On Dec 28, 2014 NPR reported: Adebisi Alimi is the first person ever to come out as gay on Nigerian television. But that wasn’t what the 29-year-old wanted to be known for back in 2004.
Alimi’s acting career was just starting to take off when his sexuality stole the spotlight. The student newspaper at University of Lagos, where he was studying theater, threatened to publish a photo of him with his then-boyfriend. So Alimi beat them to the punch. He went on “New Dawn with Funmi,” one of the most popular talk shows in Nigeria, and challenged a long-held belief that homosexuality was brought to Africa by white colonizers. That was also the year Alimi was diagnosed with HIV.
Suddenly, his home country no longer saw him as a rising star. Alimi lost his roles on TV and on stage, many of his friends shunned him and the police even arrested him on unexplained charges. In 2007, things got worse. He was detained at the airport on his way back from the United Kingdom, where he gave an interview to BBC Network Africa, and was released two days later. Then a group of men entered his home and attempted to kill him. Alimi fled to the U.K. and hasn’t been back to Nigeria since.
But Alimi says, “My story is not a story of a victim; it’s a human story.” Without it, he says, he wouldn’t be the outspoken activist he is today.
Now 40, Alimi shares his story when he speaks out for the rights of gay black and African men. He’s the founder of Bisi Consultancy, an organization that develops social policy recommendations based on HIV research on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. For his birthday on Jan. 17, Alimi has also started a campaign called 40four40 to raise 40,000 pounds — or about $62,000 USD — for four LGBT charities.
Previously, he founded the Independent Project For Equal Rights-Nigeria, a nonprofit for LGBT youth, and helped set up the U.K.’s first international LGBT organization, Kaleidoscope Diversity Trust.
Nigeria’s New Anti-Gay Law A Harsh Reminder Of Global Attitudes Jan. 18, 2014
Despite Progress Of LGBT Rights In U.S., Challenges Remain Abroad July 31, 2014
And while he’s no longer living in Nigeria, Alimi is deeply affected by the country’s anti-gay law passed in January. The law mandates a 14-year prison sentence for those who marry someone of the same sex and 10 years for anyone who, directly or indirectly, supports LGBT organizations.
Alimi was in Washington, D.C. last month for the 2015 Aspen New Voices Fellowship. Asked about his thoughts on the law, he says that, in a way, “I’m happy about it.”
Why are you happy about Nigeria’s harsh anti-gay law?
I see the law as a catalyst for change for good in Nigeria. You don’t understand what it is like to fight a beast that you cannot see. Before the signing of that law, between 95 and 98 percent of Nigerians were in support of it. The latest poll says 88 percent of Nigerians now support the law. That’s a 10 percent drop. Some people who are not LGBT are now saying, “Did we just support a law that criminalizes people … for falling in love?” [When] you see that your uncle or cousin is gay, it kind of changes the conversation.