In an interview with the Independent, LGBT+ activist Micheal Ighodaro has described what it was like growing up in Nigeria, a country with colonial era anti-gay laws still in place.
Ighodaro recalls that he first learnt about what it meant to be gay when he was in primary school.
“We were preparing for our graduation ceremony before high school and I told my teacher that I wanted to be with the girls during the performance.
“And he said ‘yes Michael you do that a lot lately, you have that homosexual tendency.’
“I didn’t know what that, so I asked my mum. I said ‘my teacher thinks I’m homosexual’. She got really angry but it was what she was already thinking. She didn't let me go to my graduation.
“That made me realise that what I was saying wasn’t OK. So I tried for a while to change. I even tried to have girlfriends but that didn’t work, so I got back to my usual self."
“It got to the point where my dad couldn't accept me anymore. One night, I went out with my friends and came back late. I was feeling a bit confident. That was the first time I had met other people like me. I wasn't scared of what my family would think. When I came back home my dad said 'that’s it we can’t have someone who's gay in the house.’ So they asked me to leave. My dad banned the family from speaking to me. No one spoke to me for 12 years.”
He says this experience was not unusual for LGBT+ teens in Nigeria.
“I had a few friends who also dropped out of school because their parents found out they are gay or lesbian so we became close friends. That was how I started doing LGBT activism. I was one of the eldest in my group, some were 14 or 15-years-old. But we stood with each other. We would sleep under a bridge or on the buses or at a friends' houses. It was important to be there for each other.”
After leaving home, Ighodaro faced violence and discrimination because of his sexuality. He describes being unable to tell authorities when he was attacked by homophobes—who broke his hands and ribs—while waiting for a taxi in Abuja.
"I couldn't go to the hospital to get treatment or to the police to report what had happened because I didn’t feel comfortable telling them I was beaten because I’m gay. So I had to visit the nurse in my office," says Ighodaro.
The 30-year-old left Nigeria following the attack and sought asylum in the United States. He now lives in New York and works as a gay rights advocate, educating people about HIV.
Ighodaro says that despite the progress the LGBT+ community in the US has made, more needs to be done to include gay and transgender people of colour.
“In the US, there is a real issue with race among the LGBT community that we need to address. The mainstream LGBT community in the US is so white, but there are gay and trans people of colour who are also part of this movement that we need to bring to the frontline. We need to sort out issues affecting gay black men. They have double stigma for being black and gay.”
You can read the full interview here.