Duke, a 38-year-old bisexual Nigerian man who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his last name, arrived at his friend’s home in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, in the spring of 2012 after driving from a his pig farm when police officers arrested him.
He said the officers told him they took him into custody because he is gay. Duke said they proceeded to beat him “like I’ve never been beaten before” before they stripped him naked and placed him into a cell with a concrete floor with his hands handcuffed behind his back “like a criminal.”
Duke said his cellmate, who had been arrested in a gay club, died the next day from a combination of a lack of medication to treat his asthma and injuries he suffered when officers beat him.
Duke said they left the man’s body in the cell for three days before removing it – and they accused him of killing his cellmate.
The officers released him only after he signed a written confession that said the man died while he and Duke were having sex. Duke told the Blade they told him to report to local authorities a few days later, but he instead fled to Canada where he has lived since June 2012.
“If you go back these guys are going to kill you or they’re going to send you to jail,” he said during an interview earlier this month from Toronto, recalling the conversation he said he had with a friend before he left Nigeria.
Duke is one of four LGBT Nigerian asylum seekers in the U.S. and Canada with whom the Blade recently spoke.
O.T., a 27-year-old man who lives in Tenleytown, arrived in D.C. last November after he fled Lagos.
He told the Blade during a Feb. 17 interview that he has been arrested three times after police raided gay parties. O.T. said the officers charged them with sodomy – they also threatened, abused and treated him and others “like a criminal” while in custody.
O.T. told the Blade a man whom he met through a friend blackmailed and extorted money from him – he said he once threatened to stab him with a broken bottle in his own bedroom. O.T. said he fled Nigeria after the man threatened to tell the police he was having sex with him.
“I love my life,” said O.T. “I don’t want anything to happen to me, so I gave him some money. Unfortunately he kept coming back for more.”
A 49-year-old gay Nigerian lawyer who currently lives in Montgomery County told the Blade he was living in a village outside Abuja, the country’s capital, in September 2012 when a mob attacked him. He said he spent a week in the hospital after the police arrested him and beat him.
“This is why I came to America,” said the man who asked to remain anonymous.
A 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman told the Blade from Toronto she moved in with her aunt in Lagos as a teenager after her father kicked her out of her family’s home because of her sexual orientation.
She fled to Canada in 2012 after her girlfriend’s boyfriend caught them together.
“It didn’t end up very well,” she said. “He was threatening to expose us to everybody and all of that, so I had to leave.”
Asylum seeker returned to Nigeria in spite of danger
Nigeria is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Those found guilty of homosexuality in the northern part of the African country under Shari’a law face the death penalty.
Duke told the Blade he fled to Gambia, a small West African country sandwiched between Senegal, in 2000 after his classmates caught him having sex with his boyfriend and attacked him.
Duke said he was “quiet about whatever I was doing” while in the predominantly Muslim nation because he “was aware of the dangers in case something happened.”
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh described gay men as “vermin” during a Feb. 18 speech on state television that commemorated the 49th anniversary of the country’s independence from the U.K. as Reuters reported. He said in separate remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last September that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”
Duke told the Blade he and his boyfriend in late 2011 had a heated argument about having sex with his girlfriend before he was to have traveled to Ghana to apply for a work visa that would have allowed him to travel to Canada. He said a neighbor called the police after the two men began fighting.
Duke quickly left for the airport and flew to Accra, the Ghanaian capital, as scheduled.
He told the Blade he tried to call his boyfriend’s cell phone from Ghana several times, but he did not answer. Duke said he eventually spoke with a Gambian friend who told him “not to come back” to the country because the police had arrested his boyfriend and taken him to an unknown location.
Duke remained in Ghana for four more days before he reluctantly returned to his homeland.
“I sensed the danger in Nigeria, but that was many years ago,” he said. “I left Accra and went to Nigeria.”
Every entity in Nigeria ‘detests homosexuality’
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.
