Micheal Ighodaro’s world changed when he had to leave his home and all he knew after his sexuality was revealed. Now, he is an Assistant Professor of Global LGBTI Studies at The New School University in New York. He is also the Program Manager at AVAC, Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention. In 2015, he became a White House Honoree and was named World Refugee Champion of Change.
Read our exclusive interview with him below.
TRT: You had to leave Nigeria following threats to your life. How has the journey been since you moved to the United States?
MICHEAL: I guess, for me! Moving to the US wasn’t planned! It just happened and I had to face the reality of living in a totally new environment, people and culture. One of the most important thing for me was losing my identity as Nigerian. I just became a black man in an American society that was about to elect for the second time its first black President. I fell into this burble of thinking everything is all fine in America, and that race was a thing of the past. How wrong I was. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe all white Americans are racist. But I do believe a large part of them are racist. I tried to resist this new identity of being a black gay man in America, because of the ladder of racial hierarchy that exists in the country. But sooner than later, I have realized that my blackness puts me at the very bottom of that hierarchy irrespective of my sexual orientation, education or financial status. So yes, the US hasn’t been all that great, but I have also met some of the best people I could ever know here in America. Folks that believe that the world could be better and would give their lives to see it come through. Some of them also happen to be white.
TRT: Do you miss Nigeria? Will you ever come back?
MICHEAL: Miss Nigeria? Big question!! Yes and No. I miss my family, my friends both straight and gay. But do I miss the homophobic people who happen to live in the country? No, not a bit. You know what I miss about Nigeria though? The hustle. Believe it or not, Nigerians do enjoy the hardship in the country. In America, life is very predictable. You can set up meeting times, give or take 5 minutes throughout a whole day and you can successfully attend all of them. This is NOT possible in Nigeria, there is no guarantee of anything; how long your meeting will take, how long traffic will take or if there would be electricity to do what you need to do. This leads to a life of adventure where you do not know what will happen next and because ALL Nigerians are living this life we have grown to tolerate our lack of precision as a society, and see every day as a surprise. I have witnessed Nigerians say life abroad is too boring because there is no adventure, you know the consequences of all you action and they will play out as expected. In Nigeria, you understand life a certain way, you have various principles because that’s the way you grew up and people around you believe the same things you do. It creates a form of bonding with fellow Nigerians when, just by speaking a sentence it seems other Nigerians can read your mind and just understand what you mean by that phrase/sentence to the fullest extent, but that’s not the case here. At least for me, folks struggle to understand what I am saying, just like I struggle to understand them. Would I go back to Nigeria? I really don’t know! I have made a home for myself here in New York, and really can’t see myself leaving in Nigeria — and that is not in a derogatory way at all.
TRT: How will you describe your relationship with your family?
MICHEAL: I am in a really good place with my family right now! We all accept each other, I accept them for being heterosexual and they accept me for being homosexual. We have mutual respect for each other.
TRT: How would you describe the situation of things in Nigeria presently? Do you feel people are more accepting?
MICHEAL: I can’t really tell from afar, but I believe organizations like TIERS are providing facts to people so they can make their own fact-based decision—to either remain homophobic or sane! I do believe there is a very small minority of Nigerians who are accepting! Even at the highest level of politics in the country.
TRT: The political climate in the United States is different. How do you think it affects asylum seekers and the global fight for equality?
MICHEAL: Funny enough— I have a research project I am doing in school that seeks to answer this question! I think the world has changed since America elected her newest President, there is a way people see refugees and asylum seekers—like never before and there are spotlights constantly on refugees and asylum seekers. LGBTI asylum seekers are not excluded from the equation. We have to be on our toes, be good citizens and leave by unbelievable standards. Cities like NYC and others have made it a bit easy, for asylum seekers and refugees by making their cities, sanctuary cities.
TRT: You are presently an Assistant Professor in Global LGBTI Studies at The New School University in New York. Did you imagine your career will take the shape that it did?
MICHEAL: It’s my last semester as a Professor, and I must confess I have loved it. You know I am also a student at the same school and get to attend some other classes with some student in my class. Did I know I would be a professor at one of the best schools in NYC? Absolutely NOT! But I love what I do; from teaching to my day to day advocacy work at AVAC or as a board member of Outright Action International. I love every part of it.
TRT: You are also a White House honoree. Tell us about that experience.
MICHEAL: It was one the proudest moments in my life. All those years of being told I am not normal or I am evil, but now I have been vindicated by the most powerful man on earth.
TRT: What inspires you?
MICHEAL: I’m inspired by risk. Starting something I have no idea how to finish, like ending all forms of discrimination! witnessing people go for something new – anything that has the potential for failure (but not total disaster) gets my heart and creativity pumping.
A lot of the messages in my speeches and work, in general, are hopefully uplifting, positive, and hopeful; I’ve always been a worrier throughout my life, so I often use my work as a way to reassure myself that everything will be OK.
I’m also inspired by the idea of being a figure that lifts other people up and reassures them in their own lives. I find that people are always looking for more positivity and happiness in their lives. My life and the way I carry myself can be a way of offering that to people. It’s endlessly inspiring to know that I can make some sort of difference [in] people’s attitudes toward themselves and their own lives.
TRT: What is your hope for the LGBT community in Africa?
MICHEAL: I am actually hopeful for what the future holds! I am very excited and motivated by leaders like Olumide, and activists in Uganda. I see a bright future with young people all over the continent opening their hearts and minds and hopefully becoming more accepting.
TRT: A final word to our readers.
MICHEAL: It gets hard and gets better! Chose the part you want to be. Better or worse?
Current songs on your playlist
Fela Kuti ” The Best of Black President 1/2″
Tiwa Savage ” Me Lo”
Wizkid “Sexy” “All for You”
Rihanna “American Oxygen”
Omawumi “What a Bang Bang”
Sam Smith “Pray”
Sam Smith “Too Good at Goodbyes”
Favourite vacation spot.
Favourite quote from a movie
When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
When Harry Met Sally, 1989
Book you are currently reading
Seeing White: “My boyfriend and I are currently reading this together! I think everyone should get a copy”
An Introduction to White Privilege and Race by Jean Halley, Amy Eshleman, Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya.
I have never seen Game of Thrones and I love that I haven’t and won’t be seeing it! My friends would probably kill me for it, but Yes, I am part of the one percent who isn’t interested in seeing Game of Thrones.