The Rev. Tracy E. Longacre, an Episcopal priest currently resident at Bambui, near Bamenda, Cameroon, recently visited and spent a week with Davis MacIyalla, Director of Changing Attitude Nigeria. This is an edited version of her report.
Davis was quite public in Nigeria and well known, particularly within the Anglican Church, even prior to the founding of Changing Attitude Nigeria. He had been the personal assistant to one of the more liberal Bishops before that Bishop’s death and was “out” to him. He was also out to his family and friends. None of this seemed to pose any big problems. His family accepted him and the Bishop accepted him, even making him a Knight, which is a honorary tradition within the Nigerian Anglican Church used much the same way as making someone a canon in other Anglican churches. (Despite Canon Tunde’s accusation on Thinking Anglicans that this was a lie, I have seen multiple photos of Davis in his Knight regalia with Bishops, priests and other Knights in the church.) This was all fine. Then he convened the first general meeting of Changing Attitude-Nigeria which was attended by over 1,000 lesbian and gay Nigerian Anglicans. A meeting of this size, while the Archbishop was declaring to the world that “there are no homosexuals in Africa” was extremely embarrassing and made some people (apparently) very angry. Many of his friends, and most of his family, stopped being supportive when he became very public, particularly when he directly challenged Archbishop Akinola. Directly challenging a superior, or anyone in a position of leadership or authority, is a big taboo in Nigerian society and many people who could not care less who he slept with thought this was too much. But Davis “speaks his mind” (as he says) and feels compelled to confront people spreading lies, regardless of their position.
As is true in many Anglican churches, most of the “who’s who” of Nigerian society are Anglicans–politicians, police chiefs, military officers, the rich and successful. Davis himself comes from one of these families. It means, though, that the Archbishop, Bishops and even priests, indirectly at least, have some political power and know who to contact if they want someone to be found, persecuted, arrested or harassed.
Davis received a death threat letter, handwritten and hand-delivered, to his place of business. Having seen the actual letter, I would like to make a couple of observations. First, it was addressed to him at his place of business with his official business address, which is different (the number is different) than the address actually listed on the sign. This makes me think that whoever wrote the letter found his address via official records rather than actually having been to the place. However, whoever delivered the letter either knew what was in it or was instructed to do it after hours because the letter was delivered in the middle of the night (between 10pm and 7am when the manager arrives). Second, the handwriting is not the handwriting of someone educated in Nigeria, according to Davis. It is rather unusual handwriting–individual in a way that wasn’t common in the US until my own generation and still not common in Africa. The wording of the letter, however, sounds very African to my ear. Things are not said in a way that a European or American would say. I am not sure what any of that means, except that it is not clear whether the writer of the letter is or was actually in the same country or just knows someone willing to deliver the letter.
Davis is very well integrated into his surroundings. He is very gregarious and rather charismatic, so everyone knows him, says hello to him and stops and chats. Davis used the occasion of his birthday to throw a party and invite all the lesbians and gay men that he knows. Around 30 or so people came to the party, about a quarter of them women. The party was a lot of fun. People felt free and open and everyone seemed to have a really good time. Right before the meeting, Davis, a man from another country and I met briefly and made plans for a possible meeting of West African LGBT leaders. Between Davis and this other man, they knew key leaders in Ghana, Togo, Benin, Mali, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Senegal as well as Nigeria. Though pretty deeply underground, it would seem that the movement for LGBT rights in western Africa is quite active.
The work of Changing Attitude-Nigeria
Most of the work of Changing Attitude-Nigeria occurs online. Davis spend several hours a day at his local Cyber Café participating in discussions on the Changing Attitude and Changing Attitude-Nigeria e-mail lists, keeping up with the news, and encouraging emerging leaders and groups. Aside from whatever support is being given by Changing Attitude-UK, most of the expenses related to Changing Attitude-Nigeria are being borne by Davis.
Currently, Changing Attitude-Nigeria operates as a program of Changing Attitude-UK. This has been a tremendous support to Davis and clearly has allowed a lot of activity to emerge. I think there is tremendous potential for Changing Attitude-Nigeria to operate as a more separate organization. First of all, they are one of the most “out” and visible LGBT organizations in Nigeria and West Africa. The recent brouhaha between Peter Tatchell and Human Rights Watch is an indicator to me that a public Nigerian organization would be a great contribution to the overall situation. Recently on the BBC’s Network Africa, they had a Nigerian journalist on while they interviewed a Ugandan lesbian who was at the World Social Forum in Nairobi. I nearly fell off my chair when this Nigerian journalist said that there were no public homosexuals in Nigeria and that the issue was not in the news!
Second, I think additional funding, support and partnership is there to be had if CA-Nigeria had its own vision and operated as an organization rather than as Davis. It would take some time to develop this and it may never be able to be legally/fiscally on its own, but I think it could be very powerful to move in this direction.
Along those lines, Davis really feels like the biggest need that CA-Nigeria has now is an opportunity for the leaders from the groups all over Nigeria to meet together and do some visioning and strategic planning work and begin to think beyond next year. In addition, after the meeting before his birthday party, it was clear that there are leaders all over West Africa who could be working together and supporting each other and they also would be well served by the chance to meet together.
So the current hope/plan is to hold two meetings back to back, a 3-day strategic planning meeting with the leaders of the various Nigerian groups (2 leaders per group would be about 20 people), facilitated by me, followed by a one-day meeting of leaders from other West African countries to meet and begin to connect. We are currently in the process of creating a proposal for these meetings — the objectives, the intended results, the participants and a budget–and we are identifying possible sources of funding.
That is the current state of things. This is all based on my observations and conversations with Davis. If any of my information is incorrect, please feel free to correct me.
The Rev. Tracy E. Longacre
Bambui, near Bamenda, Cameroon