By Chioma Udeh
LAGOS (Reuters) - Nigerians who say a new online fashion magazine promotes homosexuality by featuring men wearing makeup or clad only in miniskirts have misunderstood its agenda, according to its founder.
Homosexual acts are banned in Nigeria carrying a penalty of up to 14 years in prison and the magazine, called A Nasty Boy, has provoked strong reactions from some Nigerians since it started in February in the commercial capital Lagos.
"Nasty Boy is not a gay publication," said Richard Akuson, its founder and editorial director. It is "an issue-based fashion publication that pushes for conversations around gender, feminism, masculinity", said the 23-year-old law graduate.
Critics are sticking to rigid gender definitions that the publication seeks to subvert, he said. Opinions of A Nasty Boy were mixed in the capital, Abuja.
"They have a right to freedom of speech and the moment you start impinging that freedom then every publication, every media, is under threat," said hotelier Stephen Ajayi.
Market trader Ayokanmi Otulano said the government should crack down on the website because it promoted homosexuality.
"These are abominations unto God," she said.
A Nasty Boy is an example of the flourishing media scene and business culture in Nigeria, which is Africa's biggest democracy. It also reflects the growth of a more public debate in some parts of the continent about gender issues.
The magazine has been profiled in international fashion publications and that interest has sparked a plan to expand the team of five freelance writers, an editor and photographers and set up a twice-yearly print publication, Akuson said.
"I have realised that in Nigeria Nasty Boy would continue to be a niche publication but that is fine because we cater to a global audience," he said.
The September issue includes an essay by a 17-year-old feminist poet, a profile of an agency that supplies androgynous models and photographs billed as "a visual story about Nigerian boys who wear dresses".
(Additional reporting by Angela Ukomadu, Seun Sanni and Abraham Terngu in Abuja; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)