“We regret that this bill was passed by Nigeria’s Assembly and signed by the president,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade on Wednesday. “This law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage.”
Jensen also dismissed claims the law’s supporters have made that homosexuality is something the West brought to Nigeria.
“Gay people and being gay is not a Western privilege; it’s a reality,” he said.
The Nigerian government did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the law or the reports of systematic anti-LGBT violence that have emerged from the country since Jonathan signed the statute.
The LGBT asylum seekers with whom the Blade spoke said they feel the Nigerian president signed the anti-gay bill into law because he wanted to bolster his re-election chances in the country’s 2015 presidential elections.
“I could not believe that he would actually approve that,” said the 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian who has applied for asylum in Canada. “I can’t even imagine what’s going to happen.”
O.T. told the Blade the statute has made things “more complicated for gay people in Nigeria.” He added he feels Jonathan should instead focus on reducing poverty and fighting Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that has killed an estimated 10,000 people in attacks throughout the northern part of the country since launching a violent insurgency in 2009.
“Unfortunately he signed the bill once it got to his desk,” said O.T. “The only thing that can bring the Muslim and Christian community to sit at one table and [talk] is the gay issue… two enemies that really want to kill each other can agree on this particular issue.”
Duke, who told the Blade he narrowly escaped a group of men in 2012 before they beat his partner unconscious in his home, made a similar point.
“If you look at Nigeria from left to right, east to west, north to south, every entity in that country detests homosexuality,” he said. “Every single group has given [Jonathan] a thumbs up.”
The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone “so good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing took place last September, but the lawyer who originally represented him was Nigerian.
“The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone “so good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing was to have taken place last September, but his current lawyer who is Jewish asked the judge to postpone it because it coincided with religious holiday.
Duke said he hired him because he felt his original lawyer, who is Nigerian, “detests LGBTQ” people like “those back home.”
O.T. said he filed his application for asylum in the U.S. two weeks ago.
The 49-year-old gay Nigerian man told the Blade his final hearing is scheduled to take place in October 2015. He said he is currently applying for a permit that will allow him to legally work in the U.S.
In a historic first, Colorado now has a 1st gentleman as Gov. Polis marries
The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date
DENVER – Colorado’s Democratic Governor Jared Polis married his longtime partner Marlon Reis in a ceremony that marked the first same-sex marriage of a sitting Out governor in the United States.
The couple was married Wednesday in a small traditional Jewish ceremony at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where Reis had matriculated and graduated from. The governor and his now husband decided to hold their nuptials on the 18th anniversary of their first date.
“We met online and went out on a date and we went to the Boulder bookstore and then went to dinner,” Polis told KCFR-FM, Colorado Public Radio (CPR).
In addition to family and close friends in attendance, the couple’s two children participated with their 7-year-old daughter serving as the flower girl and their 9-year-old son as the ring bearer.
The governor joked that their daughter was probably more thrilled than anyone about the wedding. “She was all in on being a flower girl. She’s been prancing around. She got a great dress. She’s terrific,” he said CPR reported.
Their son was also happy, but more ambivalent about it all according to Reis. “Kids are so modern that their responses to things are sometimes funny. Our son honestly asked us, ‘Why do people get married?”
The greatest lesson we have learned over the past 18 months is that life as we know it can change in an instant. We are thankful for the opportunity to celebrate our life together as a married couple.— Governor Jared Polis (@GovofCO) September 15, 2021
After 18 years together, we couldn’t be happier to be married at last. pic.twitter.com/psBhfEoEny
Colorado’s chief executive, sworn in as the 43rd governor of Colorado in January 2019, over the course of nearly 20 years as a political activist and following in public service as an elected official has had several ‘firsts’ to his credit.
In 2008 Polis is one of the few people to be openly Out when first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as well as being the first gay parent to serve in the Congress. Then on November 6, 2018, he was the first openly gay governor elected in Colorado and in the United States.
