Imagine having to leave your country, your home, because of who you are and who you love. Imagine fighting for your right and the right of others to be – just to be – and endangering your life because of it.
Davis Mac-Iyalla left his country of Nigeria in 2006 because he was attacked in the street for who he is. Davis is gay and an LGBT activist who has challenged the authorities in Nigeria to gain his right to exist since the early 1990s. Whilst being out of the closet is already a crime at the eyes of the Nigerian society, Mac-Iyalla’s voice against persecution and prejudice has brought him unwanted and sometimes violent attention; in 2003 he was fired from his job and he believes this was due to his sexual orientation.
“Nigeria is a risky place to live for gay people, but very dangerous if you are an activist,” he explained. “And have a voice to challenge not only the government but the powerful Anglican church of Nigeria who has never relented in its effort in supporting the government to pass an anti-same-sex marriage bill.”
After years of witnessing the Anglican Church of Nigeria deny the existence of his community and mistreating its homosexual members, Mac-Iyalla decided to be the LGBT voice of change in West Africa. In a place with a widespread lack of care for human rights, the strength of the Church is not only heightened by the support of political leaders, but also pollutes the minds of the people.
“The Nigeria leaders have no respect for human rights and this is worst for LGBTs but my greatest opposition comes from the religious sector.”
Mac-Iyalla has been involved with LGBT activism since the first gay organization in Nigeria was founded, the Alliance. He moved on to found his own organization Changing Attitude Nigeria, a branch of Changing Attitude England, an institution that works for the inclusion and acceptance of the LGBT community worldwide. The non-profit set up believes sexual orientation is not a choice, but a God-given reality and it urges the church to stop repressing gay, bisexual and transgendered people in all parts of the world.
“I wanted to be a voice of change not just for myself but for all LGBT people in Nigeria,” he said.
Now, the muscle of the Anglican Church and its powerful supporters have pushed a bill that would make Mac-Iyalla’s existence a real crime in the eyes of his government.
The new law would make same-sex marriage a crime, as well as witnessing a gay marriage or supporting a same-sex relationship in any way. Same-sex marriage perpetrators might face 14 years in prison.
“I will like to remind Nigerian’s leaders that LGBT rights are Human Rights and that Nigeria should be governed by is constitution and not by their individual faith beliefs,” declares Mac-Iyalla about the draconian bill.
“In both Islam and in Christianity is the basic belief in the inherent dignity and sacredness of all human beings; the legislators are not being true to their religious beliefs.”
During the month of November, President Goodluck Jonathan was under extreme pressure to veto the bill, that passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Mac-Iyalla thinks pressure will be indispensable for the law to be binned.
He said: “We will keep putting the pressure on the government of Nigeria to treat all its citizens fairly and equally and respect human rights. We need to get the word out to the international community.”
Last year, Uganda tried to pass a “Kill the Gays” bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. The bill was submitted in 2009, but international outrage has caused it to be tabled without a vote three times. Although it was reintroduced last February, Barclays is now supporting the petition which will hopefully help it be tabled again – and in the best case scenario in will be binned altogether.
“I hate [the Kill the Gays bill] and such bill should never been drafted in the first place. There is no real difference between the Nigeria and Uganda bill,” said Mac-Iyalla. “They are both oppressive and draconian and bear in mind their Sharia legal system in Northern Nigeria which also carries a death sentence.”
Despite all this, Mac-Iyalla has been seeing slow progress in his nation that stemmed from LGBT activism.
“I have seen great and slow progress because attitudes are changing in the grassroots and the issue of Nigeria LGBT has become more known in the public.”
But what about on a personal level? Together, the LGBT community can do so much, but what about people who are just starting to discover who they are? What would Mac-Iyalla say to young gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals who live in a hostile society and are struggling to be themselves?
“There have been LGBT people since humanity began and they have only been accepted in some societies in the last couple of decades. Before that, they found ways of finding each other. It will be hard, you will suffer, but you can also find other people like you.”
Photo by marymactavish / Flicker Creative Commons License.