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New York City—On Friday, March 7, 2014, hundreds demonstrated and nine activists were arrested in front of the Consulate General of Nigeria in Manhattan to protest the draconian anti-LGBT law signed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on January 14, a law that makes gay marriage and same-sex relationships crimes punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The protest, organized by The Nigerian Solidarity Alliance for Human Rights, was one of a number that took place that day in other cities, including Washington, DC, and London. The overarching demand: to rescind the law and let LGBT Nigerians live their lives free of discrimination and violence. Speakers at the New York rally included Nigerian LGBT activists Michael Ighodaro, Adaku Utah, Adejoke Tugbiyele (U.S. Representative for The Solidarity Alliance for Human Rights), and Ekene Okwuegbunam, Housing Works President & CEO Charles King, and ACT UP’s Jim Eigo. The text of Adaku Utah’s speech at the rally appears below. What a beautiful gift and honor to stand in your presence today. If I could look each of you in the eye and thank you with the most authentic and loving hug I can muster I would without hesitation. But since time is not in our favor at this moment, I say thank you from the infinite wells of my heart and every cell in my body. Thank you to each and every single person standing in front of me, physically and in spirit, in support, in solidarity, in faith, in love. Our coming together sends a powerful message that solidarity is necessary and possible and our survival as individuals and as a community rests on our affirmation and support of one another. Our unity today, and in all the moments that preceded this one and in all the moments that will follow, is an act of resistance against a patriarchal, colonialist system that thrives on homophobia, sexism, classism, transphobia, xenophobia, and shadism of our people. I recognize that being alive right now and being able to stand in front of you and speak and be listened to is a deep privilege. I stand here today because of a legacy of freedom fighters stemming from the deep roots of my Igbo lineage through the backbones and blueprints of Indigenous people, LGBTQ people, poor and working class people, immigrant people, people of color, and fierce allies who dare to create a world where liberation and justice and the recognition that we are all valuable and we should all live and thrive in a world that supports each of our humanity and safety and our upliftment without the reliance on capitalism, criminalization, isolation, violence, patriarchy, judgment, ego, I honor you. I honor those who do not have the luxury of being here, of being able to physically participate in a Global Day of Action because they are locked up in prison, because they have been silenced in the closet, because they have been raped, tortured, and/or murdered, because they have been threatened, because they physically cannot get out of their beds because of the weight that violence and trauma imposes on their bodies and spirits. Because they have internalized messages of hate and believed it….I honor you. I honor all the ways you continue to live out your truth and be who you are and participate in the miraculous experience of being a human being and walking hand in hand and heart to heart with us in this necessary fight for liberation. You are a dynamic phenomenon, beautiful in your expression. I stand here today as a proud Queer Nigerian Woman. Rooted in Igbo soil, Abia from my father’s side, Imo from my mother. Face carved in the likeness of my ancestor’s stories. Heart lined with freedom fighters and healers. I am OUT (Opened Up Truth)!!! I stand here as a human being holding you with all the love I can muster, face to face, hand in hand, heart to heart as we evolve what life can embody when it is built with the ingredients of our fullest expression and transform the spaces that would rather kill us than risk the release of the ignorance they hold so dear. In light of all the fear, ignorance and hatred that continues to plague our beloved country. I cradle my heavy heart with palms full of prayers, each one bearing our names and the vastness of our spirits. I speak as an invitation to the power within us. This is a call for healing and transformation. A reclamation of the truth of who we are. A reclamation of the truth Nigeria is. We all have a responsibility to participate in creating a world that is safe and supportive enough for all of us to be ourselves in a way that does not cause pain and suffering.
LGBTQ Activist Adaku Utah, Nigerian Global Day of Action Speech (cont.)
I believe that people who are hurt become normalized to hurt others and themselves. The hate and hurt of LGBTQ people in Nigeria and all over Africa is intricately linked to the history of slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and religious fanaticism in the continent of Africa. This legacy of pain and trauma has left all of us psychologically, physically, spiritually, and emotionally wounded as a people without the necessary spaces to heal fully as individuals and as a community. These systems of oppression relied on structures of lies to perpetuate myths that African people are inferior, that we need to fight with each other to survive, that creating and sustaining love for ourselves and our communities was not a priority. We were taught that we were less than human and we should treat ourselves and each other as such. We were taught to violently critique and obstruct and manipulate the truth of our lives in order to fit an oppressive box given to us. We were taught to value money and power over the sanctity and sacredness of our relationships. We were taught that our truths would not set us free. The truth is we were taught and continue to be taught all of these normalized behaviors of violence. This is not the truth of who we are. This is not how we were born. This is not what we should choose to be. Remember who you are. Hatred and fear are not the natural state of the human condition and the Universe. Love IS. And we are testaments of it. Each of us is alive right now because somebody chose to love us. So often we are told what to believe about each other and prioritize oppressive hateful ideology at the expense of our own innate wisdom. Hatred is learned behavior. Discrimination is a choice. Love is intrinsic and instinctual. Trust that foundation of yourself. Let’s stop denying people their birthrights and their own autonomy by telling them that their expressions of love are bad and wrong. The act of violence is bad and wrong, legalizing violence is bad and wrong. Violence should not have any place in our liberation as a people and the legacy of our nation. We as a people cannot profit from the oppression of any group which seeks the right to peacefully exist. Rather, we diminish ourselves by relying on systems that are meant to keep us fighting against each other. It is not our sexuality that we need to change. It is a system of hatred, violence, and patriarchy that violates a group of people at the expense of others and relies on war on people to affirm and reaffirm their value and existence. We cannot justify inequality. We cannot justify hate. We cannot and should not justify violence. We can choose to be part of a legacy of people that work hard to value everyone’s life and affirm everyone’s existence. Transformation and liberation cannot be sustained if we do not prioritize people’s lives. Let us continue to engage with the rich history of resistance and decolonization, one that has sustained our ancestors and movements in turn will strengthen us and enrich us for the long haul. The journey towards healing and caring for and loving ourselves and each other encourages the creative capacity of our genius. It awakens the wholeness that already resides within us and welcomes us into a space that allows us to fully experience ourselves and our communities from a place of authenticity and love. We do this not only in resistance to all that has colonized us and attempted to take our lives. We do this to live lives whole, healthy, and sustainable enough to embrace the legacy of our ancestors, the vibrancy of our present communities and the livelihood of our future generations. Since the beginning of this world’s existence, LGBTQ people have boldly and creatively crafted blueprints and legacies of liberation, justice, freedom, and love. We continue to courageously uphold the humanity and integrity of our fellow brothers, sisters, and gender-queer people, while standing triumphantly at the intersections of race, gender, class, body ability, sexuality and tapestries of multiple identities. Our truth telling continues to transform society’s patriarchal rubric of worth, creating inclusive and ever-expansive definitions and visions of what it means to be fully and wholly human. While legacies of violence, colonization, silencing, sterilization, genocide, and enslavement attempt to clip our wings, we soar higher, working relentlessly and resiliently with our communities to fashion new realities that honor all that we are. May our stories and truths be testimonies that brew medicine for our collective liberation.
Housing Works is taking action by providing housing, health care, and legal support to LGBT activists from Nigeria, Uganda, and other nations who have come to the U.S. to escape imprisonment and violence for the way they live. You can help by donating today: to the Housing Works Asylum Project and to Housing Works ongoing advocacy campaigns like the one above.
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