Bisi Alimi on LGBT rights in Nigeria: ‘It may take 60 years, but we have to start now’
In commemoration of LGBT History, the Guardian Newspaper did an interview with Bisi Alimi on the prospect of LGBT rights in Nigeria and the work of Bisi Alimi Foundation.
‘If we come together and take a leadership role, things will move faster,’ says Bisi Alimi of the fight for LGBT rights in Africa. Photograph: Royal Africa Society.
Being gay in London, says Bisi Alimi, is boring. “You get in the queue in front of G-A-Y or Heaven. You go in, party, and leave. Where’s the excitement?”
Being out in Lagos and going to underground parties, he says, is far more thrilling. It’s how Alimi, a LGBT rights and HIV activist, imagines the scene would have been in the UK in the 1960s and 70s. “We had this party that got broken into and many people got beaten up and soaked in blood. But the next week we were all back for the party, because life has got to go on.”
Given the potential dangers of being openly gay in Nigeria, is there a neighbourhood similar to London’s Soho – well-known for its LGBT nightlife – in his former home of Lagos? “I wish,” he laughs. “You would meet people through friends or at parties. When I left Nigeria, [the website] Gaydar was quite popular but it was very underground – people would go to an internet cafe and minimise the window if someone walked past.”
Alimi came out on a live TV show in 2004 in response to rumours about his sexuality. Following the broadcast, he was disowned by his family and some of his friends and arrested on unexplained charges. Alimi says that being shut out by those closest to him left him “overwhelmed” and “in shock”.
Alimi fled Nigeria in 2007, was given refugee status in the UK in 2008 and became a British citizen in 2014. He thinks the Home Office’s attitude towards LGBT asylum seekers is appalling. “If someone is seeking asylum or is a refugee, they are genuinely running away from something, they’re traumatised, and then you expect them to sit around a table and tell you the details of something that is so shocking for them? The government needs to be more humane and open about the asylum process.”