Can you tell us a little about your background and your work?
I was born and bred in Nigeria and I actually started my advocacy work from Nigeria, because I would not be quiet when the Nigerian Anglican Church was trying to deny the existence of LGBTI+ people and when the Nigerian Government began to initiate laws to further criminalise LGBTI+ people. I just had to speak out and tell my story and tell my truth. That then automatically made me an advocate for human rights – it has been over 25 years and I’m still going.
It got to a time that Nigeria became really life threatening for me because the more I spoke out and organised my community the more people threatened me and tried to harm me, so I moved to England. Whilst I was in the UK I continued my advocacy for LGBTI+ people of West Africa, I supported a lot of LGBTI+ asylum seekers.
Then, in 2014, Pope Francis called for the Family Synod and began to raise the issue of family and that then got me thinking: what is a family? What are the types of family? Reading the submissions from around the world, my friends and I discovered that there were no submissions from LGBTI+ people in West Africa. I was asked if I could go back to West Africa to interview LGBTI+ Christians so that they could also contribute to those conversations.
When I went to West Africa, somehow everyone wanted to speak to me. It was not only LGBTI+ Christians, it was also Muslims, Hindus and people from other faiths, they all wanted me to hear their stories. So, I ended up with an interfaith story, rather than the Christian story that I went for. That’s when I got the idea that I needed to work for people of all faiths and that’s where the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa idea came from.
I founded the network in 2016 for the main reason that we didn’t have an organised group to promote inclusion and affirmation of LGBTI people of faith within West Africa and within the faith institutions. After that we began to look at where it was possible for us to register, where it was possible for us to organise ourselves. It was the members of the network who chose Ghana as our base, as our headquarters to serve the eleven West African countries where we had members. So that was my reason for relocating to Ghana: to support the network and my members.
There’s a lot of concern about the so-called anti-LGBTI+ Bill that’s being considered by the Ghanaian Government. Can you tell us a bit about the proposed bill and what is happening in Ghana in relation to it?
The title of the Bill is “The Proper Human Sexuality and Ghanaian Family Values Bill’. What that Bill seeks to do is to further criminalise LGBTI+ Ghanaians, but not just LGBTI+ Ghanaians but their families, their supporters. This Bill moves to even criminalise journalists, it moves to criminalise anyone who even suggests repealing this Bill should it be passed. This Bill seeks to criminalise anyone who is even questioning their sexuality. That is how bad this Bill is, and we continue to pray that it doesn’t succeed because this kind of draconian Bill is not a Ghanaian value.
Who defines what is proper family values? Who defines what is proper human sexuality? You can see again the lack of understanding. That Bill is not a Ghanaian value Bill, that Bill is not an African value Bill, that Bill is a Western conservative-driven agenda. The Bill has so far met frustration and I hope that it continues to meet frustration and resistance.
The Bill infringes on human rights of all persons. The Bill infringes on freedom of speech, on freedom of association, every aspect of that Bill is anti-Ghanaian, anti-West African and we will continue to push for its defeat. Currently the Bill is still in the hands of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee that are reviewing it. I hope and pray that the Bill doesn’t see the light of day. We know that a vocal minority are lobbying and pushing so that it will become law, but we are also not just sitting down, we are doing all that we can to make sure that that anti-Ghanaian Bill does not succeed.
What do you think the UK Government can do in response to the rise in hatred against LGBTI+ people in Ghana?
The UK Government has to value the human rights of everyone in every discussion. In every relationship with Ghana or any other country the UK Government should be very clear of the importance of the protection of all persons, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. LGBTI+ people shouldn’t be sacrificed for anything, LGBTI+ people’s human rights should never be compromised for anything – I know the UK Government can make that loud and clear.
And what can people here in the UK do to support LGBT+ communities in West Africa?
I know that even in the UK it’s never easy. I have been following the news and I’ve seen what’s happening around trans issues. But I think that people in the UK have privileges that LGBTI+ people in Ghana or West Africa don’t have. So, I pray that people in the UK continue to be in solidarity with LGBTI+ people in Ghana and continue to raise these issues.
An attack on LGBTI+ people in Ghana is an attack on LGBTI+ people all over the world and solidarity can be expressed in many different forms. There are many that flee for their lives and are here in the UK. Many people are left without support. They are feeling so disconnected so there’s lots that people in the UK can do, both supporting those who are left on the ground [in hostile countries] and also supporting those who have managed to reach the diaspora in different ways. Putting out news, providing all kinds of direct and technical support – every effort is very important in the battle that we are fighting.
How do you think the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa can work with Kaleidoscope Trust going forward?
I think that the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa could collaborate with Kaleidoscope Trust and the Commonwealth Equality Network on many areas but one of the most pressing needs is education. There is a lack of education about our stories, about our own history, about who we are. People don’t even understand the concept of human rights and therefore how do we share and educate our community?
So, education is one way, but also the opportunity to be able to have dialogue between those who have different views from us, so promote different initiatives that promote dialogue. Also Kaleidoscope Trust can help amplify the voices of LGBTIQ people in West Africa.
You are an incredible human rights defender – can you tell us what keeps you going or motivated?
I have a lovely partner who always stands by me and gives me strength and energy. Also, I believe that what I am doing is a calling and no matter what challenges I face I believe that there is hope, I believe that victory will come in the end and so I want to keep going in my own little way. The change that I seek starts with me, so I want to be a living example to generations unborn that things and attitudes don’t change if you do nothing. I want to keep on going and keep on doing for as long as I can.
You can find out more about the Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa here.
Kaleidoscope Trust is currently supporting the capacity development of five Ghana-based organisations which are fighting for the rights of LGBTI+ people. You can donate to support our ongoing work here.
Micro Rainbow and Rainbow Migration both support LGBTI+ people who are seeking asylum in the UK because they face violence and discrimination in their home countries.