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Interviews, News

Micheal Ighodaro is an Assisant Professor in Global LGBTI Studies at The New School University in New York. He is among activists fighting for laws and attitudes affecting LGBT people in countries across the world. In 2015, Ighodaro was named a White House Honoree and a World Refugee Champion of Change for his work with the New York-based Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coaltion (AVAC) and the Housing Works organisation which helps people coping with HIV/Aids and homelessness. He more recently became a board member for Outright International, which fights for LGBT rights worldwide.

 

 
In a recent interview with INDEPENDENT UK, when asked the issues facing LGBT people in Nigeria, Ighodaro said, “Being punished with 14 years in prison is a big issue but also the continuous attack on LGBT people. About the 50 gay men were arrested at a birthday party recently but those things happen often in Nigeria. It’s not just about changing a law but about changing mind sets. We need to show that LGBT people are just like every other human in the street. The second issue is the poverty of LGBT people that we don’t talk about so much. A lot of us are made to leave school and can’t get jobs. People are living in very hostile environments that aren’t fit for humans. We talk about HIV and laws, which is great, but these issues are killing gay people more than the law. They can’t even afford to eat and that is a real issue.”

 

 

Photo Credit: Micheal Ighodaro/Facebook

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Interviews, News

In the lead-up to IDAHOT (the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia) 2017, UNAIDS spoke with Kene Esom, the Executive Director of AMSHeR. AMSHeR promotes non-discrimination, particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and advocates for access to quality health services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Africa.

 

Tell us about the changes across the African continent since AMSHeR started nine years ago

AMSHeR was established to address discrimination and human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the disproportionate vulnerability to HIV of men who have sex with men and the policy and social barriers that hinder access to services for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Africa.

African LGBT people are bringing the issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights into regional and global policy and legal spaces and are making the African LGBT experience the basis of policy, service delivery and funding decisions on Africa.

 

African LGBT people are bringing the issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights

Never before has there been more visibility and interest in LGBT issues and understanding of the experience and needs of African LGBT people and effective representation of African LGBT communities in the global discourse. This is largely because of AMSHeR’s courageous mandate to make African LGBT people the faces and voices of inclusion in Africa and by so doing put LGBT inclusion on the agenda of African states and policy-makers as well as human rights and social justice movements.

 

 

What made you focus your recent campaign on engaging with faith leaders?

It is widely accepted that religion and religious leaders have a great influence on political leaders and in African society. The widespread intolerance, discrimination and violence against people based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and lack of access to health services, may be attributed to a highly religious environment that has normalized heterosexuality and patriarchy while demonizing sexual diversity.

Religion-inspired discrimination is very rife, particularly in Africa. The experiences of African LGBT people have been varied, from torture and inhumane treatment in the form of exorcism and conversion therapy, to mob violence incited by religious leaders from the pulpits, to the experiences of religious leaders sitting on national health agencies blocking attempts to provide health and rights services to LGBT people, to religious leaders actively sponsoring discriminatory legislation.

 

Religion-inspired discrimination is very rife, particularly in Africa

Religious leaders, because of their respected positions in society, are critical in addressing issues of stigma and discrimination as well as upholding the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation, and, even more importantly, have emerged as strategically placed in discourses on HIV, sexuality and spirituality.

AMSHeR appreciates the role that religious leaders play, but at times they perpetuate discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that is why, since 2015, under our Integrating Spirituality and Sexuality project, we have been working with religious leaders and LGBT people of faith to address these issues.

We have partnered with leaders of faith-based communities to initiate dialogue between institutions and LGBT communities in order to find common ground to integrate spirituality and sexuality. This has been done following lessons learned on how faith-based organizations have been integral in advocating for non-discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV. Faith-based organizations have proved to be allies to many civil society organizations in pushing for non-discrimination and stigma against people living with HIV. As part of its work, AMSHeR has released a documentary, Queer Voices of Faith, for IDAHOT 2017.

 

 

As part of its work, AMSHeR has released a documentary, Queer Voices of Faith, for IDAHOT 2017.

You are a Nigerian working in South Africa for a pan-African organization. What motivates you?

