In some parts of Nigeria, people are being executed for being gay or lesbian. Nigerian LGBT rights activist Davis Mac-Iyalla, leader of the human rights organization Changing Attitude is trying his best to let the world know what happens there, through telling his personal story. In June he will arrive in Israel to speak at the international LGBT conference in Tel Aviv.
Davis Mac-Iyalla was fired from his job as a school principal just for being gay. Two years later he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Nigerian police. In 2008 he was granted asylum in the UK, and since then he’s made it his life mission to change the attitude of Nigeria toward LGBT people. “I still have lots of LGBT friends in Nigeria,” Mac-Iyalla says. “Nigeria is not a safe place to be an LGBT person. Under the law in Nigeria LGBT people can be persecuted and face up to 14 years in prison if they get married or show affection in public. Groups and those who provide services can get up to ten years in prison if they don’t disclose when gay people come to use their services. Stigma and violent attacks are on the rise. Most LGBT Nigerians have to live a lie about their sexuality because of social acceptability.”
Since March 2008, Mac-Iyalla received emails and text messages originating from Nigeria, threatening to kill him. He relocated to Togo, where he was also brutally attacked. He had no choice but to request asylum, which he says was a very painful decision to make. But he knows that West Africa is not safe for him. “Mobile phone and the internet help me to stay in contact with my Nigerian friends, family and allies,” he says. “I have frequently visited other countries in West Africa where friends and family from Nigeria have come to meet me.”
In January 2014, President Jonathan signed the same sex marriage prohibition bill into law in Nigeria, and Davis Mac-Iyalla became one of the top “criminals” in the country. Most of the pro-LGBT work that he’s doing is being done discreetly. “The world can help in protecting frontline LGBT human rights defenders”, he says. “The world can also offer support that can help improve the living condition of Nigeria’s LGBT people. Those who are feeling persecution should be granted safety.”
In June, Davis will visit Israel for the first time, to speak at 40 Years of Pride, an international conference for LGBT leaders organized by A Wider Bridge and The Aguda, Israel’s National LGBT Task Force. “I don’t know much about Israel,” he admits. “Most times what I read in the press is very negative, but in the course of planning this trip, I have come in contact with lots of LGBT activists and groups working on the ground. I have also learned how safe and welcoming Israel is for LGBT people.“
“As a Christian, I would like to see lots of the historical biblical places. This trip also serves as a pilgrimage for me.”