Gov. Jared Polis And First Gentleman Marlon Reis Are Newlyweds
U.S. Catholic theologians call for LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections
Joint statement says church teachings support equality
More than 750 of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians, church leaders, scholars, educators, and writers released a joint statement on Sept. 14 expressing strong support for nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.
The six-page theological statement, “A Home for All: A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination,” was scheduled to be published along with the names of its 759 signatories as a four-page advertisement on Sept. 17 in the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper widely read by Catholic clergy and laypeople.
The statement was initiated by New Ways Ministry, a Mount Rainier, Md., based Catholic group that advocates for equality for LGBTQ people within the church and society at large.
“As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people,” the statement says. “We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that ‘any kind of social or cultural discrimination…must be curbed and eradicated,’” it says.
“We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality,” the statement adds.
The statement notes that its signers recognize that a “great debate” is currently taking place within the Catholic Church about whether same-gender relationships and transgender identities should be condoned or supported.
“That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed,” the statement continues. “What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters,” it says.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministries executive director, said his organization and the signers of the statement feel the issue of nondiscrimination for LGBTQ people can and should be supported by Catholic leaders and the church itself even if some are not yet ready to support same-sex marriage and sexual and gender identity matters.
“LGBTQ non-discrimination is being debated at all levels in our society, and the Catholic perspective on this is often misrepresented, even by some church leaders,” DeBernardo said. “Catholics who have studied and reflected deeply on this topic agree that non-discrimination is the most authentic Catholic position,” he said.
DeBernardo said those who helped draft the statement decided it would be best to limit it to a theological appeal and argument for LGBTQ equality and non-discrimination and not to call for passage of specific legislation such as the Equality Act, the national LGBTQ civil rights bill pending in the U.S. Congress.
The Equality Act calls for amending existing federal civil rights laws to add nondiscrimination language protecting LGBTQ people in areas such as employment, housing, and public accommodations. The U.S. House approved the legislation, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
“We wanted this to be a theological statement, not a political statement,” DeBernardo said.
He said organizers of the project to prepare the statement plan to send it, among other places, to the Vatican in Rome and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has expressed opposition to the Equality Act.
Among the key signers of the statement were 242 administrators, faculty, and staff from Sacred Heart University, a Catholic college in Bridgeport, Conn. New Ways Ministries says the statement was circulated by the school’s administration and eight of its top leaders, including President John Petillo, are among the signers.
Some of the prominent writers who signed the statement include Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking;” Richard Rodriquez, author of “Hunger of Memory;” Gary Wills, author of “Lincoln at Gettysburg;” and Gregory Maguire, author of “Wicked.”
The full text of the statement and its list of signatories can be accessed at the New Ways Ministry website.
Activists reflect on Black Trans Lives Matter movement resurgence
Blade speaks with Alex Santiago, Jasmyne Cannick
The world came to a standstill last year as a video surfaced online that showed then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd. The video went viral and sparked numerous protests against racism and police brutality in the U.S. and around the world as many people felt it a potent time to relay their frustrations with and to their governments.
For the LGBTQ community, these protests brought to light the need for human rights for transgender individuals as the murders of people like Tony McDade in Florida and Nina Pop in Missouri reawakened the flame within the Black Trans Lives Matter movement.
The Washington Blade more than a year later spoke with Alex Santiago, executive director of the I Am Human Foundation in Atlanta, and Jasmyne Cannick, a Democratic political strategist and journalist in Los Angeles, to reflect on last year’s Black Trans Lives Matter movement, how far it has come, and what’s in store for the future.
Uplifting voices often silenced
Participating in the Black Lives Matter protests was an easy decision for Santiago. He is a member of the Legendary House of Garcon, a ballroom house headquartered in D.C.
Although the house is composed mostly of LGBTQ members, Santiago still felt the need to center trans voices and experiences by visually representing them during Black Lives Matter marches.