Whether in Nigeria, South Africa, Mozambique or Morocco, I am amazed at the remarkable kindred spirit that connects African societies. I consider myself a pan-Africanist, I believe there is more that connects us than otherwise, despite our diversities, and I celebrate Africa’s diversity and the values that unite us. AMSHeR has been a perfect vehicle to express my pan-African ideals and promote the quest for social justice across Africa.

 

 

What do you see as the future on the continent for LGBT people?

The future of LGBT people in Africa is to strengthen the movement that is now under way in which LGBT people, their leaders and other advocates are steadily seeking to realize their fundamental human rights, including the rights to equality and non‐discrimination, the highest attainable standard of health, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, freedom from unlawful arrest and detention and equal access to justice.

I see a future and it is a bright one. A lot has changed since 2009, when AMSHeR came into operation. We have taken and continue to take incremental steps towards achieving the full inclusion of African LGBT people as equal citizens of Africa. The tide is flowing in one direction and it is in the right direction.

I see a future and it is a bright one.

 

This year’s theme for IDAHOT is family. What does family mean to you?

Family is a bond of love as opposed to biology and all families, in whatever shape or form, should be afforded the same protection and recognition from a legal and ideological perspective. Africa is replete with different expressions of family and we celebrate the role that families play in shaping society. It is also imperative to acknowledge that it is through families that we can reframe respect for diversity and unlearn the prejudice that is at the root of the discrimination that LGBT people face today.

 

It is through families that we can reframe respect for diversity

Source: UNAIDS.ORG

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Interviews, News

International award-winning novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was in Lagos during the summer of 2016 where she taught a writing workshop as part of an annual event that sees her shuttling between Nigeria and the US. The writing workshop ended in a question-and-answer session, during which a young man asked Adichie a question. She told The Guardian of UK in a recent interview that she recalled the young man saying, “I used to love you. I’ve read all your books. But since you started this whole feminism thing, and since you started to talk about this gay thing, I’m just not sure about you any more. How do you intend to keep the love of people like me?” Adichie said her friends were furious at the young man’s question, but she rather liked his bravery and honesty in asking. She replied him saying, “Keep your love. Because, sadly, while I love to be loved, I will not accept your love if it comes with these conditions.”

 
Click here for Adichie’s interview with The Guardian of UK

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Interviews, News

Renowned author, activist, and writing teacher at the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, Unoma Azuah is one of Africa’s big forces championing causes for LGBTQI rights in Nigeria. With many publications to her credit, the award-winning author recently published ‘Blessed Body: Secret Lives of LGBT Nigerians’, a book on the lives of LGBT Nigerians. On 14th February 2017, she will be speaking at Yale University on ‘Visual Activisim for the African LGBT: A look at the documentary ‘Born This Way’. In this interview with ATTITUDE, Unoma Azuah speaks on her role as a teacher, researcher, and activist. Excerpts:

 

 

 

Tell us a bit about your work over the last year.

This year I started some research on how documentaries can be used as a tool of advocacy to fight homophobia in Africa, especially with the recent release of documentaries like “The Veil of Silence,” “Born This Way,” and “Hell or High Waters.” Because movies/documentaries stir people’s interest more, they stimulate curiosity and interest, then engage people’s attention for a longer span of time. In that way, the experience of accepting a story is made more real and more active. People forget many things easily, but a visual experience can make sure ideas and concepts are permanently etched in their minds.

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Additionally, the most ambitious work I have done in the last year is collaborating with Queer Alliance, a Nigerian based human rights, health advocacy and support group for the LGBTQI community, to do the ground work on collecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender true life stories. It involved interviewing, gathering, editing and publishing Blessed Body: the secret lives of the Nigerian LGBT community. The project was inspired by the appalling fact that on the 7th of January, 2014, the Nigerian government passed a law that approved state-sanctioned homophobia. Since then, Nigeria’s LGBTQI population has lived in terror with little to none-existent self-dignity. I believe that these narratives can change the way we are perceived. The intent of the book as well is to give a firsthand insight into the plight of the LGBTQI Nigerians and ultimately inspire calls for constitutional and policy reforms that protect the fundamental human rights of this marginalized community.

Nigeria’s LGBTQI population has lived in terror with little to none-existent self-dignity

 

unoma azuah interview

Has your work endangered you?

