By Melanie Nathan, August 24, 2014.
After persecution in Africa, Davis Mac-Iyalla, a Nigerian, sought refuge and settled in the United Kingdom. A devout Anglican Christian, he lived and worked in Nigeria until he was forced to flee in 2006. He was one of the first Nigerian gay men to come out publically and has campaigned for the rights of LGBTI people for over twenty years. He co-founded Alliance Rights, the first gay and lesbian network in Nigeria, and in 2005 founded Changing Attitude Nigeria, the Nigerian wing of the international organization Changing Attitude, which supports LGBTI Anglicans. He is a lay leader, as a Knight of the Church of Nigeria. In February of 2008, received the “Bishop Desmond Tutu Award for Human Rights and Social Justice” from the World Pride and Power Organization. In 2008, following imprisonment, torture, a violent attack, and a string of death threats, he was forced to flee Africa for the UK where he continues his fight for human rights.
In his own words, Davis speaks about his gratitude for a recent which he received from the Mayor of Derry City Council. Mayor Brenda Stevenson, acknowledging his activism and advocacy work. He also speaks to his disappointment with LGBT NGO’s and how he felt unsupported and sometimes even thwarted, in his efforts to leave Africa.
I think in hearing Davis, one must open one’s eyes to the fact that things are not always as they seem on the surface. The “powers that be” are not always doing the right thing for everyone, or upon the approval of everyone, regardless of their country of operation or country of origin. To say tere is one way or a “right” way often serves members of the clicks and clubs, rather than the greater good of all, the latter often difficult to pin, in any event.
Control is not necessarily fair and nor is it always right, and no one’s narrative ought be the ONLY narrative. The word of those who stand in certain positions of power, is not always necessarily what the grassroots wants or believes or will benefit from. There are often outside and conflicting agendas and NGO’s and the employees they pay (some who are considered activists themselves, and some even renowned), may have a great deal to lose if their narrative is not fully embraced.
In Davis Mac-Iyalla’s words:-
I have just returned from Foyle Pride back to London and wanted to express some important thoughts after receiving an award for which I am very grateful.
Thanks to you all for your support , especially my Irish friends who invited and hosted me.
Foyle Pride Committee impressed me, thank you.
I was very honored to receive an award from the Mayor of Derry City Council. Mayor Brenda Stevenson explained I was given the award after she had spent time reading about me and my activities. She was very aware of the persecution that I faced and she that despite the persecution I did not give up my struggle for the support and advocacy of the human rights of all people.
So for those who want to know the City Coat of Arms which has 600 years of history was given to me in recognition of my Human Rights Advocacy work.
One this that came to my mind when I was in Derry was the fact that the city had experienced different kinds of conflict and still managed to survive through it.
I left reflecting about my own conflict in my head and giving thanks to God for the grace to enable me survive the challenges that where in my life.
I have realise that conflict is something I can never avoid as long as I am still living but I do know that how I approach and deal with my conflicts will help change my life.
This precious award that was given to me by the mayor of Derry is dedicated to all LGBTI people who are living in conflict and under anti-gay laws, especially those in Africa. I also dedicate this award to all those LGBTI asylum seekers and refugee who have to flee their home because of one form of persecution or another. Even just the criminalization of our sexuality by Government and laws is itself persecution.
But it will not be right if I also did not dedicate this award to everyone who is genuinely providing support to refugees and asylum seekers.
As a grassroot gay rights activist/advocate I once fled my home the place of my birth because my life was in danger.
It was kind-hearted people who took it upon themselves to give me support. I thank God I did not play hero and painfully flee Africa when it was really life threatening.
Sadly I did not get support from the powerful secular LGBTI supporting NGOs at the time.
When you do ground breaking public challenge of the powerful Nigeria Anglican Church and Government over their homophobia and abuse of its LGBTI people you are automatically labeled a trouble maker and become castigated even by your own community.
Some of the African activists who lost their lives would have still been alive if the ‘powers that be,’ then supported them to flee for safety.
Because I took control of my own destiny, most of the powerful LGBTI NGOs did not like it and never supported me. Thank goodness I am still here. I refuse to take sides and or dangle onto the politics that was going on the among the funding NGO’s who where trying to control what we can say and cannot say.
Some of those NGO’s went so low as to use our African activist colleagues to attack those they disagree with and so when you think it is Africa talking, sometimes it is not. Sometimes it is the script of someone from a powerful NGO that provides money to the activists and wants no one else to have interrupt their control.
What I have always known that those who fund you have something they are expecting back in return and that is often to narrate their script. My good friend David Kato would maybe still be alive if he was giving support to flee Uganda for a awhile and to return when things calmed down.
If the dead could talk, I am sure David Kato would have shown of the activists and media who claimed to be on his side on after his death. Several times I advised David to leave but the ‘powers that be,’ at that time where not supporting that Africa activists should flee and some now do not support that anyone should flee.
The struggle that we started became a big boys or big girls clubs. Some people took it upon themselves to decide who should be in and who should be out of the club. When their gang of western friends and allies sponsor or take any initiative it would be fine but if you are not in the “CLUB” and want to help you are tagged a “westerner” that wants to colonise African activists.
Africa LGBTI activism has become a movement of celebrities. The poor grassroots activists without connections are continually neglected. Some who flee, who were not part of THE CLUB, are seen as dissenters who no longer have a place, who care about the exiled LGBTI community? That is why this award from the Irish mayor of Derry City Council means so much to me.
My conflicts and difficulties were including people who were meant to be on my side. And I did what I did without their help and despite their attempts to stop me.