“[I decided that] when I go I’m going to have signs that say ‘Black Trans Lives Matter.’ After talking to a couple of the people in the house, they said it was a great idea. So, they got these t-shirts made that incorporated the trans colors [baby blue, baby pink and white],” says Santiago.
Out of the 250 people in the Legendary House of Garcon, 175 showed up to D.C. from other states to march in solidarity with Black trans people. Santiago says that from what he was told, his was the largest group of activists representing Black trans lives at protests.
“At first I thought people were going to look at us crazy, like, ‘Why are you separating yourselves or being exclusive?’. But, we got a great response from the general population that was there that day. It was a good day,” says Santiago.
Cannick, who was in Los Angeles during the protests, lent her efforts to platforming pertinent issues. She identifies herself as an ally and a “friend” to the LGBTQ community.
“I’m active in the LA community and everybody knows me. So, whenever something happens, someone is hurt, someone is killed or someone needs to get the word out about something that’s going on particularly as it relates to the trans community, I’m always asked to get involved, and I do,” says Cannick.
Over the past year, she reported on multiple LGBTQ issues including the trial of Ed Buck, a Democratic political fundraiser who was convicted in the deaths of two gay Black men who he injected with methamphetamine in exchange for sex.
What happened to the BTLM movement and what needs to change?
The nature of many social movements is that as the intense emotion surrounding them fades, people’s fervor for change wanes as well. This is especially true with allies who are not directly linked to the cause.
“Fatigue and frustration at the relatively slow pace of change to a growing backlash on the right against efforts to call out systemic racism and white privilege — has led to a decline in white support for the Black Lives Matter movement since last spring, when white support for social justice was at its peak,” US News reports about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cannick believes this is the same for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. She says Americans allow the media to dictate how it behaves and responds to issues. Thus, when stories “fall out of our media cycles … they fall out of our memories.”
“I think that’s not going to change, and that’s a psychological thing, until we learn how to not let the media necessarily dictate our issues,” says Cannick.
She suggests that individuals remain plugged into their communities by “doing anything to make sure they keep up with an issue” including following the “right people” on social media and setting up Google alerts for any breaking news.
Santiago also echoes Cannick’s sentiments.
“We wait until something happens before we do something. And, I don’t want to be retroactive; I want to be proactive. I want people to see me when things are going well [and when they’re not going well],” says Santiago.
Upon returning to his home in Atlanta after the D.C. protests, Santiago contacted a billboard installation company and paid for a billboard labelled, “Black Trans Lives Matter” to be displayed on University Avenue near downtown Atlanta. He says that the billboards got attention and helped to spread much-needed awareness. Following this success, he is now in the process of installing a new billboard labelled, “Black, Trans and Visible. My life Matters.”
“Unless you’re in people’s faces or something drastic happens, people forget. Unless you’re living it, people forget,” says Santiago.
As time progresses, both Santiago and Cannick nest hope for the Black Trans Lives Matter movement. However, this hope can only persist when crucial steps are taken to ensure Black trans individuals around the country are protected, most importantly through legislation.
The New York Times reports there are close to 1,000 elected LGBTQ officials in the U.S., with at least one in each state except Mississippi.
“We need to have more legislation. We need more voices in power like the council Biden has right now,” says Santiago.
“You know that [Biden] has a lot of trans people and Black trans people [involved], and a part of that’s a positive step in the right direction, but we need that times 10,” says Santiago.
He believes that political representation should extend to local governance where ordinary Black trans individuals can be trained to assume leadership roles.
Cannick’s focus is on the Black community.
“[Trans women] are usually murdered by Black men. If we ever expect that to change, we need to start talking about that,” says Cannick.
She’s open to having conversations that put people, including her as a cis-identifying woman, in uncomfortable and awkward spaces.
She hosts a podcast titled “Str8 No Chaser” and recently aired an episode, “Why Are Black Men Killing Trans Women,” where she discussed with three Black trans women about the gender and sexuality dynamics within the Black community and their perils.
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