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Nigeria's LGBTQ Community Fights Restrictive Cross-Dressing Bill

File - Men charged with public displays of affection with members of the same sex sit inside a court in Lagos, Nigeria Oct. 27, 2020.

Dressed in rainbow-colored vests, members of the LGBTQ community marched in a risky demonstration in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, to protest a bill introduced by lawmakers in Nigeria's lower house of parliament last month seeking to ban cross-dressing.

The new measure calls for a punishment of six months in jail or a fine of about $1,200 for cross-dressers.

A mob chattered as a transgender woman was beaten and stripped in Lagos weeks after the bill was introduced.

This is an outcome LGBTQ activists feared and the reason they say they’re fighting back. Kayode Ani is a chair at the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation, or QUEST9ja.

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

The cross-dressing bill is an expanded version of Nigeria's 2013 Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that punishes gay sex with up to 14 years in prison.

The bill would allow comedians to cross-dress for entertainment purposes, but activists say it will worsen the existing violence against nonbinary or transgender people.

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.”

Public displays like holding hands by sexual minority groups are outlawed in many African countries where authorities often cite religious and moral reasons.

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.

Many LGBTQ advocates like Empress Cookie are hoping the president doesn't sign it.