Faces and Voices of Courage - LGBTI+ Stories of Struggle and Triumph from Sub-Saharan Africa - Romeo
“I’m alive and as long as I breathe I will keep fighting because to be silent is to say we are not here, it is to say they were right about us.” - Romeo Oriogun - Nigerian International Award Winning Poet
On Thursday April 26, 2018 I read a Facebook post made by Romeo which contained these statements:
“He didn't steal, he didn't molest anyone, he didn't rape anybody, he didn't hurt anybody. He was lynched because he dared to love, because he dared to be himself. Fuck! It is 2018 and homosexuals are still treated as animals, are still treated as people without rights. Nigeria will break you till you forget you are human. Who gave people the right to lynch a human being? Damn! This is stupid, this is so stupid. Nobody deserves to go through this kind of hell.
Just imagine after lynching him and his partner, they were almost set ablaze before the police arrested them and they were only released to a lawyer because of their injuries. They looted their properties; phones, cash, motorcycle, everything. Nigeria is a sad excuse for a country.”
I began reading the comments that followed and learned more about the two men in Nigeria who were the victims of the horrendous violence and personal violations mentioned in the post. I felt the need to share Romeo’s post and then I reached out and thanked him for making it. A lengthy conservation followed in which I learned some of the details of Romeo’s life and his personal struggles and triumphs.
When Romeo’s reply to my message of thanks contained this statement, “It is sickening and I feel so angry when people open our bodies to trauma because of our sexual orientation” I was compelled to engage him further and I am thankful that he shared more of his personal journey with me. By simply taking a moment to thank another Human Being for a social media post my life was enriched and I found an opportunity to share with you what I learned about Romeo’s own struggles and fortunately some amazing triumphs.
In 2017 Romeo’s poetry was recognized as the winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize. This award is a tremendous recognition of his creative writing which interrogates what it means to be Queer in Nigeria. With great success often comes great struggles. Romeo told me that after receiving this recognition he lost his job, most of his friends, and was attacked twice. He described this time as, “It was hell.” He had to leave his home and runaway to Ghana.
Romeo along with most advocates for sexual and gender minority populations in Sub-Saharan nations are persecuted and often live surrounded by near daily, if not daily, threats to their lives. Many who are able seek refuge in ‘safer nations’, which is a relative description, on the continent such as South Africa. Romeo shared a site with me where I read the following post. This post, while being extreme is not an uncommon response when positive public attention is given to LGBTI+ people in this part of the world. “If this is allowed to go on then we are in trouble as he is going to corrupt more of our youths. Homosexuality is a sin against God and man, they are pigs and should not be allowed to live.” - Romeo Oriogun is a Homosexual. While I am disturbed with the clear threat to the lives of all LGBTI+ people I was glad to see that the responses to the post were not all supportive of the extremism in the original post.
In January 2017 Nigeria was listed as a nation with pervasive homophobia and transphobia in the Human Rights Watch 2017 World Report. The Human Rights Watch Country Profiles: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity reports that in Nigeria “The law [Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act] is used to legitimize abuses against LGBT people, including mob violence, sexual abuse, unlawful arrests, torture and extortion by police.”
I am inspired by the courage Romeo Oriogun exhibits by using his art and voice to speak his truth which is the truth of thousands of LGBTI+ people in Sub-Saharan nations and millions around the world. This part of his journey has not been easy for him but he says, “I’m alive and as long as I breathe I will keep fighting because to be silent is to say we are not here, it is to say they were right about us.”
Romeo has tried to return to his home in Nigeria but he was attacked so for now he remains in Ghana. He hopes to return home soon. I hope this for Romeo as well but first and foremost I want him to remain safe and to be able to continue using his art and voice to support his oppressed and abused people.
Romeo reported to me that it is difficult to provide or find support for sexual and gender minorities in Nigeria because it is a crime to register a pro LGBTI+ NGO. He went on to say that he has been able to get help for the men mentioned in his post, both legal and medical help.
In closing, I would like to acknowledge what an honor it was for me to chat with Romeo. I thank him for the time he shared with me and for his commitment to use his gifts to help others. I encourage you all to follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
Read more about Romeo’s poetry here:
Since 2009 I have been working to end violence among and against sexual and gender minorities (LGBTQ+) in the Southern United States. I have also provided many professional development workshops on the impact of the trauma survivors experience focusing my training on LGBTQ+ survivors. My personal journey is now leading me to learn more about the struggles of our LGBTI+ communities in Sub-Saharan Africa with the hope of being able to provide support to them. By sharing their stories I hope to help them raise awareness of their struggles, triumphs, and needs. - James Robinson