My work has gotten me death threats, stigmatization, hate mail and often when people recognize me in public they insult me and tell me that I am a disgrace to my family and my country. I have attended conferences where Nigerian academicians called me an embarrassment. What I represent as a sexual minority attracts danger like a magnet, especially in a country like Nigeria where more than ninety percent of its population is homophobic.

 

I will keep fighting for LGBTQI rights till I draw my last breath.

 

Also, as a lesbian in a hyper religious and a patriarchal country like Nigerian, I am reminded of what Dr. Chimaroke O. Izugbara, said: “Homosexuality is one of the strongest challenges to patriarchy,” and therefore “is framed as an unruly force which threatens humanity at large and has to be kept perfectly under control, by violence, if necessary.” Either way, it does not deter me. I will keep fighting for LGBTQI rights till I draw my last breath.

 

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Considering your focus on LGBTQI issues, how difficult is it to get published in Nigeria?

Difficult is an understatement. There are no known publishing houses in Nigerian that cater to LGBTQI themed works. I don’t know of any that would seek, support, encourage an LGBTQI themed work, talk more of publishing such. Even newspapers in Nigeria have policies against LGBTQI topics. For those that do feature homosexual subjects, their agenda is simply to sensationalize LGBTQI matters so that LGBTQI people attract more hate and disgust. Therefore, their plan is to incite more violence against the LGBTQI community in Nigeria. The hostility geared toward LGBTQI publications is one of the reasons why I started the publishing firm, Cookingpotbooks in the United States.

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How has the response from the public been to your work?

It has been quite impressive. Many from the community have reached out to express their appreciation for an outlet, and for the possibility of claiming their voice. So a good number have reached out to say thank you for the platform that offers them visibility and a voice.

 

Are you seeing support growing for LGBTQI issues?

I think a lot of awareness is being created in Nigeria on issues LGBT. There has been a tremendous increase in the number of bloggers giving attention to LGBTQI concerns in Nigeria; there are blogs like Kito Dairies and platforms like NoStrings that push the LGBTQI topic out there to give a positive orientation about LGBTQI people and their lives.

 

 

How important is art in the fight for equality and human rights? Is it often overlooked?

A multiplicity of mediums especially in the area of visual and creative art is important. These mediums give direct messages. They are immediate and are easily consumed. I agree with Sam Kauffman, a professor of film in Boston University, when he says that “…the job of documentary filmmakers…is to shed some light on a neglected people or issue.” So, yes, the art should be in the forefront as an arsenal for educating and re-educating on LGBTQI topics. One of the most popular creative outlets for Nigerians is the Nigerian movie industry known as Nollywood. Nonetheless, when this industry engages the LGBTQI premise, it’s always from an extreme dimension. Hence, the topic is either overlooked or even when it is considered, the LGBTQI plot is demonized. Therefore, we need to start telling our own stories; it’s urgent that we start re-“righting” our narratives.

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Why do you think academia remains silent on LGBTQI issues?

Most Nigerian academicians are afraid of the backlash. They fear being humiliated or labelled as supporting LGBTQI rights. They fear the repercussion that they would be perceived as rebelling against their culture and religion. Sadly, the impression is that homosexuality is imported, therefore it’s UnAfrican. However, sexuality is a human phenomenon. It is not restricted to particular races or people. Besides, before sodomy laws were introduced by colonialists, non-heterosexual practices certainly existed in Africa—among the Nilotico Langa men in Uganda, for instance, in the Azande community of northern Congo, and among the Dan Daudu in northern Nigeria. And of course, single-sex relationships existed in south eastern Nigeria as Ifi Amadiume explored in her book Male Daughters, Female Husbands. Most, if not every major institution in Nigeria is silent about the LGBTQI issue. It is a taboo subject. I remember how the room for the presentation of my paper “The Emerging Lesbian Voice in the Nigerian Feminist Literature,” was basically overrun when it was first presented in Germany. So, the hostility spills over from religious to legislative to education·

 

 

What’s on the agenda for 2017?

I have a number of projects for 2017. Some of them include researching and contributing to a forthcoming publication of a world encyclopaedia about LGBTQI issues. I will be contributing the entry for Nigeria. In addition, I will continue work on researching and reviewing African LGBTQI documentaries and then starting volume two of Blessed Body: The Secret Lives of the Nigerian LGBTQI Community.

 

 

Interview by ATTITUDE MAGAZINE

 

 

 

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