Last week, I decided to walk out of the closet and since then, my life has never remained the same. I’ve been met with messages of support as well as hateful wishes and death threats. I’ve inspired many and also disappointed some, especially strangers.
At a very young age, I always knew I was different, I always felt different and acted differently. This was because I was made to believe I had a demon inside me or like some will call it, a disease. I was going through a struggle no one knew about except close friends who were either like me or allies I could confide in, I was made to believe I wasn’t normal and that my existence was a sin to God.
As someone who was raised in a Christian home, I was nurtured by incredible parents who wanted nothing but the best for their son. They ensured my steps (and that of my siblings) were ordered in the Word of the Lord. I was taught to be honest, forgiving and supportive and most of all, my parents gave me access to education.
We attended a Conservative Church every Sunday, one with doctrines that were aimed at not just preparing its members for heaven, but also live a fulfilled life whilst on earth. I started from joining the children’s Sunday school to learning how to sing and play three different musical instruments (Violin, Flute and Keyboard). I was a member of the Choir and I loved every bit of it. I was also loved by many because of it. In fact, this was and still is the best part of religion for me.
But in all of this, I was struggling with my sexuality and the worst part, there was no one to talk to about it. Having these type of feelings (within a religion that has always been used to dehumanise marginalised communities which included the LGBT community) was a taboo, an embarrassment and a huge shame. I remember crying in my room after every church service for God to change me. I prayed, fasted and even tried taking my life twice because of what people would say if they found out the son of a highly known preacher was gay. I could not imagine the damage to my family’s reputation and the shock for those who looked up to me and wanted to be like me. I felt like all hell would break loose so I was living for everyone else but me. I placed and valued the opinions of people who didn’t even know me over my life, happiness and overall existence.
I attended a Christian university for my undergraduate studies. There I got appointed as the Student Fellowship President and served in that role for three years. Most times, I’d preach sermons that were against homosexuality and even told people how hell awaited those who masturbate (something I did most nights in my room after watching gay porn). I was living a double life (which was stressful). I was a hypocrite and I hated myself for it. This is the reality with most Christians today (but we dare not talk about it).
I was also a recipient of many awards at my university for my positions, campaigns and service for the students. However, one of the interesting awards I received was the ‘Most Religious Award’. I won that award three times in a row and if anything, the award made me feel ashamed of myself because it was awarded to people’s ‘idea of Me’ and not who I truly was.
Fast forward to my graduation in 2013, I emerged the best graduating student in my department with a first-class degree. Afterwards, I travelled to the United Kingdom for my Master’s degree. It was there I learnt that ignorance brings fear and hate. I also learnt that knowledge and exposure bring security and power.
In 2016, I become the first Black, first International and first Postgraduate student to be President of the Students’ Union at Bournemouth University and I served for two terms before starting my new job as a consultant. My role as a President involved representing over 18,00 students (both home and international) and this gave me the opportunity to engage, love and accept people who were different whilst being my authentic self.
As humans, we’re often defensive or even scared of things we don’t understand or things we will never understand because we aren’ t affected by them. The only way out is to unlearn our prejudices and learn to be accepting of others if we truly care and want to get the best out of people.
I’ve been criticised by some people who felt I didn’t need to come out or go public. A lot of them told me “you should have just told your family”. The truth is, as queer people living in the closet, we find it easier to disclose our sexuality to the world than to our family. I know I certainly felt that way.
Some have also said I turned gay when I came to the United Kingdom. Isn’t it interesting how one could become gay overnight? I wish I could turn straight tomorrow and live a ‘normal’ life. I’ve also been told that being gay is a choice, which makes me wonder why anyone would choose to wake up to death threats, or face discrimination all their lives. It makes no sense at all.
For any parent having a change of mind about sending their children abroad because of my coming out experience, just know that nothing can stop your gay son from being gay. The difference is he would be forced to marry a woman but won’t stop sleeping with men, even after marriage.
Everything I am today began since when I was a teenager, this country only gave me the liberty that I deserved as a human being. Of course, Britain still has a long way to go when it comes tackling all kinds of discriminations but the difference is as a gay man, there is no longer a law that will send me to jail for being ME without causing harm to anyone.
We need to start having conversations about making our churches, homes and the society at large inclusive for children who may not necessarily fit into the norm. Whether you like it or not, these children exist and will embrace their truth when the time comes; with or without you.
For those calling me selfish for ignoring my family’s feelings and reputation, I find that ironic because for over 20 years of my life I was living for their feelings and reputation whilst dying inside. But like my good friend rightly said; sometimes it ’s better and braver to be selfish when your health, your life and your happiness is at risk.
I love my family and I’m confident of their unconditional love for me.
Whilst coming out to them was the most difficult thing to do, the joy is that this is a phase I no longer need to worry about. Also, I’d rather they heard from me than a blackmailer. Before I messaged them on the WhatsApp group, I’d made up my mind for consequences and implications that may follow. But instead of hate, they showed love and immediately reached out to ensure my safety and wellness. I know they love me but I also know they need time and I’m ready to wait. It took me over two decades to accept my sexuality and it’d be unfair of me to expect them to accept the real Daniel overnight. I’ve been on this journey and they have just started theirs. The thing is, they now know who their true son is.
As humans, I’ve always believed that the worst thing that you could do to someone you claim to love is to have them love an untrue version of you. I came out to my family because of my love for them. That statement also applies to gay men in relationships with women, I know this because I used to be in one. Gay men who are too scared to live their lives because of factors ranging from the society, the country’s homophobic law or isolation from friends, families, social or religious groups. This is a crisis and we need to raise our voices to remind not just the Nigerian Government but every Nigerian that LGBT rights are human rights.
I don’t expect everyone to accept me. All I want is your respect because I deserve it. I’ve worked very hard and my sexuality is just a small part of who I am as a human being.
I’ve also received words of prayers from some Christians who feel they have the monopoly over humanity and morality. My response to them is that whilst I appreciate your concerns, I’d rather you channelled your prayers properly because a prayer for God to change my sexuality would be a waste of time and energy. Instead, please pray for God to change the minds of homophobes and bigots so they don’t ostracise and dehumanise people who are different in the ‘name of God’ and most importantly, pray for God to give you the strength and open mind to accept that your child or friend who has decided to live their truth.
I do not regret my actions and won’t do things differently because there isn’t a perfect way to come out as a queer person. Our stories are different and our journey through life won’t be the same so take your time to figure out what works for you.
I also appreciate everyone who has been supportive. I see your messages and I appreciate them. Whilst I’ll respect people’s rights to express their opinions about my actions, I think the deaths threats are unnecessary because they won’t work. I won’t be bullied or threatened into going back to where I came from.
I am also sending solidarity to my LGBT family in Nigeria and around the world. Please be reassured that your feelings are valid and you will be out, proud and visible in your own time.
I feel free, I feel happy and if that doesn’t make you happy because of whatever reason (your ‘religion’ maybe?), then you don’t know me, you don’t love me and you don’t deserve to be called my friend or family.