pride event. One of the critics was queer rights activist, Pamela Adie, who took to her X (formerly Twitter) account to challenge Alimi’s claim of organizing the first-ever LGBTQIA+ gathering in Lagos. She also pointed out the conspicuous absence of well-known queer Nigerians and other community members. 

Events like Alimi’s Pride align closely with mainstream Western Pride celebrations. For instance, London Pride has faced accusations of being exclusionary to certain queer communities, leading to the creation of events like UK Black Pride and London Trans Pride, which provide different communities who identify as LGBTQIA+ a space to celebrate in protest. 

Evidently, even the Western model of Pride has become fragmented. Thus, in Alimi’s quest to be the first to bring this Western model of Pride to Nigeria, Alimi replicated this fragmented approach. 

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Following the heavy critique of Bisi Alimi’s event, some activists argued that Pride in Nigeria should be a more visible event. Consequently, in 2022, we saw the birth of Pride in Lagos, founded by community manager, Kayode Timileyin. Timileyin’s motivation for creating Pride in Lagos was to experience Pride in the same public way it is celebrated in Western countries, describing this style of celebration as a form of liberation. In his words: 

Last year, after we were done with Glow-Up Pride 2021, a virtual event, I told the team I wanted to organize Pride in Lagos, I wanted to have people travel down [to the city], instead of the modus operandi of queer Africans travelling across the world to experience liberation. 

The week-long Pride in Lagos event included panel discussions, movie and art exhibitions, drag performances, and a closing ball. Once again, the event was promoted as unprecedented in Nigeria, branding it in some publications as the first Pride event in general and in others as the first of its kind. 

It seemed Alimi’s event being dismissed as a legitimate pride celebration left the title of ‘first’ up for grabs. This void allowed the organizers of Pride in Lagos, who also closely mimicked Western pride celebrations, to assert themselves as the first official Pride event. However, this claim might have gone uncontested if not for hFactor—a collective dedicated to creating safe spaces for queer individuals—strongly condemning the assertion.  

An initial headline of a Dazed article reporting on the Pride in Lagos event read, ‘What it was like to attend Nigeria’s first-ever pride event’. This headline was screenshot and uploaded by a member of hFactor on their Instagram story, where they labelled the assertion as ignorant and expressed their disappointment in the Pride in Lagos organizers. hFactor argued that Pride in Lagos was not the first pride event, challenging the organizers’ self-proclaimed title. The organizers of hFactor took to their Instagram story to remind everyone that a year before Pride in Lagos, they had hosted an eight-day pride event from 28 June to 3 July 2021. This event included panel discussions, film screenings, a queer ball, and an after-party. They also offered ‘pay what you can afford’ merchandise, ensuring accessibility for everyone interested. By hFactor’s reasoning, if they had accomplished everything Pride in Lagos did, but in 2021, they should be recognized as the organizers of Nigeria’s first Pride event.

The organizers of Pride in Lagos later backtracked, claiming they never stated it was the first Pride event in Nigeria. The debate intensified, with other LGBTQIA+ Nigerians sharing their thoughts on X about the misleading and incorrect headline. Eventually, Dazed and other international publications, which initially reported Pride in Lagos as the first Nigerian Pride event, revised their article headlines.


Since the 2019 tussle for the position of the first Pride planner, Nigerian activists have increasingly imitated Western models of Pride, inching closer each year to the commercialization rampant in the West. Unfortunately, in the absence of Nigerian corporations to capitalize on Pride Month, it appears that non-profit organizations—ostensibly dedicated to supporting at-risk queer individuals—are jumping on the bandwagon, transforming their Pride celebrations into marketable events. This trend is particularly troubling in Nigeria, where the focus shifts from genuine activism and support to profit and personal gain. 

This year, Pride in Lagos released a line of Pride merchandise, with some items priced as high as N100,000. The logic behind this pricing strategy is similar to that of big corporations selling overpriced merchandise under the guise of donating a percentage of the profits to LGBTQIA+ organizations. Queer organizations like Pride in Lagos can argue that the proceeds from their merchandise will go back to support the community, but this approach raises important questions about accessibility and the true spirit of Pride.

The social capital, funding and monetary profits that come with organizing this commercialized model of Pride explain why the scramble to be recognized as the first organizer of a Pride event in Nigeria exists. Activists and queer organizations often feel compelled to be the first to amplify their reach for international funding and reap the benefits of Western financial support. For the Western funders, the narrative that 2022 marks Nigeria’s first Pride celebration fits their voyeuristic view of our society as regressive, so they do not fact-check the claims made by these activists and journalists. In turn, local organizers exploit this lack of verification to secure more resources and funding for their work, further positioning themselves as pioneers. This then justifies their status in the queer community and facilitates their mission of commercialization and commodification.  

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The adoption of Western models of Pride celebration, though well-intentioned, is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive in Nigeria as it doesn’t take into consideration our unique cultural and historical contexts. Pride, as celebrated in the West, is rooted in a very specific historical and cultural context and Pride celebrations in Western countries are a tribute to this history. The symbols and modes of celebration are not universally resonant as they reflect the experiences and struggles of a particular community in a specific part of the world. Since queer people are not a monolithic group, and a myriad of issues affect different segments of LGBTQIA+ people in the world, importing this Western model wholesale into Nigeria not only overlooks the complex realities and history of our own queer community but also risks perpetuating alienation and exclusion due to factors such as class and location, and inadvertently creates more discord amongst LGBTQIA+ Nigerians.  

Queer identities in Nigeria are fluid and evolving, influenced by indigenous cultures and unique local histories. To impose a Western framework of Pride on this identity is to disregard the rich cultural experiences that make up our queer community. It also risks alienating those for whom the Western narrative of Pride does not resonate.  

The celebration of queer identities in Nigeria should emerge organically from our own context and experiences, not be imposed from outside. This is a long-standing problem that cannot be fully explored in this article; however, perhaps what we need is a deeper understanding of what it means to live and exist as a queer person in Nigeria. This requires us to learn Nigeria’s queer history, to understand the stories of our queer ancestors, their struggles, and how these shape our aspirations. It means recognizing and honouring the contributions of those who have fought for LGBTQIA+ rights in Nigeria, even if their actions did not make headlines. Only then can we begin to envision a form of celebration that is authentic to our context. 

Such a celebration might look very different from Western Pride parades. It could be more understated, more community-focused, and more integrated into the broader fabric of Nigerian society. It might involve private gatherings, cultural events, or initiatives that promote education and awareness rather than public parades and commercialized merchandise. For instance, there are night raves and community house parties that occur regularly and provide a space for queer people to exist, bond, and heal through the power of music. Cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt have always had a vibrant ballroom culture that embody the nuances of ballroom beyond mainstream Western representations, offering community for queer individuals rejected by their families. SS24 and other queer filmmakers host movie nights showcasing indie films that portray queerness authentically. The Initiative for Equal Rights organizes a monthly Open House, where queer people can engage in relaxing activities like playing games, watching movies, performing open mic poetry, or singing karaoke. Additionally, every day through fashion and more overt means queer youths protest policies that infringe on their rights.  

It would seem that for us, we can and do celebrate Pride regularly, we just don’t call it that. Queer Nigerians have always created spaces where we feel seen, heard, celebrated, and respected in ways that resonate with our lived experiences. This is a significant victory and something to take pride in. The fact that these spaces don’t resemble public marches with international media coverage or corporate sponsorship does not make them any less valid

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