When asked to contribute to the GSN’s Stonewall 50 Voices series, euphoria went through my spine. Where do I begin?
Often when I visit New York I head for Christopher Street and take a seat inside the Stonewall Inn.
I’ve often imagined how life was like for LGBTQ folks prior to the riots and how things have changed since decriminalization across the US. This is not the case for many places in Africa.
In 2008, House Of Rainbow in Lagos, Nigeria was threatened with violence. Many of our members who are LGBTQ identified were beaten, evicted from their homes and fired from their jobs.
In 2016, in Kampala, Uganda, I witnessed part of the local pride celebrations raided by armed police. They arrested leading LGBTI activists. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. We have to ask, where are we now globally with the decriminalization of homosexuality?
The majority of countries that criminalized are in Africa and the Middle East. More work is required.
Learning about the history of Stonewall
What happened at the Stonewall Inn meant so much to me, for my liberation and the freedom of millions of LGBTQ people around the world.
I was three years old when the riot took place in New York. Becoming a public activist decades later is a testament to Stonewall, and marks my own liberation as a gay man of African descent.
I was born in London, UK, in 1965. At the time of the riot I was probably living in Nigeria with my parents. It was not until 1994 that I came out as gay and began to learn more about the history of Stonewall.
At the time I found literature that spoke about the liberation of gays and lesbians, but I knew nothing of the impact for the black community. It was years later that I started to learn about activists such as Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvester, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin and others.
What I also learned from my studies was of the persecutions of gays and lesbians in Western Europe and in the United States of America. The advent of the gay rights movement was inevitable.
The House of Rainbow
It was years later that I trained as a gay pastor and started the ministry of House Of Rainbow in my native country, Nigeria. The same spirit of defiance had led me to start what is now known as the first gay church in Nigeria.
Social Justice and human rights became a core part of my theology and mission approach. We are the ‘Human Rights Church Movement,’ and we later form the R.I.M.A project: Radically Inclusive Mission to Africa.
The Stonewall riot was a reaction to the unbearable pressure of decades of abuses and human rights violations. Enough was now enough
When your back is against the wall and you have been consistently victimized and ostracized, you have no choice but to use what little power you possess to fight back. Stonewall was the response to decades of abuse against the LGBTQ communities.
Whilst this happened in New York, there is no doubt history can be a source of courage and inspiration for people today. Stonewall was about fighting against injustice.
For me, personally, it has inspired me to fight for justice in faith and religious spaces. The Stonewall uprising shows it is similarly possible to challenge bigotry, spiritual violence and inhumane treatment of LGBTQ people of faith. We have so many people to thank.
They world is changing. How society discusses and treats LGBTQ people has forced the debate into the limelight. There is no more hiding.
We have seen violence against the LGBTQ communities peak around the world, particularly in places like Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi, Russia, etc. At the same time, we are now seeing more countries decriminalize homosexuality, such as India. The inspiration of Stonewall plays a part in this.
The sacrifices of others
In any struggles for liberation there are oppressors and the oppressed. There are liberators, some of whom will make great sacrifices – including losing their dignity, livelihood and respect. In some cases, they sacrifice their lives.
Stonewall challenged society’s abusive, heteronormative structure. It was a challenge to the way LGBTQ communities had been subjugated and dehumanized. The Stonewall riots forced society to ask difficult questions around the rights of LGBTQ people, and how those people are treated.
Because of this, Stonewall is a place of pilgrimage for LGBTQ from all parts of the world. It gave birth to the modern Pride movement, which now stretches out across the world.
Let me conclude with an inclusive religious sentiment on the subject of justice. The Bible tells us in Micah 6:8, ‘God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’
We as people are called to ‘Do justice,’ not to turn a blind eye and allow injustices to reign over marginalized communities. The reality for many, including people of faith, is to ensure we look out for those on the edges of society, and ensure they are included, not ostracized.
Stonewall 50 Voices
Gay Star News is commemorating 2019 as the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots. Our Stonewall 50 Voices series will bring you 50 guest writers from all around the world, with a focus on the diversity of our global LGBTI community.
They will be discussing the past, present and future of our struggle for love and liberation.
Photo credit: Eivind Hansen