A day Interactive workshop on Sexual health, religion & law

Condom use, HIV, human sexuality, abuse from homophobic religious leaders, coming out, human rights, internalized homophobia and effeminophobia. All those and more were topics of discussion at a March 3 workshop attended by about two dozen gay men in the Asaba area of Nigeria.

To present the workshop, NoStringsNG, the Nigerian LGBTIQ media organization, collaborated with Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment (LIFFE), a community-based organization whose vision is to reconcile sexuality with religion.

The goal of the one-day interactive workshop, attended by 20 young gay Nigerian men, was to educate them about their rights,  human sexuality, Nigerian law, and how to reconcile religion with their sexuality.

Uchenna Samuel, executive director of Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment (LIFFE), facilitating a session.

Conversations at the workshop covered health-related issues, such as HIV and the need to use condom as an effective way to reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. It also dealt with other sexuality issues such as coming out, internalized homophobia, effeminophobia (the fear of women, of femininity or of effeminate behavior), as well as the impact of religious abuse toward homosexuals.

The participants were also exposed to basic principles of human rights.

Results from a survey carried out at the workshop showed that all the men in attendance were already sexually active and 55 percent had multiple sexual partners. Among that 55 percent, 45 percent indicated that they do not use condoms at all, while 10 percent said that they used condoms sometimes.

Mike Daemon, Executive project coordinator of NoStringsNG facilitating.

Of the group,  only 20 percent have gone for HIV testing and counseling, while 80 percent have never been tested. Asked about voluntary HIV counseling and testing, 64 percent indicated that they were willing, while 36 percent said that they were not willing to test at all.

A further result also showed that 36 percent have been treated for a sexually transmitted infection [STI], while 64 percent have not.

The participants were very excited about the workshop and stated that their expectations were greatly met.

One of them said:

“The workshop was very impacting, LGBTI rights were made clear and plain, and health issues were well explained”

Another said:

“The condom session was fantastic. I did not know that some condoms were not safe for sex. The facilitators were thorough with their explanations.”

And another said:

“It’s educating and soul-saving.”

Some participants stressed that the town lacked a wellness center for the community, and urged the organizers of the workshop to look into it as a concern.

Participants receiving condoms.

Uchenna Samuel, executive director of Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment who co-facilitated sessions at the workshop, said he hopes to educate more gay men in the future.

“I hope to host more workshops of this nature so as to educate young gay men because most of them lack the full understanding of what it means to be gay”

Mike Daemon, executive project coordinator of NoStringsNG, said he was amazed by how keen the participants were to learn.

“The experience was indeed very rewarding, the participants were very interested in the conversations and subjects raised. I look forward to doing more of this,” he said.

At the end of the workshop, more than 576 condoms were distributed to the participants, and a get-together party was held where more condoms were distributed.

LIFFE’s advocacy visit to traditional ruler and commissioner of police in Delta State

On March 5, delegates from LIFFE visited the obi (traditional leader), Senator Nosike Ikpo of Ibusa town, and the Delta State commissioner of police, Muhammad Mustafa, to inform them about a group of local criminals.

Delegates from Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment (LIFFE) visit with Senator Nosike Ikpo the obi (traditional leader) of Ibusa town. For security, the LIFFE members’ faces are not shown.

That gang repeatedly lured people, including gay men, to their hideouts in Ibusa town, where they would beat them, rob them, extort them of their valuables, and then leave them naked on the street. In many African counties, closeted gay men are frequent victims of such crimes, with blackmailers threatening to out them unless they turn over their valuables and drain their bank account.

In a recent incident, a young man [name withheld] was lured to a location where the criminals beat him, raped him, robbed him and withdrew money from his bank account using his ATM debit cards. After the incident, he tested positive for HIV.

The issue was reported to Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment (LIFFE), which advocates for human rights for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. The organization resolved to discuss the problem with local authorities in hopes of putting an end to the menace and bringing the perpetrators to book.

In response to the visits from LIFFE delegates, the commissioner of police and the obi of the town both pledged their support.

Some police staff members at the meeting and the chief at his palace acknowledged that they were already aware of the crimes.

Samuel Uchenna, executive director of Levites Initiative for Freedom and Enlightenment, presents an award to Muhammad Mustafa, the police commissioner for Delta State, Nigeria. The award honors him as an effective and friendly police officer.

The commissioner officially introduced the delegates to the State Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to lay the groundwork for a possible partnership. Those delegates included Uchenna Samuel, LIFFE’s executive director, and Mike Daemon, activist, journalist and publisher of the NoStringsNG advocacy website.

Uchenna emphasized the importance of ending the extortionists’ reign:

“It is very pertinent that people know that blackmail, extortion, and all related offenses are crimes — regardless of the victim’s sexuality. Perpetrators should be held responsible and brought to book by the appropriate authorities. It is based on this fact that my organization has taken steps to address this issue.”

Levites Initiative for Freedom & Enlightenment (LIFFE) partnered with Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa for the project.