Nigerian LGBT+ people are being given a new app to speak with each other and get help – free of the blackmail that plagues social media in the country.
Nigeria is one of the toughest places in the world to be lesbian, gay, bi or trans. People who have gay sex face 14 years in jail – or even the death penalty in states with Shari’a law.
But now LGBT+ Nigerian media advocacy organisation NoStrings Development Initiatives has launched an app to help.
The Qtalk app gives users free access to LGBT+ friendly therapists. And they can even reach out for legal support and advice if they need it. In addition, users can chat together on forums or by private message.
Mike Daemon, executive director of the organization, said: ‘Gay Nigerians like me go through hell every single day just trying to survive.
‘This takes a toll on our mental health. And given the society’s hypocrisy towards people of my kind, we are constantly being forced to stay silent and isolated.
‘So I am super-excited to have been a part of this project as well as seeing it come to reality.’
Phone app blackmail and entrapment in Nigeria
Daemon told GSN that other LGBT+ apps have created problems for Nigerians.
‘There have been several cases of blackmail and extortion of LGBTIQ+ people who use social media hook-up platforms such as Grindr, Tinder and even Facebook.
‘Other times, they are kidnapped, lured to locations where they are arrested by the police and made to pay ransom or bail before they are released. This is one of the major challenges LGBTIQ+ face whilst hooking up on social media.’
In one case a teen chatted to another teenager for two months on a phone app before agreeing to meet. But when he got to his new friend’s house, five teenagers held him at knifepoint.
They took his cash, phone, school bag and his ATM card, which they used to empty is account of his savings.
In another case, a man met a budding actor at a barbers’ shop and later asked him for sex. When the actor refused, the man overpowered him, stripped him and threatened that his friends would rape him. He took nude photos of the actor to blackmail him.
And involving Nigeria’s police can just make the situation worse. In a case in August last year, the victim called a ‘friendly’ police officer. But when the police arrived, they arrested the blackmailer but also forced the victim to pay a fine before they would release him.
At the moment 47 men are on trial in Nigeria after a police raid on a party in the capital, Lagos in 2018. They deny being gay but face 10 years jail if convicted.
Designing out attacks
Daemon told GSN they had deliberately designed Qtalk to avoid these problems.
‘Qtalk is not a hook-up app. The purpose of the app is to provide members of the community a safe space where they can engage meaningfully with each other without worrying about their identity being exposed.
‘So we advise users not to share their personal or sensitive information with anyone on the platform.
‘We believe everyone will be safe using the app if they do not meet anyone outside the app. Most of the blackmail cases happen on hook-up apps, where people lure fellow users to locations where they can harm them.
‘We have community guidelines and safety tips. Also, there’s also a feature that allows users to report each other if they go against the community guidelines.’
Helping LGBT+ Nigerians get help
In fact, the main purpose of the app is not the community forums, but giving Nigerians access to help.
Daemon says: ‘The actual purpose of the app is to connect members of the community to certified therapists and legal experts who will then be able to provide them with professional counseling and advice should they need it.
‘Access to these services and usage of the app is completely free. Registered counselors on the platform all provide their services on a volunteer basis.
‘I am hoping members of the community will be able to get the help that they need and deserve. And I am very sure that many lives will be saved through this app.’
NoStrings has limited resources. But Daemon is hoping for new collaborations to get the app onto IOS for iPhone users. Meanwhile Android users can download Qtalk from the Google Play store.
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Author: Tris Reid-Smith