Hello, I am Godwyns Onwuchekwa. I have recently joined ROMEO as the LGBTI Manager in the Care team, and to oversee PlanetRomeo Foundation’s day-to-day operation. It is an exciting time and a privilege to join an ethical organization that puts compassion and a human touch at the core of its reputation.
Over the last 15 years, my work has been on a grassroots level on issues of (human/gay) rights, inclusion, awareness, and equality – ensuring that people whom decisions are about are not just informed, but critically involved and supported to inform such decisions.
GROWING UP IN NIGERIA
As a gay black man, I am all too aware of how discrimination, rejection, abuse, threats and other negative attitudes can impact life. Growing up in Nigeria, I did not know anyone who identified as gay, lesbian, bi, or trans – in the classic sense of the words. These words were not common, if at all in use, never mind politicized in Nigeria of the 80s and early 90s. But I knew some same-sex families, including an aunt of mine, who was a high priestess of the oracle and lived with her wife. Her prestigious and privileged position as a priestess meant that she was not just ‘safe’, she was respected.
I never ‘came out’
But for me as a young man, it was not going to be easy, and it certainly wasn’t. By the time I was 17 I had experienced my first humiliation; not because I was gay, but because I did not engage in sex with the opposite sex. So, it meant that I had to be extra careful – albeit I was blessed with a confident personality, instilled in me by my mother, because I could not have been me without her own rebellious spirit. Although my mother had died just before I turned 17, her belief that I can be anything as long as I don’t violate or harm others or myself, was the bedrock of my approach to my sexuality.
I have never ‘come out’, nor denied my sexuality. And thus, living in the now notorious Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, did bring me face-to-face with danger on many occasions. From the time when a colleague at my job realized that I was in love with another man, to the challenges I faced in my church during the time the openly gay Gene Robinson was consecrated bishop in the USA. Hence my single-handed, naïve, and non-strategic reaction to my church and Diocese was not helpful. There was alarm screaming from all angles.
HIV and LGBT Activism
However, without parents and not able to afford to pay for my education, I decided that a country where I can work and study at the same time was a necessity. So at almost 25 years of age, I moved to the UK in 2004 to study and was soon involved in HIV and LGBT activism. In 2009, I founded the now defunct Justice for Gay Africans (JfGA); a group focused on getting the Commonwealth Secretariat to take a stand on LGBT issues. I am glad that we achieved that in 2011 with the help of various seasoned, and of course new activists.
The secret of my survival
My life journey has been one of hope. It has not been easy. In spite of the threats, rejections, and abuse by family members, I am here today with the full knowledge and first-hand experience of how hard it can be to live in places where you cannot be yourself. Nevertheless, I count myself lucky that fate steered me on to this journey. Many of my close friends in Maiduguri feared the worse for me, and thus pleased with my migration because they believed that my life was in danger. Such a network of trusted friends whom, even when we disagree, still believes in me, has been the secret of my survival.
I believe that my life story gives me a peek into the difficulties faced by many gay, lesbian, trans, bi, or other non-binary individuals to whom fate has not been as kind. And it humbles me to be in this position, to make a little contribution in the incredible work for a better world for LGBT people by PlanetRomeo Foundation.
Planetromeo foundation: 2018 Results
Find out what the Foundation did in 2018.
Caring Kevin talks to ROMEO about Masc4Masc culture.